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Darrel Manson

Westboro Baptist targeted by Anonymous

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NBooth   

You know, I've got really mixed feelings about these guys. On the one hand--the Westboro folks are hateful bigots who really, in some sense, deserve what they get. And the video does give me a certain heck-yeah thrill of righteous indignation. On the other hand--well, it's vigilantism, isn't it? And I worry about the kind of world where there's outright (if digital) war between marginal groups like Anonymous and Westboro. There's also a certain amount of child's play that goes with most of the stuff Anonymous does...like they're not really revolutionary or anything of the sort. They're playing at it. This video looks and feels like the sort of thing you would see in any number of dystopian thrillers--think Dark Angel, for example, with its "Eyes Only" stuff. It's so melodramatic.

EDIT: I thought there might be a TVtrope entry on this sort of thing, and sure enough here it is.

Then again, that air of theatricality is what A is going for. So there's that. But even that comes from pseudo-revolutionary/vigilante movies and tv (like, oh, V for Vendetta, not to mention the Dark Knight movies). It's like we've reached a point where reality starts merging with fantasy [this is not an original thought].

Still. I kinda want to grab some popcorn.

Edited by NBooth

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There's already been some hacking of WBC sites, though Anonymous claims it wasn't them.

As much asI hate WBC they have a right to their actions. Free Speech and all. Until they actually hurt other people nothing can or should really be done against them. The human walls idea is about the best we can do.

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The news stories speak of "Anonymous" as if it's officially a thing that exists, as opposed to some college students goofing off in a basement somewhere.

Looks like they've at least succeeded in giving Westboro Baptist Church more publicity.

Edited: Oh, I see they already have a documentary made about them.

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As much asI hate WBC they have a right to their actions. Free Speech and all. Until they actually hurt other people nothing can or should really be done against them. The human walls idea is about the best we can do.

In my review of We Are Legion I noted that their actions sometimes attack the idea of free speech that they claim to treasure. For a group that eschews censorship, they are pretty good at it.

As to "actually hurt people," are not mourners who must put up with their bullshit injured? The SCOTUS doesn't seem to think so, but....

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NBooth   

I'm not sure I would characterize cyber-attacking the Pentagon as goofing off, but [a] yeah, it's hard to speak of a loosely-organized group of hackers as a monolithic entity, and see my own comments above about theatricality. Everything Anonymous does feels (to me) like the sort of stuff adolescents who just saw V for Vendetta would pull. Heck, they use the V mask for heavens sake! And outside of the Pentagon thing, every entry about their activities listed on Wikipedia boils down to either "Anonymous claimed responsibility" or "Anonymous threatened." At this point, their bark exceeds their bite.

If Anonymous succeeds in doing anything materially harmful to Westboro, beyond inconveniencing them in marginal ways, I'll eat my hat. And it's a nice hat, too. Lite felt.

W/R/T Westboro...they absolutely hurt people. I'm not sure they hurt people in a legally actionable way, but that's a question for people of a higher pay grade than myself to address. And part of me would cheer if Anonymous succeeded in giving the organization a fatal blow. But.... Well, it comes back to the question of vigilantism. I'd much prefer [i can't believe I'm saying this] that their freedom of speech be curtailed in certain ways (such as, say, no protesting at funerals) than see a group of accountability-free hackers bring them down.*

*The problem here is, of course, that such a course of action does set a dangerous precedent w/r/t the right of the people to protest. Again, better legal minds than my own would have to address that one.

Edited by NBooth

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SDG   

Picketing funerals should not be protected free speech.

I understand the risks of declaring anything not protected free speech. But by God, there ought to be some room for enforcing minimal community consensus standards of decency—and if picketing a funeral with those horrific signs isn't an intolerable affront to near-universal community standards of decency, what in God's name would be?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The way these people flock to pain and grief in order to inflict more pain and grief is one of the purest icons of the satanic in our day—above all, because they claim to do it in God's name. A terrorist suicide bomber makes more moral sense to me than these monsters. Well, except for terrorists targeting funerals, or weddings.

Edited by SDG

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I know it's a usual cliche among libertarians, and I'm speaking as a more liberally minded one, but when you start chipping at the rights of any citizen, you set a precedent for chipping away at other rights. The moment we begin re-defining Freedom of Speech to mean this or that, we begin to set the precedent for allowing further redefining of it until we eventually lose any right we had at all.

Now, I sound like a bit of a hypocrite cause I've been speaking up in support of assault weapons ban recently. But that's why I'm left leaning libertarian. heh.

do I agree with you guys on Westboro, heck yes. Do I think if a way could be found to shut them down that didn't include taking away their basic rights as Americans, or internet terrorism that I would be all for it, heck yes also. But I can't agree with infringing on Free Speech, even if I don't agree with how they're using it. Because I'd like to keep that right for myself and my loved ones who do use it correctly.

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SDG   

Justin, do you think the whole body of law and legal opinion dealing with community standards and indecency is an existential threat to free speech? All forms of speech should be protected? For example, should I be free to walk around in public carrying signs or wearing T-shirts displaying stills of hardcore penetration shots from porn films?

Edited by SDG

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I dunno, I mean obviously there's some lines. But we really need to be careful where we draw them. At this moment I don't see Westboro crossing any line that can be interpreted in any way as illegal or worthy of prosecution without infringing on other forms of protest and picketing.

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I'm totally sympathetic to declaring funerals protest-free zones. But I suspect Westboro wouldn't be the only group of activists affected by such a law. Indeed, they *shouldn't* be, lest we make a mockery of equality before the law; we can't just cherry-pick and say that certain laws apply to certain groups and not other groups.

Incidentally, the first thing this discussion reminds me of is the "bubble zone" law here in Vancouver that prevents anti-abortion activists from staging protests too close to abortion clinics.

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But that does beg a question....at what point would a protest at a funeral ever be a good thing?

Either way, knowing Westboro, they would protest right at where the line of the "bubble" is, and not past it.

Edited by Justin Hanvey

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SDG   
But that does beg a question....at what point would a protest at a funeral ever be a good thing?

I can think few human insights that run deeper or truer than "Give space to those who are grieving." There is a time for ugly confrontations, and a time for holding your peace. For anyone except (possibly, possibly) the grieving themselves, a funeral is always, always the latter. Even for the grieving, a confrontation at a funeral is an ugly, messy thing, almost always (though not absolutely always) unwise, unhelpful, undesirable.

I can think of absolutely no rationale whatsoever for picketing a funeral. Adam Lanza's surviving family should be left to bury him and his mother without facing grief from anyone. Humanly speaking, I would understand grieving community members showing up at the funeral and saying ugly, hurtful words. But should they be deemed to have a right to picket? Absolutely not.

Edited by SDG

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Picketing funerals should not be protected free speech.

I understand the risks of declaring anything not protected free speech. But by God, there ought to be some room for enforcing minimal community consensus standards of decency—and if picketing a funeral with those horrific signs isn't an intolerable affront to near-universal community standards of decency, what in God's name would be?

I know it's a usual cliche among libertarians, and I'm speaking as a more liberally minded one, but when you start chipping at the rights of any citizen, you set a precedent for chipping away at other rights. The moment we begin re-defining Freedom of Speech to mean this or that, we begin to set the precedent for allowing further redefining of it until we eventually lose any right we had at all.

There is no need to redefine "freedom of speech" to mean anything different from what it does mean. What it does mean (along with freedom of the press) is one of the rights, privileges and immunities, long recognized by a tradition of common law, of citizens to engage in political speech in the public square. The 1st Amendment only explained that the Federal Government could not abridge this freedom. In 1925, this enunciated prohibition was applied to state governments in Gitlow v. New York (1925) 268 U.S. 652 through the 14th Amendment.

Thus, "Freedom of Speech" has always been subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. It does not protect all forms of speech. It does not protect speech designed to harm others. (Schenck v. U.S. (1919) 249 U.S. 47.) It does not protect obscenity. (Roth v. U.S. (1957) 354 U.S. 476.) It does not protect illegal behavior that is only really pretended "speech." (U.S. v. O'Brien (1968) 391 U.S. 367.) It does not protect libel or slander. And, finally, it does not stop local communities from prohibiting types of speech at specific locations in their communities.

Any city mayor or police chief, with guts and a little imagination, is perfectly legally justified in putting a stop to something like a bunch of protesters who are obstructing and disturbing the view near a cemetery. That is what the government is for. And stopping something like that will not hurt what the founders had in mind by the English Common Law idea of "freedom of speech." No member of any protest group is being prevented from engaging in public discourse about any issue, simply because he can't shout or hold up signs on one particular sidewalk. Read a little bit about George Washington's and Alexander Hamilton's ideas when it came to mobs disturbing the peace - something they viewed as completely separate from the freedom to engage in political discourse.

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Just a reminder that we should probably be careful how far we go into "politics" here.

But I will ask one question: is there a good reason why we couldn't/shouldn't label WBC as a hate group? There's a petition on whitehouse.gov that is asking for exactly that. And at last count it appears to have more signatures than the gun control one that has made quite a few headlines over the last few days.

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... is there a good reason why we couldn't/shouldn't label WBC as a hate group?

No, not unless you work for the FBI (which do not need petitions to decide what "groups" they need to keep their eyes on). Even if you are the President of the United States, merely declaring that anyone or anything has been "labeled" as a "hate group" is nothing more than a rather rhetorical exercise in political flamboyance. It accomplishes nothing.

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Rushmore   

There's no reason "we" shouldn't label WBC a hate group, since it clearly is one. The federal government, however, as I understand it, does not maintain an official list of hate groups. The petitions regarding WBC on the White House website--there are currently at least three--seem to be focused on revoking its tax-exempt status, which would probably be a more complicated proceeding than calling names.

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Attica   

But that does beg a question....at what point would a protest at a funeral ever be a good thing?

I can think few human insights that run deeper or truer than "Give space to those who are grieving." There is a time for ugly confrontations, and a time for holding your peace. For anyone except (possibly, possibly) the grieving themselves, a funeral is always, always the latter. Even for the grieving, a confrontation at a funeral is an ugly, messy thing, almost always (though not absolutely always) unwise, unhelpful, undesirable.

I can think of absolutely no rationale whatsoever for picketing a funeral. Adam Lanza's surviving family should be left to bury him and his mother without facing grief from anyone. Humanly speaking, I would understand grieving community members showing up at the funeral and saying ugly, hurtful words. But should they be deemed to have a right to picket? Absolutely not.

Certainly.

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SDG   
... is there a good reason why we couldn't/shouldn't label WBC as a hate group?

No, not unless you work for the FBI (which do not need petitions to decide what "groups" they need to keep their eyes on).

Is "hate group" an federal-level law-enforcement category? I thought it was more civil-rights/watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center that designated organizations "hate groups."

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opus   

I've found the whole Anonymous phenomena interesting, so I wrote a little something about this latest kerfuffle on Christ and Pop Culture.

Most people would be perfectly happy to see Westboro Baptist Church go away for good. The goals of Anonymous seem quite laudatory here. Indeed, I am not unsympathetic to their cause: Fred Phelps et al. are certainly guilty of spreading corrupting “seeds of hatred” in our culture. But should I really be cheering when dirty or illegal activities are perpetrated, with no real oversight or accountability, to bring about something that I’d very much like to see? Do the ends justify the means? (To be fair, Anonymous members are also planning more benign activities, such as forming a human shield to protect people attending the funeral of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung from Westboro protesters.)

But perhaps the more important question in this conflict is this: What do I want more, to see Westboro humiliated and receiving their (richly deserved) comeuppance? Or to see them repenting of their hatred and becoming a true church that displays the love and grace of Christ? Perhaps the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but the former seems to me driven more by power and vindictiveness — and I doubt that hacking Web sites and revealing private information will bring about the latter. My suspicion is that actions like those currently being employed by Anonymous and its allies will only strengthen Westboro’s resolve, and we’ll see even more hateful, insensitive protests in the foreseeable future.

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