WebProNews writer Amanda Crum reported yesterday about the stylized counter-protest staged by Satanist's against the Westboro Baptist Church. (See link below.) A small group of self-proclaimed Satanists gathered at the gravesite of Westboro leader Fred Phelps' mother and performed a ritual they refer to as a "pink mass", a rite that they say means that she is now "turned gay" for all eternity.
Of course, Phelps and his followers can easily dismiss this as ridiculous. They can ignore it. They can use it to fuel even more of their own anti-gay protests. But what they can't do is stop it from happening again. And this is where a stunt like this could really cost Westboro dearly. Because it strikes a blow at Westboro in a way that few other protests have not been able to do. It takes the battle to them.
Counter-protests to Westboro's activities are not new. Almost anywhere the group turns up nowadays, they are met with a group of locals that are intent on blunting their effectiveness. This is especially true when Westboro pickets funerals, whether they be of dead soldiers, children, or celebrities. People take the solemnity of a funeral seriously, and they will defend each other's space and right to have an uninterrupted funeral. Common tactics include forming a cordon around the Westboro protestors to prevent their offensive signs being seen by passing funeral processions or graveside gatherings.
The Westboro protest machine is lean and mean, and very efficient and effective. A common Westboro tactic is to send out a fax or email to press in a town, warning that Westboro protestors intend to come. This usually causes a bit of a stir in local media. Often local newspapers and television news runs with the story, leading people to believe that Phelps himself is coming. Most of the time the reality is far less than they fear. If anyone shows up at all, it usually a handful of rank and file Westboro members with signs. They hang out long enough for local press to get photos, including of any counter-protestors, then they hop back in their van and leave. Many times their total presence in a town is less than an hour. But they've made their mark.
A protest like the Satanists staged at Phelp's mothers grave goes further than responding directly to Westboro's presence on a given day. It is retaliatory. And it is as offensive to Westboro members as the activities of Westboro itself are to others. For example, as part of the "pink mass" ceremony, a pair of gay men and a pair of lesbian women kissed over the grave, with photos to commemorate the occasion.
But the coup de grâce came when the officiating member also got a photo laying his penis on the headstone. Now, anytime Phelps visits his mother's grave, he will know that a Satanist's penis was there.
And this is where this particular protest is different. Most people who counter-protest Westboro are decent. They only want Westboro to stop. They don't really do much of anything to offend back. Maybe they stage some "gay-looking" activity in the vicinity of the Westboro protest site. But that is over and done quickly. They don't target Westboro members with violence or other offenses, even though a common question is, "How are these people still alive after what they do to others?" The answer is that most people – so far, everyone – are more decent than they are. Most people take the high road.
This protest takes the fight to the enemy, Inglorious Basterds-style. If other groups come up with innovative ways to do more of the same – like the group that bought a house across from the church and painted it like a gay pride flag – the Westboro folks may suddenly find that this game isn't fun for them anymore.
(Be sure to read the facts of the Satanists' protest, here.)