One cheer for Fred Phelps

By now I'm sure you've seen this ad, from the National Organization for Marriage:

We could go through a point-by-point refutation of the ad's innuendo about the Big Gay Stormtroopers menacing California doctors, Massachusetts parents and tax-free beach-front property managers in New Jersey, but it would be wrong to dignify such brazen BS by pretending that anyone shoveling this crap might even slightly believe it to be true.

So instead we'll just stick with the two-word rebuttal of everything this ad darkly hints will come to pass down the slippery slope of equality: Fred Phelps.

WBCBS Yes, that Fred Phelps. The military-funeral crashing leader of the inbred Westboro Baptist Church. You know, the "God Hates Fags" and "God Hates America" guy.

Or, more to the point here, the anti-gay bigot whose church's freedom to preach his gospel of hate has never been threatened, circumscribed or interfered with despite the vicious and despicable things he's made it his life's work to go around saying at the worst possible times in the worst possible places.

So it turns out that the litigious old bastard has at least one useful social purpose. The unimpeded, undiminished work of his infamously evil  anti-gay "ministry" emphatically disproves every Scary Story promoted by anti-gay religious groups who claim that recognizing marriage equality or including sexual orientation in existing hate-crime or anti-discrimination legislation will lead to Christian ministers being thrown in jail for saying they believe homosexuality is a sin.

"My freedom will be taken away," says one woman in the NOM ad.

How so? She doesn't say. But Fred Phelps' freedom hasn't been taken away, so we have to assume that this otherwise pleasant-seeming woman must be referring to her "freedom" to harass, slander and berate with greater intensity than anything Phelps has done.

It's hard to imagine just what it is that would entail. Phelps shows up at military funerals and celebrates the death of soldiers for defending America as a "fag-enabling" country. Perhaps this young lady wants to do the same, but also, I don't know, to fling feces at the honor guard.

And she's afraid that marriage equality might threaten her freedom to do that.

But the point here is that Fred Phelps is a free man. His only legal troubles stem from instances of direct physical assault — not from the hateful content of his beliefs. So when the folks at NOM insist that their opposition to same-sex marriage is a matter of "religious liberty," the liberty they're talking about has to be the liberty to exceed the Fred Phelps standard — the liberty not just to restrict membership on religious grounds, or just to preach against homosexuality as a sin, or to condemn and denounce homosexuals as people hated by God, but the liberty, apparently, to go beyond all that, beyond anything even Fred Phelps has imagined.

Fred Phelps is a free man, so if you think your freedom is going to be restricted, you must be planning to outdo Fred Phelps.

So there's the two-word answer for every Tony Perkins or James Dobson or Damon Owens who makes up some dubious claim about being persecuted or punished or threatened or jailed or whatever for their anti-gay beliefs.

"I'm a California doct– " Fred Phelps! He's a free man. Are you worse than him? No? Then shut up, 'kay?

"I'm part of a church group in …" Fred  frikkin' Phelps, buddy. I don't wanna hear it.

"I'm a Massachu …" Phellllps! Fred Phelps. No one is persecuting you, but your whining is giving me a headache so please just go away now, thanks.

  • Karen

    You’ve made me appreciate the Westboro Baptist Church. That has to qualify you for sainthood Mr. Clark.

  • Erl

    Mr. Clark, you are a genius. This and your torture analysis (we do it to extract false confessions) have got to be the two most insightful things I’ve heard in a long time.

  • Hashmir

    I always have to pause when I see this kind of thing. Not just because it’s a horrifyingly creepy combination of soft, gentle voices and vile, putrid hatred, but because it defies mockery.
    Usually, I make fun of this kind of thing by saying stuff like, “Oh noes! The gay marriage will take away my freedom! They’re not content to ruin our country by themselves; they want to force doctors and pastors to do things! Nonspecific things!”
    Except that is what they’re saying. So I don’t really know how to mock it. It’s like trying to make fun of someone who thinks A Modest Proposal was a great idea on its face.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/ShifterCat ShifterCat

    I know it’s immature, but every time I read that group’s acronym, I think “OM NOM NOM!”

  • Yeltar

    I don’t get it. What’s going to happen to the California doctor and her faith or her job? Or the Jersey church group, they’re going to be punished exactly how? The Massachusetts parent at least got to finish her lying whine, but the other two lying whines are really pretty vague. So.
    Sometimes, with enough effort (and leaning my head to one side and squinting really, really hard), I can pick out a whisp of twisted logic in some of the declarations this type of ad makes. But this time I am stumped. Am I just thick… or did they not really say what that “much more” and “far beyond” bullsh*t is?
    And maybe they didn’t, purely for the effect. Because of course the scawey, scawey monstah you can’t see is always the most frightening one of all….

  • Lori
  • Hashmir

    OM NOM NOM NOM, NOM NOM
    Also…
    Am I just thick… or did they not really say what that “much more” and “far beyond” bullsh*t is?
    Nope, not you. The ad basically said, “They will do bad and your children mutter mutter GAY mutter your home doctor freedom FAITH!!!
    It only has any meaning to people who already either hate gays or are used to reflexively accepting any nonspecific fear as long as it comes from the right source.

  • Lori

    I know it’s immature, but every time I read that group’s acronym, I think “OM NOM NOM!”
    I do the same thing. How is it possible that there wasn’t a single person associated with NOM who has ever seen a LOLCat?
    And then I realize that the NOM thing is trivial compared to their big project: 2 million for marriage. Yep, 2M4M. I guess if they’ve never seen a LOLCat it’s not surprising that they’ve never seen a personal add.

  • Nenya

    This is AWESOME. I will be using this the next time I run into this kind of argument. Why have I not thought of it before?

  • Hashmir

    And then I realize that the NOM thing is trivial compared to their big project: 2 million for marriage. Yep, 2M4M.
    You know, in their own way, they’re absolutely adorable. From a distance.

  • Caravelle

    At least the storm video is funny. This one is just creepy. And too damn long.

  • Stephen

    “My freedom will be taken away,” says one woman in the NOM ad.
    I love this line. I remember seeing a CNN piece about some Texans who were finding refuse left by Mexicans illegally entering the country around their property. One woman, your stereotypical uneducated redneck woman (sorry, was that judgmental?), showed the reporter some of the shit left by illegal immigrants by a stream, and the reporter said, “How does this make you feel?” The woman replied, “I feel like my freedom is being taken away.”
    I wanted to reach through the screen and throttle her.

  • Hashmir

    At least the storm video is funny. This one is just creepy. And too damn long.
    Good God. Earth Day is radical environmentalism? Schools not shouting “HEY KIDS IT’S JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS DAY!” is overbearing political correctness? Christians “are being told to sit in the back of the bus”? (Worst. Wording. Ever.)
    And they honestly don’t see the difference between their right to tell people what to do in their bedrooms and others’ right to be open about what they do in their bedrooms. Or the difference between the gay community and gay advertisers. Or…
    Ok, I’m going to stop now. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I can’t see this stuff without reflexively deconstructing at least part of it. Maybe I’ll flush it out with some Left Behind

  • ako

    And they honestly don’t see the difference between their right to tell people what to do in their bedrooms and others’ right to be open about what they do in their bedrooms. Or the difference between the gay community and gay advertisers. Or…
    I know. I so know. There’s a layer of ‘flaunting your sexuality’ that’s just ordinary human interaction; telling people you’re with someone and not hiding your signficant other’s identity and gender are standard bits of human interaction. You have to hide things or look like you’re hiding things to avoid them. It’s a whole layer of secrecy many straight people don’t understand. Because if your sexual preference is normal, it often doesn’t strike you how hard hiding the ‘abnormal’ ones would be.

  • http://jakobknits.blogspot.com Jake

    One woman … showed the reporter some of the shit left by illegal immigrants by a stream, and the reporter said, “How does this make you feel?” The woman replied, “I feel like my freedom is being taken away.”
    Heh. I love it. “Litter: freedom’s new worst enemy.”

  • Lori

    The worst thing (among many) about the Dare to Stand video is the timing. An 11 year old boy hung himself as a result of anti-gay bullying about a week before this year’s Day of Silence. Pretty much a perfect illustration of the need for the day. That apparently didn’t even phase the Illinois Family Institute, which made the video and led the protest.
    I guess that’s not a surprise coming from a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group, but it still made my stomach hurt.

  • Hashmir

    There’s a layer of ‘flaunting your sexuality’ that’s just ordinary human interaction;
    And part of what scares me about the people on the fringe is their extreme compartmentalization of groups. I’d almost call it a sort of collective sociopathy, except it’s a sociological disorder rather than personality.
    Mostly, they seem incapable of generalizing their own feelings and experiences to others, also known as empathy. It’s almost like everything that is common to humans is immediately regarded as being different for The Others, and and everything that changes with backgrounds and experiences is immediately regarded as being a universal state of humanity.
    And their entire world is constructed around themselves in every possible way. I don’t even know how one would communicate with such people; I’ve tried, but all of the words mean something else and everything is upside-down. It’s like talking to a cultural Cthulhu.

  • Zeborah

    I was in a bad mood on another subject, but you’ve just cheered me right up. Thank you!

  • Hashmir

    Hm. Due to editing, that quote at the top of my last post made no contextual sense. Just ignore that…

  • Errol Flynn

    I have to say: I am more and more certain that Phelps is a fifth-columnist for the Left.
    Think about it. He used to be a civil rights lawyer. His current work does NOTHING to further the cause of the religious right; in fact, most anti-gay conservative Christians I’ve met HATE him, because he takes their views to the extreme and makes them look like – well, like bigots, which they are. He exposes the hatred at the core of their beliefs. And in doing so he gives the left a caricature of conservative Christianity to rally against. I really really think he’s doing this all on purpose.

  • Hashmir

    The worst thing (among many) about the Dare to Stand video is the timing. An 11 year old boy hung himself as a result of anti-gay bullying about a week before this year’s Day of Silence. Pretty much a perfect illustration of the need for the day. That apparently didn’t even phase the Illinois Family Institute, which made the video and led the protest.
    I guess part of what I don’t understand is how they reconcile all of this in their heads. Do they think the boy hung himself because he was gay? Or that he deserved the bullying? Or that it would be restricting the bullies’ free speech to ask that they not play “Smear the Queer”? When I look at this stuff for too long, I feel like I’m staring into an abyss of senseless darkness, and it hurts.

  • ako

    I have to say: I am more and more certain that Phelps is a fifth-columnist for the Left.
    I wish. I have been told (with surprising degrees of politeness) that I should back off flirting in Birmingham or I’d be hurt or killed (in Birmingham). And the people who warned me were nicer than the people who would have hurt me or killed me, but it’s still there. And realer than I’d wish on anyone.

  • http://users.livejournal.com/_dahne_/ Dahne

    At least the storm video is funny. This one is just creepy. And too damn long.
    Best part: the ominous lingering shot that catches the sticker of a hand doing a peace sign on the back of the mom’s car. Subtle!

  • Anonymous

    For the sake of accuracy, Phelps (in particular, and everyone else in general) is restricted from protesting at military funerals.
    ‘Prodded by an increasing number of complaints about anti-gay protests by a Kansas church group, President Bush signs a law banning demonstrators from disrupting military funerals. Leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka believe dead soldiers symbolize God’s anger at America’s tolerance of homosexuals.’
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5437855
    It is possible that the law is not truly constitutional, and I realize that the distinction is a fine point, but nonetheless, by protesting at military funerals about how God hates America in part due to its tolerance of anything homosexual, and loudly proclaiming at such funerals that an angry God is killing America’s soldiers as proof of that hate, he has had a right to speech restricted.
    Not that I expect NOM to make an ad showing how their right to hate America’s soldiers is being restricted due to the gay rights agenda.

  • not_scottbot

    Ooops – not_scottbot isn’t trying to go under cover.

  • http://clockworkegg.etsy.com MadGastronomer

    Do they think the boy hung himself because he was gay? Or that he deserved the bullying? Or that it would be restricting the bullies’ free speech to ask that they not play “Smear the Queer”?
    Yes, yes and yes. Being queer automatically means dying young and painfully, unless you get into an ex-gay program. The bullying was a perfectly natural reaction, the correct aversion of good people to an abomination, and should have encouraged the boy to get help. And the bullies were right-thinking people, and so of course their free speech should not be abrogated, as it is more important than that of queers and liberals.
    Or so I was given to understand, when *I* was the young, small town queer some years back.

  • Skyknight

    Stephen: This, in turn, makes me wonder what NOM’s understanding of “freedom” is. Are they including “freedom from dissonance” in there, somehow?

  • Hashmir

    It is possible that the law is not truly constitutional, and I realize that the distinction is a fine point, but nonetheless, by protesting at military funerals about how God hates America in part due to its tolerance of anything homosexual, and loudly proclaiming at such funerals that an angry God is killing America’s soldiers as proof of that hate, he has had a right to speech restricted.
    But hasn’t the law always held that while no one can restrict what you say, they can almost always restrict when and where you say it? That’s what’s behind the Free Speech Zones and whatnot.
    For that matter, I would not be opposed to laws restricting protests at funerals in general — if you could define it so that it wouldn’t bleed over into “prohibiting things that upset people,” which I’m not sure is possible.

  • Hashmir

    And the bullies were right-thinking people, and so of course their free speech should not be abrogated, as it is more important than that of queers and liberals.
    I have long been thankful that I didn’t have to grow up in a small town. I’m still in Texas, mind you (and at A&M University, no less), but even then it’s not so bad as long as you’re in a fairly dense population center. It’s something about the (slightly) different people shoved together, in combination with the relative affluence and access to education and a wide variety of media that makes it very difficult for young people to grow up with pure pants-on-head bigotry.
    But, we still maintain a fascinating definition of free speech and patriotism. For instance, liberal dissent is unpatriotic and bad, whereas conservative secession is patriotic and good. Free speech applies similarly, as do the definitions of “hate speech” and “being a complete and total asshat.”
    (Side note: Between this place and the Team Fortress 2 forums, Firefox’s spellcheck dictionary is getting quite expansive.)

  • Bugmaster

    I am a Massachusetts parent, hopelessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is ok…

    NOOOOOOO ! The horror ! THE HORROR !!!
    Seriously, are we sure that the original video is not a spoof ? After all, it’s made by “a rainbow coalition of people coming together in love”. Hmmmmmmmm…

  • Michelle

    Did anyone catch the hilarious appropriation of the gay rights movement’s language? The NOM people actually said, “We’re forming a rainbow coalition.”

  • Kourou

    Great post, Fred! Never thought of that. Thanks!

  • Hashmir

    Did anyone catch the hilarious appropriation of the gay rights movement’s language? The NOM people actually said, “We’re forming a rainbow coalition.”
    Hey, I was truly touched by the variety. It is a wonderful alliance of actors from all ethnicities (even one guy with an accent!), who are willing to read a script about how they put all of their petty differences aside, unified in their love of hating.
    Just imagine the story of the woman who plays a doctor, and will no longer have a choice! Or the man acting like he’s from a church group that lost tax-free status, just for violating the terms of its tax-free status!
    Also, didn’t some of the rhetoric seem disconcertingly low-key? “I am a Massachusetts parent, hopelessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is ok…”

    That’s it? Not even a trumped-up “teaching kids about sex” or “teaching kids it’s ok to be gay.” Just “gay marriage is ok.” Which, by the way, is legally true — Massachusetts law currently holds that it is ok for gays to get married, because it’s not illegal. So do they want the schools to lie to students about the law? Or perhaps add a section to the curriculum on “things that are legal but that you shouldn’t do”?

  • http://clockworkegg.etsy.com MadGastronomer

    I’m pretty sure their Rainbow Coalition is referencing back to Jesse Jackson’s National Rainbow Coalition. This is far from the first time that phrase has been used to describe a multiracial group of people.

  • konrad_arflane

    For those wondering about the details of the California doctors and New Jersey tax-free property, this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0dKMhYSX20
    has some more details, and does a good job of fisking a number of the anti-gay claims.
    Of course, the Fred Phelps argument is probably better in an argument, since it’s simpler and more eye-catching.

  • http://nobodycaresaboutmyviews.blogspot.com/ Pope Easier Rhino I

    One woman … showed the reporter some of the shit left by illegal immigrants by a stream, and the reporter said, “How does this make you feel?” The woman replied, “I feel like my freedom is being taken away.”God help me, the first thing that comes to mind in all of this: “They took our jobs!” “Dey took ar jarbs!” “Durka dur!’ Not a fan of the show much, but it’s inescapable. I guess homosexuals could be threatening to take the valued… gay jobs that straight people are currently holding down, and if we let them marry, they’ll… produce little gay welfare-leech babies… somehow…I have to say: I am more and more certain that Phelps is a fifth-columnist for the Left.A certain religion, and I shan’t say whom, believes that often, people are put on the earth to do things which are so egregiously one way that they actually promote the other way. The thing is, they don’t realize they’re doing it. Hooray for human ignorance, hooray I say. Wait, that was two cheers. Forget the second one.

  • chancelikely

    I’ve been singing this particular praise of Fred Phelps for a long time: he’s the asshat canary in the free-speech coal mine.
    Re: Fred being a deep-cover liberal – no. Of course, this is coming from someone who thought that Westboro was the joke and Landover was serious. I have been at least this wrong before.
    The thing that strikes me most about the NOM ad is their complete tone-deafness with respect to the larger culture. “Rainbow Coalition”? NOM and 2M4M? I’m trying to decide how much is deliberate; I’ve seen and heard a nascent ‘steal the rainbow (God’s promise to Noah) back from the queers’ meme, so it seems to me that that bit was on purpose, and the acronym is unfortunate but entirely innocent. (I find it hard to believe that no person in their organization is fond of cute pictures of cats, but maybe they’re the e-mail-forward sort instead.)

  • Nebris

    This is diabolically brilliant.

  • http://sarahbrand.livejournal.com/ Sarah B

    konrad_arflane, thank you so much for that video! Simple, rational, and true… the kind of thing that can change minds, or so I hope. I’ve passed it along. We’ll see what happens.
    (Also, it goes without saying, but Fred, this was a great post.)

  • http://liberalhyperbole.blogspot.com/ Randy Owens

    konrad, let me second the thanks for that YouTube link! I’d been wondering just what the deal was with the New Jersey church claim.
    And second praise for Fred’s outside-the-box insight here, as well. Now, maybe I’ll just hush for a while, until I have something of my own to say.

  • http://I-have-to-put-an-url.com Consumer Unit 5012

    @Errol Flynn: I have to say: I am more and more certain that Phelps is a fifth-columnist for the Left. … I really really think he’s doing this all on purpose.
    If it is an act, he’s taken it way too far.
    (WARNING: Contains depressing stories of child abuse.)
    That guy’s continued non-Smitedness is one of my more conclusive pieces of evidence against the idea that there’s a God who CARES about what humans think of It. If JHVH was on the ball, Phelps would have been eaten alive by locusts about 10 years ago, just for making Him look bad.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    You have the right to free speech. You don’t have the right to come into my house to say what you want. If you did, screaming about Free Speech wouldn’t stop you from being arrested. Restricting where Phelps can talk is not the same as restricting his right to talk.
    That said, I get a bit uncomfortable – both ways – with letting Phelps perform at funerals. He’s so repellent, and funerals are… I don’t know what adjective I’m looking for. But having him and his at a funeral seems wrong in a deep and fundamental way. OTOH, having him barred from public land or functions is just as wrong.
    Still, I will happily throw his name at certain people at work.

  • Kriz

    Thank you, Fred! Now, if I can afford a full-page ad in my local paper, I know what I’ll put in it to counter the full-page hate that’s been running in it.
    (I’m not blaming the paper, they’re really quite liberal, but they also believe in free speech … and no doubt they need the revenue.)

  • inge

    And then I realize that the NOM thing is trivial compared to their big project: 2 million for marriage.
    This sounds like some indecent proposal. How many marriages will two million buy?

  • SueW

    But the point here is that Fred Phelps is a free man.
    Oh sure, he’s free *now*. But if the Evil Gays get any rights THEN all the poor oppressed bigots will lose their freedom. I think that’s what they’re trying to say.

  • Gairid

    Out of the many brilliant things you’ve written (I follow your LB write-ups–erm–religiously) this may be the most brilliant of them all! Imagine Fred Phelps being the lever that helps turn over this particular cumbersome rock! Oh, happy day!

  • Amaryllis

    chancelikely: The thing that strikes me most about the NOM ad is their complete tone-deafness with respect to the larger culture. “Rainbow Coalition”? NOM and 2M4M?
    I don’t think they actually spend much time engaging with the larger culture. But then, I’m old too, and ’2M4M’ doesn’t convey much to me either (no, you don’t have to explain). Instead of cute cats, ‘NOM’ first made me think of those stereotypical Frenchmen who used to wander through old novels muttering ‘Nom d’un nom!’ Or even ‘Nom d’un chien!’
    And also of the National Organization for Women–after all, an M is just an upside-down W. NOM, NOW, NOW, NOM…maybe it is deliberate, after all. Nom d’un chien.

  • Rowen

    The website Qweerty gathered what they feel are the best parodies of this ad.
    http://www.queerty.com/the-best-responses-to-the-gathering-storm-ad-20090420/
    My favorites are the R.I.M Job one and the Weather Girls one.

  • Tonio

    We’ve discussed “What’s the Matter With Kansas” before, but I would like to see the analysis taken a step further with the election of Obama. I see the ad above as of a piece with the anti-Obama signs that Fred posted elsewhere. Obviously I’m not saying that the anti-gay-marriage crowd is racist. I’m saying that both seem to stem from the same misguided feelings of resentment and persecution. I don’t know if I’m correctly connecting the dots or not.
    If JHVH was on the ball, Phelps would have been eaten alive by locusts about 10 years ago, just for making Him look bad.
    If I were that god, I would turn Phelps gay instead. (And no, I question the assumption that he’s already gay and in denial about it. My theory is that he feels deeply persecuted on a level that he does not explain or understand, and gays make a convenient target for him for some reason.)

  • Natalie

    I am so going to have to use this argument – and it’s simple enough I can remember it and pull it out when I need it. Thanks!


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