Hate Groups

White House Says It Can’t List Westboro Baptist as ‘Hate Group’

Photo courtesy cometstarmoon via Flickr
Westboro Baptist Church members protest at a Presbyterian church in Madison, Wis. Photo courtesy cometstarmoon via Flickr

WASHINGTON — In response to five “We the People” petitions, the White House condemned the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church but said it is powerless to list the Kansas church as a hate group and remove its tax-exempt status.

The White House response on Tuesday said the federal government does not maintain a list of hate groups, instead leaving that task to private organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center. Both have called Westboro a hate group.

Former White Supremacist Sheds Hate, Embraces Christianity

RNS photo by Sean Proctor | MLive.com
Chris Simpson after being baptized. RNS photo by Sean Proctor | MLive.com

Two years ago, Chris Simpson led a white pride march.

Six months ago, he abandoned the white supremacy movement.

On April 15, he was baptized.

Five days later, Simpson sat in the waiting room of a skin and vein clinic, waiting to start the long and painful process of having his tattoos, most replete with Nazi or white pride iconography, removed.

"Hate will blind you to so many things. It will stop you from having so many things," Simpson said. "It consumes you."

The Face of Hate

Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church takes in-your-face to a whole new level. The church is nothing if not an equal opportunity offender, from its burning of both a Quran and an American flag on 9/11 to its signs proclaiming God’s hatred for ... well, pretty much everyone. While Westboro, established by a lawyer named Fred Phelps in 1955, claims to be a Primitive Baptist Church, that denomination denounces the actions of the church as “deplorable.” The church boasts of conducting 47,770 demonstrations since 1991 proclaiming its gospel of hate—while taunting on its website that the number zero represents the “nanoseconds of sleep that WBC members lose over your opinions and feeeeellllliiiiiings.”

From Rebecca Barrett-Fox’s first visit to the church in 2004 until defending her dissertation “Pray Not for This People for Their Good” in 2010, the scholar became intimately acquainted with the people of Westboro in a way that few outsiders have. Barrett-Fox, now a professor at two Mennonite colleges in Kansas (Hesston and Bethel) and book review editor of The Journal of Hate Studies, conducted intensive ethnographic research on the church, joining members at Sunday services, pickets at memorials for gay and lesbian people, and outside the Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of the church’s right to demonstrate at military funerals.

Freelance editor and writer Joanie Eppinga (eagleeyeediting.com), who is the former editor and current assistant editor of  The Journal of Hate Studies, met Barrett-Fox through Gonzaga University’s Institute for Hate Studies and interviewed her last April. —The Editors

Joanie Eppinga: How did you become involved with Westboro Baptist Church?

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Jesus and the Klan

I recently viewed an episode of Gangland on The History Channel. This particular show, which documents the rise of the younger members of the Imperial Klan of America (or KKK), really roused my anger. I thought, "How could people be so ignorant and foolish?" Can't they just accept that the United States has always been an ethnically, religiously, and ideologically diverse country?

Truth-Telling Time

Several hundred people marched through Greensboro, North Carolina, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre and to complete the 1979 anti-Klan march that was cut short when Klansmen open fired on the group, killing five and wounding 11. The survivors of the massacre have formed the country's first truth and reconciliation commission, which will examine documents and hear testimony about the shootings.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2005
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Say Amen, Somebody!

When Fred Phelps, founder of the "God Hates Fags" Web site, brought his hate campaign to Tulsa, Oklahoma, he got a little more than he bargained for from Bishop Carlton Pearson, pastor of the pentecostal mega-church Higher Dimensions Family Church. "These so-called conservative fundamentalist religious zealots, who came to [Tulsa] to protest our sensitivity toward homosexuals in our schools and churches, are totally irresponsible," said Pearson in a press release. "[They] do not represent the spirit of the legitimate Christian community in this town, are out of touch with both God and his purpose for the church, do not have the spirit of Christ, and do not in any way represent biblical Christianity as reflecting Christ's love and tolerance of people considered sinners in his day." Pearson is also the presiding bishop of Azusa International Fellowship of Christian Churches.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2005
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Turning the Tables on Hate

St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church turned the tables on hate-monger Fred Phelps in May when Phelps brought 10 of his followers to protest the ordination of Anita Hill, a lesbian pastor. The church invited members and supporters to make a per-minute financial pledge for as long as Phelps' traveling gay-bashing crusade was present outside the church. In response to Phelps' 45 minute stay, $6,000 was donated to support St. Paul-Reformation's gay and lesbian ministry.

"The strategy was successful beyond our expectations," said Hill. "It is a sign of God's grace that when Phelps intended to come and shame our congregation as special sinners, the result was $6,000 raised in pledge support. What a powerful thing, that such shaming intentions can bring such a grace-filled response." St. Paul-Reformation will be sending a letter to Phelps informing him of the results of fund raising and on how they intend to use the money.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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You Say You Want a Revolution?

Human rights groups have called William Pierce the "most dangerous racist" in America. Pierce is founder of the West Virginia-based National Alliance, which evolved from his 1970s National Youth Alliance, a group founded to counter the anti-war movement on college campuses. According to the National Alliance Web site, Pierce saw the anti-war movement as a "call for the destruction of White society by Jews and others."

Pierce made his mark in 1978 when his National Vanguard Books published his book The Turner Diaries, written by Pierce under the name Andrew Macdonald. The Diaries, and his second novel, Hunter, depict white power radicals overthrowing the U.S. government and marauding across the country killing "race traitors" and establishing "order." According to the publisher’s promotional material, it is considered by the FBI to be the "bible of the racist right."

Added to Pierce’s list of "bestsellers" is Resistance Records—a label started in 1993 by Canadian George Burdi, aka George Eric Hawthorne of the band Rahowa (Racial Holy War). "For many years, [anti-hate groups] have tried hard, and largely successfully, to keep me marginalized," Pierce told the LA Times. "Nevertheless, my audience kept growing, and now I have essentially moved into the mass media."

Erich Gliebe, president of the Cleveland chapter of the National Alliance, spearheads Resistance Records and its accompanying magazine. Gliebe, 36, an ex-boxer known as the "Aryan Barbarian," has extensive roots in the white power music scene and under his direction Resistance magazine has become the Rolling Stone of the hate music world. According to Pierce the label expects to gross more than $1 million by 2001. How long before we see a music channel dedicated to the Angry Aryans, White Wash, Blue Eyed Devils, SkrewDriver, and The Bully Boys?

LARRY BELLINGER is assistant editor of Sojourners.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
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Virtual Hate

Hatred has gotten a facelift. With the help of Internet technology and cyberspace marketing, once-decrepit organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are regaining their youthful energy and competing for the attention of increasingly educated audiences. But don’t let the good looks fool you: Behind the virtual makeover hides the same old-fashioned hatred that bigots have always promoted.

The Internet has given hate groups ample reason to feel young again. In the United States, online bigots enjoy full protection under the First Amendment and have access to a potentially limitless audience. Webmasters are anonymous and difficult to silence; leaders suffer few consequences for their followers’ actions. And their strategies for organizational growth are beginning to look more corporate than cross-lit.

"The Internet has allowed hate groups to develop by leaps and bounds," states Dr. David Blumenthal, author of The Banality of Good and Evil. "The danger is that the uninitiated can get to them [hate sites]: people who are on the borderline and have been in the closet and now feel they can come out." Instead of leaflets under your windshield or on the lawn, haters now post their messages on the Web for you to find—by accident or choice.

Although America’s free speech laws make prosecution of Internet haters difficult, their cyber-romps do not go unmonitored. Leaders in the anti-hate movement—including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and HateWatch—are working to unmask cyber-bigots and expose their strategies to the public eye.

Who are the virtual haters?

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
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