A Modest Proposal to Humiliate Fred Phelps

Inspired by a recent post by Pam Spaulding about the antics of Fred Phelps and his clan of lunatic hatemongers, I’d like to propose an idea for how this group could be humiliated, and possibly even stopped altogether.

The sole raison d’etre of Phelps’ church is to travel around the country picketing anything and everything that they believe demonstrates pro-gay sentiments. Although they have branched out somewhat, much of their ire still seems to be directed at the play The Laramie Project, written to remember the homophobia-inspired murder of Matthew Shepard. According to the Wikipedia article, Phelps targets stagings of this play for pickets on a regular basis. By their own estimates, Phelps’ family spends around $250,000 per year traveling the country to picket.

We can use that anti-gay obsession against them. Imagine if a college or theater in New York staged The Laramie Project with a run of several days; the very next day after the New York showing closed, a different theater in California could open its own run of the play, immediately followed by another theater in, say, Florida, then Washington state, and so on. The idea would be that, if Phelps’ clan is determined to picket every showing of the play, we could force them to repeatedly crisscross the country, making them travel as far as possible between showings. We could even stage showings in other countries. The intent would be to keep this up until Phelps and his followers are utterly exhausted, dispirited and completely out of money for further travel. In addition, it would have the positive side effect of raising awareness of homophobia and advancing the cause of gay civil rights.

Once the point is finally reached where the Phelps clan is unable to reach the next showing, all the theater groups involved in the effort should publicly declare victory and send out press releases to every available media outlet trumpeting the fact that these hatemongers failed in their mission to picket every showing. As the culmination of this plan, every theater that took part in the effort could stage a one-day revival of the play across the country, as a way to declare that the loud voice of freedom and equality can never be drowned out by a few hateful squeaks.

Although this plan would require a substantial amount of coordination, I am confident that it could be done. In addition, it has the potential to draw much media attention to a worthy cause. The media pays shamefully little attention to the efforts of gay-rights groups to fight for equality in the face of intense religious bigotry, but they are attracted to sensationalism like a moth to a flame, which is why the Phelps family lunatics (as well as people like Ann Coulter, who falls into the same group as them) can get airtime on national media outlets despite having absolutely nothing of worth or value to say. Disgraceful as this state of affairs is, I believe we can change it by using the media’s hunger for sensationalism as a hook to draw them to the scene, so that defenders of equality can engage them and present substantive information on the real issues. When a reporter is drawn to one of these stagings by the presence of Phelps, it should be possible to enlighten them to the larger story and explain what is happening and why. What does everyone think – is this a feasible idea?

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Philip Thomas

    Sounds reasonable. I’m afraid I can’t run any plays here in England for you on my own account.

    I don’t know if this is a sensible suggestion- but should we not try to find some other things to annoy Mr Phelps? Apart from the danger of his getting suspicious, the more ways you can demonstrate gay solidarity the better.

  • Azkyroth

    Suspicious of what? He’ll presumably assume it’s a huge Satanic conspiracy to humiliate him, but that God will protect and vindicate him.

  • Azkyroth

    PS: I don’t know how much I can accomplish, but count me in. I’ll see about leaning on ARC’s theatre department…

  • http://hellboundalleee.blogspot.com Hellbound Alleee

    I think it’s perfectly sound. Expression against other expression. That’s always been the way to do it. Perhaps what Phelps is doing is raising awareness for the cause. He’s certainly not a sympathetic character. He’s doing nothing but hurting his own “side.” He’s 200 times more embarrassing for the religious right than Kent Hovind is to the creationist movement.

  • http://endless-rambling.blogspot.com BlackWizardMagus

    Wait, this guy is as good as Coulter? Why should I dislike honest opinions expressed with decent accuracy?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Why should I dislike honest opinions expressed with decent accuracy?

    You shouldn’t, of course. On the other hand, Coulter, like Fred Phelps, is a demagogue with a mouth of lies and a heart of poison, with nothing worthwhile to contribute to the national discourse in this country or any other. The only difference I can see between them is that Phelps, though he is a hatemongering bigot, appears to sincerely be a hatemongering bigot, whereas I doubt if even Coulter herself believes half the things that come out of her mouth.

  • SpeirM

    I try to look on the bright side with the likes of Phelps and Coulter. They’re the kind that can give their cause a bad name and discredit it in the eyes of the public. (And I tend to lean toward the conservative myself.)

  • andrea

    “Decent accuracy”? How does Coulter’s saying that the wives of the 9/11 victims enjoyed their deaths accurate? Her opinions may be hers but they are only “honest” in that she’s expressing how hateful she is and they are very rarely accurate in any sense of the word.

  • http://www.gibsonian.blogspot.com Ian B Gibson

    Sounds plausible on the face of it, but I think they’d eventually wise up and start sending proxies to far-off performances, though.

    Still, wouldn’t hurt to try. We could also start picketing Phelps’ family and friends funerals, of course, but then just how low do we want to go?

  • http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/ beepbeepitsme

    I say, force them to go broke by staging as many homosexual marches, parades whatever all over the US. They will scramble to attend as many as they can and have to go into bankruptsy. :)

  • andrea

    does anyone know where they get this kind of money? I would suspect that more agree with them than would admit and perhaps they get money from those type of donors?

  • Philip Thomas

    If the money is from donations its even better, we get to empty the purses of homophobes across America!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I believe most of their money comes from lawsuits against cities and towns that treat them roughly; they’ve won a few of those over the years. I assume some of Phelps’ family members who belong to his church also have regular jobs.

  • http://www.neuralgourmet.com tng

    Interesting idea but I’m not sure if it’s a good one. These are the kind of tactics that the right wing uses. Do we really want to be emulating them? I certainly agree with Ebonmuse though… “mouth of lies and a heart of poison” I’ve never heard it said better.

  • Philip Thomas

    “The right wing” is an awfully broad label!

    If the tactics are morally acceptable and they work, then we should consider them. In practise it just involves screening this play in lots of different places, which seems fair enough to me, assuming the play isn’t so awful that it causes suffering to a typical audience!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Hi tng,

    I’m not sure I follow you. What about this plan strikes you as similar to the tactics of the religious right?

  • http://www.neuralgourmet.com tng

    Sorry. I had misread it before. I thought you were talking about merely giving the impression of staging the play all across the country and somehow convincing Phelps and his traveling hate fest to drive to non-existent venues. Logistics aside, this is actually kind of interesting because it also works to counter Phelps’ agenda at every step. Could Phelps’ group be counted on to act in the desired manner?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Could Phelps’ group be counted on to act in the desired manner?

    I don’t know if they’d take the bait, but it wouldn’t really be a problem either way. If they decline to come, that’s basically conceding defeat, and we could declare victory even earlier.

  • http://www.neuralgourmet.com tng

    What I like about the idea, regardless of Phelps, is that it has the effect of presenting a solid block of time during which it becomes virtually impossible to ignore the message. And anything Phelps does just amplifies the publicity for it. I haven’t seen the play or movie, but I assume it requires very little in the way of stagecraft and should therefore be inexpensive to produce in each venue, although I think overall the project/protest would still require a substantial chunk of change. I don’t see where organizing it via the web and phone would be extraordinarily difficult. I guess the first step would be to contact the author and see if he likes the idea. He should have media contacts from interviews and such he’s done over the past few years that would help to build an initial wave of publicity.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I don’t know how to contact the author of the play (Moises Kaufman, I believe), but if anyone has contact information, I’d take the idea to him. In any case, I doubt he would object; the far more difficult part of the idea would be convincing multiple colleges or theaters to stage the play on a tightly planned schedule.

  • http://www.neuralgourmet.com tng

    Here you go Ebonmuse. Tectonic Theater Project. That should be a start.

  • schemanista

    How about an atheist/pro-gay V-Day? Proceeds to charities, etc.

  • justin

    this tactic could work against the entire christian right. Let’s use a ton of the ‘happy holidays’ pc crap to distract the AFA and the Catholic League, while we secretly ram through pro-gay marriage legislation. they’ll never see it coming. :)

  • http://www.okimc.org/newswire.php?story_id=1646&language=all&results_offset=140 richard kobzey

    Open Letter to Reverend “God Hates Fags”

    [Please feel free to share all or parts of this letter when dealing with hate mongers, and please read the link for even more “ammo”.]

    This letter is to Fred Phelps and his family at the Westboro Baptist Church. As some know, they are the “ministry” that callously demonstrates at people’s funerals, and jeer at mourning loved ones.

    Dear Reverend Fred Phelps,

    If you believe that homosexuals deserve death because they cannot change, then for what purpose did your god create them in the first place? [Oops, God’s mistake?] Did your god put them here for your gruesome pleasure to persecute?

    If you believe that gays must and can stop being as they are, with your help, but resist being changed, what is to say that they might not change with someone else’s help in the future, if they should really need to change?

    How do you know that Matthew Shepard might not have changed, if he needed to change, and what purpose would his being here have served him, you, or your god?

    You seem to want to save only those who apparently do not require much change and celebrate the death of those who bear witness to that which either could not change or could changed, but had the opportunity removed.

    Your family consists of several lawyers who have enough sense to keep the IRS out of their tax-exempt “charitable ministry”, but they do not seem to have any sense of diplomacy with those who obviously would prefer that your family not show up during their time of grief to defame their loved ones. While I feel that you are just a religion pimp who abides by the sorcery of lawyers, politicians, preachers and the IRS combined; I am not supposed to say these things, lest I face censorship by libel.

    Do you care less if people flock to Westboro Baptist Church just for the security of their own souls, or do you love it more that when the taxman cometh you can tell him that you have the infrastructure and the subjects that constitute a tax exempt charity?

    You Sir, represent to me abuse of law and the unworthy privileges of organized religion. You also represent to me someone who just laughs about the suckers who are unable to open an issue that poses an assortment of problems that even the government does not wish to address.

    You are one to laugh into hell your Government’s troops. Your government is the only source of your tax exemption. Go protest at a gathering that gathers to redress the government as follows.

    Separating Church and State:

    Fred Phelps hails from Sam Brownback’s state of Kansas. If Mr. Brownback wishes to talk about decency, let us ask him to address the Westboro Baptist Church, and watch who will stand in defense of Mr. Phelps and his lawyer family. Let us say, “Mr. Brownback, ‘We the People’ wish to revoke tax exemption of the Westboro Baptist Church”.

    Here is a link that discusses this matter further:


  • Jay Raines

    could someone please send me more information on the play? I’ve had my eye on this particular group for a while, and have seen them protest once before, but I need to see the beast in action. Also, it sounds like a good play ;)

  • milogill

    Fuck yeah! send me in coach. Just say when and where and I’ll be there.
    -A concerned American