If I ever visit Topeka, I shall pack dancing shoes

Fred Phelps is dead.

It is usual, on the passing of a fellow human being, to avoid speaking ill of him or her.  To afford that person a certain dignity in death, as though the mere act of dying confers a sort of benefaction.  There is an unseemliness that attaches to treating the person’s demise as anything other than sad.

To hell with all that.

Fred Phelps was a blight.  He was a receptacle for the absolute worst, most despicable kind of hatred humanity is capable of producing.  The god of his imagining was a demon of bile, and his appearance before the public eye was a festering sore.

I do not regret the happiness I feel knowing I no longer share an oxygen supply with him.  I do not believe in the existence of a hell, even for the likes of people like him.  If there is a judgment that awaits him, let his loved ones hope it is before a judge more merciful than the one he worshiped.

It is a truism on the Internet that to invoke a comparison to the Nazis is to lose one’s argument immediately.  Does anyone doubt the comparison is apt in this case?  Does anyone dispute that the deceased would have been the first to sign up for duty packing people like me, my husband and many of my friends off to the ovens?  Shall I strive to find a reason to speak well of him?

I decline.

Let his equally-despicable “church” mark his passing with whatever rituals and rites they hold dear.  May he rest in more peace than the innocent people whose own funerals he profaned with his message of vitriol.  And may his memory sink into prompt obscurity.

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46 thoughts on “If I ever visit Topeka, I shall pack dancing shoes

  1. The Phelps clan are consummate attention whores.

    I used to live in Topeka – they’d scream obscenities at you as you were walking in Gage Park, etc – but when they came into the restaurant where I worked, they were quiet and unassuming. Until someone recognized them for who they were, and then the AW side came out again.

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  2. It is usual, on the passing of a fellow human being, to avoid speaking ill of him or her.

    I think this practice is based on the assumption that it is uncouth to speak ill of anyone who isn’t present since they have no way of responding to what is being said.

    Now, this seems assumption seems laughably dated. We talk about people all the time without telling them we are going to talk about them. So, I don’t think it makes that much sense to carve out a special exemption for the dead.

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      • All of the above.In the case of Phelps, though, I struggle to be too concerned about those mourning him.

        I found out, much to my shock, that my comic book dealer back home was a follower. Saw him on a picture of a protest wearing the same Washburn shirt he often wore at the shop. I quit collecting comics around that time. The lack of comic book shops being a reason.

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  3. I remember when news broke of Osama Bin Laden’s killing. I didn’t expect any outpouring of sympathy — at least not from the vast, vast majority of Americans. But I do remember being a little bit appalled at scenes of people gathering in the streets to celebrate as if their favorite team had just won the Super Bowl (which itself is always a bit absurd, and I say that as a sports fan).

    “I’m glad he’s dead!” wouldn’t have bothered me.
    “Thank god!” wouldn’t have.
    “He got what he deserves and I hope he rots in hell!” would have seemed similarly understandable, and acceptable.
    But… “Hey, man! Grab some beers and a beach ball! Osama’s dead and we’re all heading down to the square!” Ugh. That just seemed wrong to me.

    I say this because I think there are times it appropriate to be relieved or even glad at an individual’s passing. And that there are appropriate ways and times to express such feelings. And I think this individual and the manner in which you, Russ, are expressing your feelings is wholly appropriate.

    Just avoid whatever urge you might have to throw a tailgate in celebration.

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  4. Sic Semper Tyrannis

    I think don’t speak ill of the dead is a good rule most of the time especially for private citizens even bigoted ones. But if you make a career out of spewing hatred and bigotry and/or cause a lot of pain than people are going to rejoice your death. This has been true forever.

    Keep in mind that Fred Phelps was so hateful that everyone other homophobes and social cons kept their distance.

    Then again, there are also going to be people who are heroes to some and despised by others. My dramatic writing professor in college said that his father started dancing when news about FDR’s death was announced on the radio. He was a Kansas Republican lawyer during the long years of the New Deal and probably voted: Hoover, Landon, Wilkie, Dewey. Obviously some of us still like FDR.

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  5. By the way, this is another interesting case in headline writing. I first saw the headline “Fred Phelps dead” and thought “I have no idea who that is. I guess another celebrity.”

    Then I saw “Westboro Baptist Church Founder dead” and got it. I know it’s nowhere near as bad as reducing someone to which celebrity they dated, but is it OK to refer to them by their work rather than solely by their name?

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  6. The vast majority of the people that despised him won’t sink to his level to desecrate his funeral.

    But that still leaves a good-sized crowd.

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  7. I was going to do an off-the-cuff post for this event when I saw the news pop up on my reader in court. It would have included a reference to Mr. Phelps’ recent excommunication from the church he founded, for suggesting that the church members be kinder to each other (really), and I was going to title it “Unmourned.”

    The Doc’s post, however, accomplishes the task. The best that can be said of Phelps and his life’s work was that it created a Supreme Court case that underlined the scope of freedom of speech, and First Amendment principles are rarely vindicated by likeable people. Indeed, as here, while we’re better off for such people having the right to say their hateful things, we’re even more better off when they thereafter shut the hell up and let civil dialogue displace whatever it was that drew the ire of a unit of government — and we can be certain that Fred Phelps shall be speaking no more.

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    • I think it is probably true that, in the full balance, Phelps did more to help the LGBT movement than harm it. Which does not excuse the pain he caused to those individual families burying their dead, nor that pain he caused when his “God Hates Fags” message was still fresh, new words that still had bite.

      But his antics lost their power fast. And he was such an over-the-top jackass, the perfect foil. It was in our best interest to make him the face of homophobia.

      I mean, who on earth would want to be like him? He was a caricature of himself.

      Now that he is gone, I suggest we broadcast the words of Cathy Brennan, his true descendant, far and wide. (After all, it is time we trans folks took center stage in the struggle.)

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    • The scope of freedom of speech. To me, by and large, nothing wrong with the Alito dissent. Not something I see myself writing often.

      Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.

      Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure. He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right. They first issued a press release and thus turned Matthew’s funeral into a tumultuous media event. They then appeared at the church, approached as closely as they could without trespassing, and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability. As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury.(1) The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.

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  8. I hope that Phelps’ death brings a close to the Westboro Baptist Church. More than that though, I hope that it encourages LGBT advocates to focus their sights on anti-gay figures who actually matter.

    Phelps was a sideshow. His church was nothing but a distraction, a target for our collective sense of self-righteousness. He held no real influence outside his cult. LGBT organizations used him to drum up outrage, while anti-gay organizations used his rhetoric to make their own stances seem moderate.

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  9. There was a line from the movie Rob Roy that seems appropriate enough.

    “I will think on you dead, until my husband makes you so. And then I will think on you no more.”

    I look forward to never thinking about him ever again.

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  11. “Does anyone dispute that the deceased would have been the first to sign up for duty packing people like me, my husband and many of my friends off to the ovens?” When “they” come you have a few choices: 1) run and hide, 2) comply 3) resist. This is why firearm ownership is so critical. What could be more noble than to die defending youself from evil such as this?

    Re Phelps: Didn’t think much of him, won’t miss him now that he’s gone, and while I don’t believe in a heaven, I do believe in evil and vengence. I do hope that there is a hell. Phelps doesn’t belong on the lowest rift, but he’d not be on the top layer either.

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  12. All I can say is that I earnestly hope there is not a soul protesting this creatures funeral. Let his family bury him like a rabid put down animal, ignored and unremarked.

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  13. When I think about Fred Phelps, his legacy, and his death, I’m only sad.

    He wasn’t an effective messenger of his hate. He alienated those who might have looked at him as an ally. I’m certainly grateful for that. The end of his life seemed especially pathetic if the reports are true.

    At the end of it all, he was another person with deep flaws. His obsessions spoiled his potential and ruined his family. His vision of god was the one I feared as a child–the angry, unreasoning and omnipotent abusive parent. He brought pain to others in the bizarre belief that he could save people from the eternal torment that such a god would surely bring.

    He died, apparently, an outcast from his church, estranged in one way or another from his children, and without having made things the least bit better from his perspective.

    I can’t but feel sad for the misery he caused among his family, his followers, his neighbors, and among his targets. I also feel sad for the misery and fear he likely felt. The world and he are both probably better off for his death, but what unhappier thing could ever be said about anyone?

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    • Well, knowing my leftier peers, someone may sojourn out to his grave and do a ritual to turn him posthumously gay* so perhaps he’ll have a fabulous afterlife.

      *Though seriously, gross! Don’t do it satanist lefties! What did gays ever do to you?

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