Westboro Baptist Church Turning Into Little More Than A Punchline

Nathan Francis

Westboro Baptist Church was once a feared presence in society.

The hate-filled church rose to prominence after the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepherd in 1998. Church members picketed over the course of the ensuing trial, carrying signs that condemned Shepherd and his gay lifestyle.

For the next several years the threat of Westboro Baptist Church protests loomed at nearly every national tragedy, leaving grieving families of dead soldiers frightened at the prospect that members would use the funeral as a chance to push their radical ideology.

But in the past year, that has shifted dramatically. As groups like the Patriot Guard have blocked Westboro Baptist Church at their attempts to protest, the church seems increasingly desperate for attention. Public sentiment, which was never with Westboro to begin with, has shifted toward acceptance of gays and gay marriage, leaving Westboro members on a rapidly shrinking island.

The desperation has shown in Westboro's actions. The church once generated headlines for its threats to protest at funerals and after national tragedies, but now drew a potent backlash. After threatening to protest at memorial services for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the online collective group Anonymous attacked, outing Westboro members' personal information.

Now, the increasingly empty threats struggle to even warrant mention in news. When Westboro Baptist Church members threatened to show up at funerals for Boston Marathon bombing victims, the media barely took notice. It didn't help that Westboro made it a habit of chickening out and never showing up to their planned pickets.

But things keep getting worse. This week church members were confronted by country music star Vince Gill, making fun of them for being the church's "C Team" of protesters.

The church is also earning many defectors. Children and family members of founder Fred Phelps Jr. have filtered away from the church, speaking out against its radical message.

"When the picketing first began, WBC targeted the homosexual population," wrote Libby Phelps-Alvarez, daughter of Fred Phelps Jr., in an article for xojane. "Now they are more likely to be protesting a fallen soldier's funeral than a gay pride parade. When you look at the places WBC picketed, it seems as if church members are continually compelled to find someone or something to complain about, or they cannot be content."

This summer the church took another hit. Shelly Phelps-Roper, one of the church leaders, has followed in the steps of Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher and made Twitter her preferred medium of communication. On it she showed how far the church has fallen, announcing plans to protest a Taylor Swift concert over the summer. No one seemed to notice, nor care.

The word on the Westboro Baptist Church appears to be out. The church is too small, too inconsequential to carry any real power anymore. It's impossible to get mad when it's so hard to care about what they're saying.