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06/30/2011

WBC at FBI: Rhetoric is off-the rails -- but was it right to welcome the train?

by Jeremy Hooper

Last fall, I saw that Westboro Baptist Church's Megan Phelps (daughter of Shirley, granddaughter of Fred) had posted some really odd photos of various church members leading classes at the Quantico Marine base:

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[Megan Phelps -- Twitpic]

They even got some souvenir chocolate, which Megan described as "freakin' good":

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[Megan Phelps -- Twitpic]

But due to this writer's prevailing WBC fatigue (and autumn diet that excluded chocolate), I pretty much forgot about the pics. Never pursued it further.

However this week, National Public Radio caught wind of the bizarre story and did decide to pursue it. Here are some snips and link to the full report (*which was tipped to us by Andy Towle):

The Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for picketing soldiers' funerals with signs like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates the USA."

Yet the FBI recently invited leaders of the fundamentalist church to the Quantico Marine base in Virginia to talk to FBI agents as part of the bureau's counterterrorism training program. But after four sessions this spring, the FBI canceled the arrangement amid criticism from inside the bureau, while church leaders claimed that they had been misled.
...
The FBI first invited the church group to address the FBI's law enforcement training classes back in 2008. And initially, there were no apparent problems. But the most recent sessions, including three at Quantico and one in Manassass, Va., stirred up controversy.
...
[Timothy Phelps] said the program was designed to teach agents "how to stay measured when they are speaking with a witness or a suspect with whom they have a strong, visceral disagreement."
...
Phelps said the sessions were contentious. "Some of the students in the class take the gloves off and basically push the envelope about, 'what will happen when the day comes that your so-called leader tells you to use violence,' " Phelps said. "Our leader won't tell us to do anything except what is written in scripture. We don't have a leader like what they want to believe we have. ... We have a preacher."

Law enforcement officials who attended the session said it was focused on domestic terrorism. They were told that the FBI invited Westboro members to the class so police officers and agents could see extremists up close and understand what makes them tick.

FULL: FBI Invited Controversial Church To Talk To Agents [NPR]

Not sure I really have a problem with this. If the goal was to understand what makes the "fag haters" and like minds tick, then that seems understandable, regardless of how weird it might be to see WBC members standing at a government-sanctioned lectern. Personally, I've always held frank and open conversations with WBC members (in-place and in-flight) for the sake of learning the mindset. Can be useful.

Regardless, the FBI says there will be no more WBC invites. So for Megan, it means back to the grocery store for a chocolate fix. For the FBI, it's back to the drawing board if they wish to make sense of American rhetoric's emptiest calories.

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