The sheer, obsessive hate expressed by some so-called human beings towards ideas they do not understand can be nearly impossible to comprehend, until you take a look at what they have to say about their targets. Fred Phelps is one of the most widely known homophobic bigots on the Net; his organization is well-known for its actions in Topeka, Kansas and other locations – especially the practice of picketing the funerals of poor souls who have died of AIDS. "God Hates Fags" is his motto, and you can see it for yourself at his very own Web site. The domain name itself has been a source of considerable controversy, as Phelps insists on registering it as "godhatesfags.com" – but this has caused him to be kicked off of many Internet services. This site will offend and shock you – but remember, folks, you really won't believe how moronic and vile these people can be until you see them for yourself!
In 1995, a building at the Westboro Baptist compound was firebombed – apparently not as retribution against the Phelps clan, but as part of a series of random arson incidents that took place around that time. Phelps, however, took the attack as an attack against him by the United States government. As a result, the group now pickets the funerals of servicemen who have died in Iraq, and they also host the domain name godhatesamerica.com.
Phelps' actions have attracted the attention of many critics and counter-protesters – but this is exactly what his group wants. This is difficult for most folks to understand…heck, even I have trouble grasping the concept. Picture yourself as a crusader wading into the depths of Hell, with the Devil's minions surrounding you on every side, taunting and tempting you. Would you expect them to be convinced and converted by your preaching? No, you would steel yourself against their attacks (verbal and physical), and you would block out their lies with your own dogma. That's how Phelps' clan see themselves, going up against what they believe are the Satanic forces of homosexuality. To them, any media coverage they get is proof that their crusade is having an effect. Of course the media makes them seem like fools and haters – after all, the media is controlled by the Devil and the Devil always lies.
The truth is, groups like Westboro Baptist do these stupid things to get into the media because they are desperate for attention. They may look like the biggest fools in the world, but they don't care about that – they're keeping the rest of the world out and not listening to the hundreds of thousands of people laughing at them. They're content in their own little world, and they use media stunts like this to reinforce their own sense of self-worth. When they get headlines and counter-protests and media coverage, then that makes it all worthwhile.
The best thing to do in situations like this is to IGNORE them.
In the fall of 2007, the father of an American soldier killed in Iraq sued the Westboro Baptist Church, because they picketed the funeral of his son with their "Thank God For Dead Soldiers" signs. After a surprisingly short court case, on October 31 a judgment of $11 million was awarded against the Phelps clan for their actions.
I can't say I agree with this judgment, as it seems like the same tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center: use the legal system to force your opponent into bankruptcy in such a manner that his life is ruined, because you can't convict him personally for saying things you don't like. The case itself was not a free-speech issue; rather, the argument that won in court was that Phelps and his crew had intentionally inflicted emotional distress and invaded the privacy of the family of a soldier killed in Iraq. However, if they had indeed caused emotional distress to the father and his family (and they certainly did), then you would think that a fair and impartial judge would award enough damages to genuinely slap Phelps and make him remember this…not crush him financially in such a manner that the Westboro Baptist Church would have to sell their homes, all of their worldly possessions, and forfeit all income they make for the rest of their lives to pay it.
Is $11 million a fair payback for insults from a bunch of wackos no one is going to believe anyway?
This seems more like the actions of a jury who were outraged by the Westboro Baptist Church and wanted to stop Phelps once and for all, rather than simply handle this one single incident. It's the same way that Morris Dees stopped White Aryan Resistance, Aryan Nations, and other hate groups.
The WBC's pickets and protests were legal, but the hurt they inflicted on the soldier's family wasn't. They should be punished for their hurtful actions, not for their legal ones.
Update: After having the damages award reduced from $11 million to $5 million, the entire damages was completely rejected by a federal judge in September of 2009.  The prosecution insists it will appeal this all the way to the United States Supreme Court, but I suspect it's effectively a dead issue. Why? Because, as the judge himself noted, the tasteless and offensive actions of the Phelps clan are still free speech. This comes back to our original statment – the Westboro Baptist Church should be completely IGNORED, not attacked.
More interesting information about the Phelps clan can be found on a Web site dedicated to bringing it down: God Loves Fags. You can also check out Baptist Watch, a site that focuses on the actions of "Baptist zealots worldwide," but especially focuses on the Phelps clan.
Also of note is this site: In Defense of Westboro Baptist Church Pickets. This site is dedicated to defending freedom of speech – even the hateful speech of the Phelps clan. And they're right: what's the point of passing legislation preventing them from picketing at funerals, when it is much easier to simply ignore them outright?
(Those seeking info on other stuff God hates might try God Hates Shrimp.)