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Davis, California

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Westboro Baptist Church to protest on campus tomorrow

A church from Topeka, Kansas widely known for its anti-Semitic, anti-gay and anti-U.S. protests will be picketing on campus tomorrow.

The Westboro Baptist Church will be demonstrating at the Hillel House on Friday at 2:05 p.m. and at the Chabad of Davis on Saturday at 9:30 a.m, said Davis Police Lt. Tom Waltz.

The church typically attends funerals, religious institutions and schools carrying signs with phrases such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” “God hates America” and other anti-gay slurs.

Although the group usually garners several counter-protests, many members of the Davis and UC Davis community have decided not to react, to avoid giving the group attention.

“I don’t see the value or the point in protesting these people,” said Rabbi Shmary Brownstein, Chabad of Davis. “It makes them more significant than they really are.”

Members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC) and Hillel of Davis have expressed similar views towards the group, deciding against any kind of counter protest.

Organizations such as the FBI, the Davis Police Department and the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region have advised these communities against counter protests.

“The reason we’re doing that is that a counter protest is exactly what this group wants,” Waltz said. “They’ll do anything they can to evoke a response from counter protestors. What we don’t want is for someone to get in a situation where they can get sued, since that is what keeps them going.”

The group – headed by Fred Phelps, founder of WBC and the Phelps chartered law firm – tends to file lawsuits against counter protesters at their demonstrations. The group claims to spend approximately $250,000 per year on traveling to demonstrations, which the firm reportedly funds, according to an article in The Guardian.

“These folks try to provoke people in order to sue and fund their trips around the country,” said LGBTRC director Sheri Atkinson in an e-mail sent to the LGBTRC community. “Let’s not fund their hateful work.”

Still, several independent groups of students plan to hold counter-protests, holding signs with messages such as “Drugs are bad” to ridicule the messages that the church promotes.

“The only reason I would counter protest is to show people that nobody should take this group seriously,” said Jeff Hu, a junior cell biology major. “To put it frankly I want to turn their hate into something we can join together and make fun of.”

Though Waltz said he would prefer that students ignore WBC members, he respects their right to free speech.

“If they’re going to counter protest, I would say keep a good distance, don’t get violent and follow orders from the police,” he said.

The Davis Police Department will be present at the protest and counter protests to ensure participants express themselves non-violently.

“We’re out there to make sure everyone is heard safely,” Waltz said.

LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think newspapers are supposed to suppress information in order to control the outcome of an event. There might be some kind of ethical problem with that, such as looking like North Korea.

  2. I must disagree, at least partially, with your argument. It’s true that the ideal outcome would be for everyone to ignore them. But the truth is, that will never happen. Unaware passersby will be drawn in regardless, and THAT is what they want.

    A proper counter protest, which I will be participating in, is an absurdist one. The WBC thrives on animosity, and sues anyone who says something slanderous or anything that could be argued to be assault or battery. They do this regularly, and it’s been effective for them thus far. However, it’s more beneficial for a counter protest to make them seem silly. Signs that have nothing at all to do with their arguments or even reality will help those passersby to see their arguments and tactics for the silly things they are. I have a large sign that reads “I enjoy snails!” which I will display with pride.

  3. I saw this group protest in SF recently and I agree completely with the authorities on this one. Students, please don’t counter protest. Ironically, this article, while newsworthy and well written, is exactly what Westboro wants. No offense to the Aggie or the reporter, but this article should not have been printed. Not only does it give Westboro what they want, publicity, but now more students are aware of their protest and will come to counter-protest (or just watch, which is worse).

    If no one had know about Westboro, they would come for 20 minutes (and they are very good at sticking to a schedule), shout some slogans and go home, affecting no one. If hundreds of students show up, Westboro will think, “Wow, we got our message out to some many people. Well done.” But if no one shows up, they will think, “No one heard our message. Damn we suck.”

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