TOPEKA, Kan. – In a recent tweet, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), renowned for its outspoken anti-gay agenda and long-standing practice of picketing funerals, made it clear that no one – including its own members — is safe from its wrath. “Gonna pickat [sic] these sons a bitches’ funerals #BlameTheGays” the group’s twitter feed read in reference to the funerals of Jack McDougal and Harry Gumble, both WBC members for over ten years.
McDougal, by all accounts, was a model WBC member throughout his time with the group. He had participated in vast majority of the church’s protests and was often seen in a shirt that read “Gays Smell Funny.” Gumble, too, was well-respected among his peers. He led the picket against the Wrigley Company – the world’s largest gum manufacturer – because he “saw a gay dude chewing gum once.”
Joseph Leffberg, a professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Kansas and the foremost expert on the controversial church, tried to shed some light on the group’s curious decision to link homosexuality with proud WBC members. “They’re effectively protesting themselves,” said Leffberg. “To the common man, this appears illogical. But to Westboro – well, come on. It’s freaking Westboro.”
WBC does indeed exhibit a history of head-scratching protests. After Sweden prosecuted a pastor who damned homosexuality, the WBC took to the streets to picket a local Topeka, Kan. appliance store that sold Swedish-brand vacuum cleaners. In 2013 alone, the church has picketed a 5-year-old girl and her lemonade stand (from which the proceeds went to an anti-bullying campaign) and plans to picket the funerals of the 19 Arizona firefighters who died while fighting a vicious wildfire.
“The key to understanding Westboro Baptist is acknowledging that you can’t understand Westboro Baptist,” Leffberg said. “Not the pickets, not the tweets, and certainly not the message.”
Leffberg’s analysis has proven especially precise with respect to WBC’s recent announcement to picket its members’ funerals. The contentious tweet’s only clarification has come in the form of a statement from Amy Billo, a WBC spokesperson. While storming past a throng of reporters outside her Topeka, Kanas home, Billo merely banged her hand against her chest like a sign-language-speaking gorilla and spoke in staggered utterances. “Gays. Bad. Amy no like.” When she was pushed for a more coherent response, Billo made a series of grunting noises then sped off her in car.
“I’m surprised she even knows how to drive a car,” said Leffberg when he heard about Billo’s explanation and subsequent escape. “Perhaps they’re evolving, but I doubt it.”