On the Subject of Online Vigilantism
There are two different reactions raging across the last vestiges of the Wild West that we call the Internet right now, both of them having come about as a result of the latest deplorable insult heaved upon society by its most identifiable blight, the Westboro Baptist Church.
The tragedy inherent in this loosely organized cabal of would-be religious fascists needing no introduction nearly supersedes the tragedy that has thrust them into the public eye once again (this being the despicable murder of 20 innocent children and 8 others at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT). Make no mistakes: there can be no emphasis great enough placed on the word “nearly”.
Fred Phelps and his hateful little family have once again invited, nay, challenged the civilized world to thrust as much hatred and rage that can possibly be mustered their way by stating that they plan to “picket” the funerals of innocent children who were gunned down last week in a hail of gunfire. Sticking to their usual M.O., representatives from the church (even as a irreligious person, it makes my stomach churn to describe this collection of hateful, dead-eyed animals as a church) have said their official stance/belief is that a vengeful God sent the shooter to that elementary school in order to make Americans realize their folly/impending damnation in their growing support for marriage equality.
Their can be no doubt that the crazies at Westboro are some of the lowest kinds of human beings that walk the planet. They sneer and spit upon the very notion of decency and rationality out of some twisted addiction to rage and hatred in order to justify their continued existence and delusions. They are whores of the most despicable stripe, in that they offer no services or aid of any kind, but only salt the earth that they walk upon. They are prostitutes who only spread AIDS without ever laying a hand on a singe set of genitals.
However, the unwashed herd of Internet opinion has come trampling down the door of common sense once again, in the term of yet another online petition. This particular one is part of a campaign started by the Obama White House, with the promise that petitions that reach a certain threshold of signatures will receive the utmost consideration from policymakers on capitol hill. In reality, a bunch of people with nothing better to do than click buttons 23 hours per day make some White House intern’s job a little more annoying, but I digress. The petition in question calls for the U.S. government to “legally” recognize the Westboro Baptist Church as a “hate group”. My social media feeds have once again exploded with countless profiles, presumably hiding the solemn faces of a thousand online crusaders, posting links to this dubious piece of drivel.
You’d think that somebody who has taken the time to put their signature or name to something would at least take the time to think about the reality of their own country’s legal situation before signing it. First of all, there is no such thing as a “legal” designation for hate groups in the United States. This is largely due to the fact that in the United States, the existence of a hate group or membership in a hate group is not a crime and thus there are no restrictive laws that can be applied to it. Federal and state authorities do keep “watch lists” of certain groups that raise eyebrows in the fashion of the Westboro Baptist Church, and that group of depraved psychotics are already on those lists, as well as being considered “persons of interest” to the FBI.
It should be noted that Fred Phelps, along with other members of his brood, is a lawyer. He and his progeny have taken great pains to make sure that they operate within the bounds of the law so that they can continue to perpetuate their bilious message while maintaining the façade of righteous martyrs. Pushing for a bizarre rebranding of their organization as a “hate group” is not only unattainable, it serves no purpose other than to galvanize the dull, reptilian brains of the Phelps clan.
The two best responses to these vile subhumans (skipping the actual best response, which is no response at all) have come from two different organizations. The first is the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of bikers (mostly veterans from my understanding) who, at the invitation of families of veterans, escort and guard the funerals of soldiers that the Phelps family is so fond of besmirching. They both escort the funeral procession on their bikes and then form a ring of riders around the funeral site, blocking the “protesters” from view and drowning their banshee-like caterwauling with their bike engines (perhaps the only time an obnoxiously enhanced motorcycle engine is somewhat appropriate).
Anonymous, the hacktivist non-collective issued a decree in response to Westboro’s announcement that they would be smearing their hateful vomit-speech all over the funerals of innocent children. Amidst all the dramatic posturing is the message that they will essentially dismantle the church piece by piece, beginning by destroying their website, email, and releasing all of their personal information online. So far, they’ve made good on both threats.
This is the way to deal with those stains on humanity that operate with impunity inside the bounds of the law. Not by attempting to change the law and induce more far-reaching legislation or to demand that the government extend its authority into our private lives. Extralegal retaliation, as a law student friend of mine put it, is the way. You heard it here first, spread the word.