If Fred Phelps was truly the foundation of the Westboro Baptist Church, perhaps his ending will signal the same for that hateful organization.
As much as I dislike writing about this group, Phelps’ death this week reminds me of the times I have come across the WBC over the years and my transition from confusion to anger to, ultimately, dismissal of such a detestable group.
When I was a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City back in 1993 or 1994, many of us went to check out a WBC protest in front of the University Center.
With a notebook and recorder in hand, I walked along the sidewalk hoping to talk to some of the folks holding signs that, at the time, seemed pretty outrageous.
Looking back, those signs were almost tame compared to what the group displays now.
I came upon a young girl, 8, 9, 10 years old, maybe, and started to ask her why she was there, what she thought, just some basic questions. I was immediately surrounded by people from the group calling me names (they had no idea what my beliefs were) and spitting their hatred at me for talking to the young lady, who was clearly brainwashed at an early age.
I remember feeling a range of emotions standing amongst the sheer hate – fear for my own safety, bewilderment at their message and somewhat revved up as a student reporter being in the middle of such a powder keg.
I recall turning around several times as I walked back to the campus newspaper, looking at that little girl that was still seething over something I just couldn’t comprehend.
The absolute and unbridled hate was the lasting impression I got from that day.
Since then, WBC moved from protesting functions they felt pushed some sort of homosexual agenda to just outright madness by picketing at the funerals of our American hero soldiers and those that have died in natural or man-made disasters.
A few years back, I found myself in the midst of their colorfully distasteful signage again in front of the Sprint Center.
I wasn’t exactly sure what Van Halen had done to irk the group, but there they were, shouting across the street to those that engaged them and spewing the message of eternal intolerance.
All those years later, I felt myself want to, again, yell, scream, argue or otherwise dismiss whatever message they were selling.
But I learned fighting hate with hate is just silly. It gets us nowhere.
Phelps is gone now. Let’s hope removing that piece of the Jenga puzzle forces the rest of that vile tower to fall.
John Beaudoin is the publisher of the Lees Summit Journal. To comment, call 816-282-7001 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.