In the latest outrage from a group that specializes in generating outrage, the Westboro Baptist Church is promising to picket the funerals of the victims of a Norwegian mass murderer who it says God sent because Norway legalized homosexuality.
“Norway made being a fag legal in 1972, and passed laws for fags to marry and adopt children in 2008,” the group, based in Topeka, Kan., says on its infamous GodHatesFags website. God “sent the killer to slaughter 75+ of your children and citizens. It doesn’t matter what stripes Anders Breivik has or what you do to him now; God formed him and appointed him to punish Norway.”
Westboro is headed by Fred Phelps, and its congregation is almost entirely made up of Phelps' children and grandchildren. Phelps began a crusade against gay men and lesbians starting in the late 1980s that has only grown increasingly vicious with the years. Last month, for instance, the church said it would picket the funeral of the beloved former first lady Betty Ford because she divorced her first husband before marrying future president Gerald Ford. As often happens with Westboro, Phelps and his followers never showed up at the July 8 funeral, but they received plenty of publicity.
Breivik has admitted murdering some 77 people in Norway on July 22, saying he was acting to fight back against Muslim immigration. (Virtually all the victims, including scores of children, were connected to the relatively liberal Labour Party, which has promoted tolerance of Muslim immigrants to Norway.) Authorities in Norway described him as a Christian fundamentalist apparently influenced by American Islamophobes.
It seems highly likely that the Westboro group, if it actually attempts to go to Norway, will be turned away; like most European countries, Norway has laws that penalize or forbid certain kinds of speech. In 2008, a group of Westboro congregants were turned back from the border of Canada, which has similar speech laws and where the Phelps clan planned to picket the funeral of a young American murdered on a bus by a mentally ill stranger.
But Phelps and his followers, even when they don’t show up to carry out their threatened protests, are expert at generating media coverage, albeit universally negative, with their horrific publicity stunts. They have picketed Jewish synagogues, saying Jews killed Jesus, and the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying they were killed by God because America is a “fag-enabling” nation. After their success in getting horrified press attention over the planned pickets of the Betty Ford funeral, it seems obvious that the Westboro congregants are once again simply carrying out the most outrageous protest it can think of in the hope of winning attention.