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Posted at 04:58 PM ET, 07/23/2012

Westboro Baptist — the church that cries picket


They are not in Aurora, at least. (Astrid Riecken - FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
You know what they say: The darkest moment is always just before the Westboro Baptist Church shows up.

If there is one thing that most of us can agree upon as a nation, it is that we do not want the Westboro Baptist Church to come to whatever event it is we are having. Barbecue? No, thank you. Funeral? Please, no. Family reunion? We’d prefer to sit near creepy Uncle Elmo with the glockenspiel collection.

Whatever it is, we do not want the church members, more emphatically yet when we are gathering in the wake of a tragedy. But that is always when they show up, like cockroaches with brightly colored signs.

When your organization has been denounced by the KKK as too extreme, you know that you have fallen off the edge of the map and are in the strange zone with monsters and dragons and tentacled things with six heads.

The Westboro Baptist Church is worse than accordion music. Sometimes you want accordion music. This is more than can be said of the church members. In fact, the less said about them, the better.

But that’s just the trouble. They retain an eerie ability to make headlines.

They have leaped into the annals of bad publicity, grabbing a seat generally reserved for Satan and people who do unspeakable things to kittens. Seldom does anyone get so much bad publicity.

But maybe they’ll stop getting it soon.

Most recently, in the wake of the horror in Aurora at the movie theater, several members announced plans to “superpicket.” “Hi ho Hi ho, to Colorado we go!  # godsenttheshooter! # americaisdoomed!  # godisyourenemy!  # godkillingyoursoldiers!” tweeted Fred Phelps Jr.

Just one minor problem: The church members didn’t appear. Actually, to call this a “problem” will result in my getting a lot of angry letters from the lawyers for the word “problem,” but you know what I mean.

Participants in a Denver comics convention had promised to form a human wall to keep protesters out of view, but its Facebook wall was full of people expressing bewilderment (if not disappointment) at the lack of a visible Westboro presence. The Examiner reported that “Despite rumors that Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket the prayer vigil being held in Aurora for the victims of the Colorado shooting, there is no proof that any members of the controversial church actually appeared.”

Just one picture, apparently photoshopped. No video.

In fact, glance through the church’s most recent, most ballyhooed attempted protests, and you notice: It doesn’t seem to be turning out the way it used to. It makes enough headlines announcing that it’s planning on coming. Why bother actually going? Stay inside and keep the signs dry.

The greatest trick the Westboro Baptist Church ever pulled was convincing people that it was going to show up.

It had the formula down pat: Word of a funeral hits the news, and the WBC announces that it was scuttling over. But it wasn’t at Whitney Houston’s memorial service either, disappointing no one. It sent a photoshopped image instead. The louder the threat, the emptier?

Yes, it has a protest schedule (D.C., they’ll be here all week!) and it clearly intends to keep doing its grotesque work. But the road to obscurity is paved with this sort of unfulfilled, much-noised intentions. The only thing less newsworthy than the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church is going to show up in a place where no one wants it is the news that it intends to.

And you can’t keep crying “Westboro Baptist Picket” indefinitely. People will stop paying attention. And that would be just what it deserves.

By  |  04:58 PM ET, 07/23/2012

 
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