Mea Culpa on Westboro Baptist Church visit

By | November 30, 2009

Last week, I received, via email sent to one of my synagogue’s contact email addresses, a flyer from someone at the Westboro Baptist Church, announcing the protests they were planning on holding this week in front of Jewish institutions in Boston.

I was appalled, and my initial reaction was to make a big deal out of it.  I emailed the institutions listed on the flyer to warn them about the protest, made phone calls to personal contacts I had at some of those institutions, posted about it on my blog and on, and sent tips to the news media.

Some people commented in response that the WBC thrives on publicity, and the best strategy for dealing with them is to essentially pretend they don’t exist.  I argued that things had gotten so bad in this country that the WBC was no longer completely on the lunatic fringe, and a response was therefore called for.  My argument was legitimate; it’s not at all a clear-cut issue.  However, as Bob Sutton says, one should always argue as if he is right and listen as if he is wrong.  That’s what I did, and I’ve decided that I was wrong.

My initial reaction was exactly what the WBC was counting on.  I’m sorry to say that I took the bait hook, line, and sinker, and I played into their hands by making a big deal out of their visit.

I’ve unpublished the posting from my blog and asked the folks at to remove it as well (I don’t have the permissions to do so).  Unfortunately, I can’t take back the news tip I emailed to the local media, but I take some little solace in the fact that I’m sure the WBC emailed the local media as well.

By the way, as a result of this incident I’ve learned that there is a nationwide network called the “Jewish Emergency Management System” run by various community institutions (in Boston, it’s run by the CJP).  They send out alerts about things like this, and indeed, they sent out an alert about the WBC visit to Boston a day before I received the flyer and made a fuss about it.  (I had assumed that something like this existed, but I hadn’t bothered to find out the details until now.)

To be clear, I still think that the WBC is dangerous, and if the polarization of this country continues to worsen, I think there is going to be a time when ignoring them is no longer the right strategy.  I hope that time doesn’t come until Fred Phelps is six feet under (or a lot lower than that!) and, deprived of their crazy leader, the WBC disappears into oblivion.  According to Wikipedia, “The WBC has 71 confirmed members, 60 of whom are related to Phelps.”
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