Strong opinions, weakly held

Fred Phelps is a troll

I wish the media would take Rogers Cadenhead’s advice when it comes to dealing with Reverend Fred Phelps and simply ignore him. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s the pastor whose tiny congregation pickets military funerals and other events with placards bearing hateful messages. His church has announced it’s going to picket the funerals of victims of the shooting in Tucson, and he recently made the news by showing up at the Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral.

People who hang out on the Internet should have no problems recognizing Phelps for what he is — a troll. The message on just about every forum I’ve participated in on the Internet when dealing with these types is, “Don’t feed the troll.” When they fail to provoke the response they’re looking for, they search for greener pastures.

I met a woman who had just left a counter-protest against Phelps on the day of Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral and she was talking about how many people showed up to shield the funeral from Phelps and his crew. I couldn’t help but think that even though she was well intentioned, she and the others who joined her were in the end part of the problem. Don’t feed the troll.


  1. A troll is good when they can evoke a reaction in almost anyone. Phelps is very good at what he does.

    I agree that the best thing to do is ignore them, but that’s far easier said than done.

  2. I’m not sure the analogy carries over. An online troll is a lot easier to ignore. Phelps and his bottomfeeders are right there screaming that your dead son or daughter or spouse is going to burn in hell etc etc…

    I’m also not convinced that they will go away if ignored by people on the ground — that just gives them better access to the people they want to hurt. Rogers makes the point that it’s the media who need to stop feeding the troll. I’m not sure the media will act responsibly if there is no counter-protest, or that the counter-protests make it more likely that the media will cover Phelps’ freakshow.

    I keep saying “I’m not sure” because I’m really not — it’s a tricky issue. On balance, I think I favor the “wall of bodies” method of shielding the mourners. The best answer to hateful free speech is usually better speech! Otherwise, we will need legislation so that it becomes a police responsibility to keep these nutcases away from funerals.

  3. Here’s a write-up that claims Phelps is nothing but a slick con man. It’s an intriguing perspective and quite likely true.

  4. But a “Fabulous Fred Phelps Phony Funeral Freakshow Feeds Phat Fags For Free Photos” would be a great counter-protest sign, especially if you could also get people to shout it 3 times fast.

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