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Is Westboro Baptist Even Really A Real Organization?

God Bless Oklahoma. Right and wrong are a lot less complicated there:

McALESTER - Members of a Kansas church that protests at military funerals may have found themselves in the wrong town Saturday.

Shortly after finishing their protest at the funeral of Army Sgt. Jason James McCluskey of McAlester, a half-dozen protesters from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., headed to their minivan, only to discover that its front and rear passenger-side tires had been slashed.

To make matters worse, as their minivan slowly hobbled away on two flat tires, with a McAlester police car following behind, the protesters were unable to find anyone in town who would repair their vehicle, according to police.


Emphasis mine.

According to this article in the Tulsa World, half a dozen Westboro Baptist "members" were swamped by a thousand counter-protesters.

Is Westboro Baptist even really an organization worthy of "members," or is it really more of a single family-- the Phelpses-- who are more than a bit off their rockers?

Looking at their church on google maps, it's essentially a single-family home tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Kansas:

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying you have to have a large building on a main street to be a "real" church. Not at all. But the Westboro Baptist group seems truly more like an extended family than some kind of legitimate organization. The photos above underscore the familial nature of their "church."

In nearly every article ever written about these protesters, it's typically between 4-8 "members" of the "church" participating. Indeed, while the legal complaint does reference the "church" (Westboro Baptist Church, Inc.), the lawsuit currently pending before the Supreme Court is ultimately not known as Snyder v. Westboro Baptist but, rather, Snyder v. Phelps. There's a reason for that.

More journalists should call this group what it really is-- "the Phelps family"-- because too many people imagine the Westboro Baptist Church as if it were a large, legitimate congregation with a serious organization and actual resources (and some kind of formal affiliation with other Baptist churches), when the facts just say otherwise.

Back to the slashed tires in Oklahoma. I'm not pro-vandalism in this or any other situation, even in relation to highly objectionable people. The part I love here is that the Phelpses "were unable to find anyone in town who would repair their vehicle."

Maybe next time, they will take more "members" of their "church" with them to provide backup. If they can make it to the protest in the first place:

This morning in La Plata, Md., the hate group's parade of absurdity received quite a response: More than a thousand counter-demonstrators showed up early, established themselves on the rights-of-way around the church, and prevented the "God Hates Fags" crowd from getting anywhere near the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Terry Honeycutt.

When the Supreme Court rules next year on whether people have a Constitutional right to protest at military funerals, I suspect the Phelpses will emerge victorious. In the meantime, a little creativity by counter-protesters can go a long way.

Posted by Will Franklin · 16 November 2010 10:11 AM