Slayer(s) of Peace, One Funeral at a Time: Westboro Baptist Church

Nick Morris ’15

Jeff Hanneman, guitarist of the heavy metal band Slayer, recently passed away on May 2, 2013 at the age of 49 from liver failure. His death was connected to a flesh-eating disease he had contracted known as necrotizing fasciitis, caused by a spider bite in a friend’s hot tub in early 2011. Upon hearing the of his death, members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) decided that they were going to protest his funeral, even though arrangements have not yet been made. They proceeded to tweet that “there will be no RIP for Jeff Hanneman” and that “he is in hell!”

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Such controversial messages are no longer surprising from the Westboro Baptist Church, which was formed in 1956 in Topeka, Kansas. Pastor Fred Phelps soon discontinued all ties with the East Side Baptist Church that it was once a branch of. Fred Phelps was also a civil rights lawyer at the time until he was disbarred in 1979 for his conduct in a court case that had occurred two years earlier. The announcement of the protest of Jeff Hanneman’s funeral is only one of the most recent of many protests by the Westboro Baptist Church. In the early 1990s, the church began to start its picketing and protests. The group pickets daily against gay victims of murder, bullying, or complications with AIDS. The WBC has not followed up on all of its protesting plans, but still remains fairly consistent. They believe that “America is Doomed” because it tolerates homosexuality, and for this reason they also picket the funerals of soldiers that have fallen in combat, hoisting signs that say “Thank God for Dead Troops!” The group has also launched multiple campaigns against Islam, Catholicism, and Judaism, specifically in the nation of Israel. The Church has also picketed the funerals of former head of Apple, Steve Jobs, pop singer Michael Jackson, heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio, and many other famous people of the media. The WBC has also planned to protest the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newton, Connecticut, but were thwarted by whom some have called “Good Samaritans”. The WBC also has notably announced its plans to protest the victims’ funerals of the terrorist bombings during the Boston Marathon, because they believe it was God’s response to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The WBC has been described as a hate group and is monitored by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center. The WBC has also both received many threats and been attacked by “hacktivists” from the group known as Anonymous. Their protection under the law is constantly questioned.