Students at George Washington University, in anticipation of a D.C. Veteran's Day attack from the WBC have started a website called Transcend the Hate, whereby those of us outraged by the WBC can donate specifically to those groups receiving direct vitriol from Phelps and Gang (so, like, almost everybody except the eight members of the church). I asked site founder Daniel Wein a few questions about the whole thing...
How's the campaign going?
The campaign is going very well; we've nearly hit $5,000 and have gotten a lot of attention in the GW and DC-community; we were featured on the front page of the GW Hatchet, GW's student newspaper last week. In addition, the Georgetown Voice picked it up and some of the largest student organizations on campus have agreed to co-sponsor the campaign, including GW College Republicans, GW College Democrats, GW Veterans, Allied in Pride, GW Hillel, the Muslim Student Association, the Student Theatre Council, Kappa Sigma, and Alpha Epsilon Pi.
Have you got any flack back from the WBC? (Or do they know how to use computers?)
The WBC is actually very tech-savvy; they don't live in the stone age. They know that their message is controversial enough to easily go viral, and it obviously has over the past few years. Spreading their hate speech online is an effective supplement to their protests (of which they've held over 43,000), and they make propaganda videos featuring the Westboro kids singing about how great it is that fags die. I can only imagine how many thousands of hits a day their website logs, and every 20/20 interview, front page article, or condemnation from a prominent community leader draws thousands more to their site. Their website, videos, and/or protests are obviously not convincing anyone to adopt their warped view of the world, but I don't want to give them the satisfaction of knowing that they're "reaching" us.
Do you seen any value at all in the physical counterprotesting?
Personally (and opinion of the campaign), is that there is no real value in physical counterprotesting. Not only does it lend the WBC legitimacy, but it gets them much more news coverage than they otherwise would have. It certainly makes people feel better, but that's essentially it. I've even seen many signs at counterprotests rising to the level of Fred Phelps and the WBC, saying such things as "Fred Phelps is going to burn in hell" and "Fuck you WBC." It's more venting than anything. [Ed. note: guilty.] Now, I know that it's not realistic for people to just ignore them, but I think that the best way to respond to them is by finding a positive alternative to counterprotesting. What I'm doing is, in a way, a counterprotest, but I'm doing so to lend them as little legitimacy as possible. I'm trying to transcend the hate they preach by channeling all of the frustration and anger people feel towards them into a positive venue. All of the money being donated to the campaign is split among four nonprofit organizations that work with gay youth, injured veterans and their families, victims of terrorism in Israel, and HIV/AIDS in Africa. The WBC has explicitly protested all of these causes in the past, and I can't think of a better response than empowering those very causes. I think that's what people love about this idea.
We're as guilty as the next media outlet, but what do you think it is about the WBC that's so awfully compelling, and gets them so much coverage?
There are a number of things that compel the media to cover the WBC, the first of which is obviously many of their high-profile "targets." Matthew Shepard's funeral, 9/11, the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster; these were all tragedies that unite people beyond political and religious lines. Thus, the anger that they provoke in people also crosses party and religious lines. As you can see, I had no trouble getting Muslim students and Jewish students, Republicans and Democrats, to stand together as co-sponsors of this campaign. They are equal haters, and manage to offend just about everyone. The counterprotests that have become popular in the past several years also blow the WBC protests way out of proportion. While it's fun to have 3,000 people show up to counterprotest ten WBC protesters, they will be getting significantly more news coverage as a result. And that is exactly what they want.