This past Sunday, the Westboro Baptist Church gagged on a spoonful of its own medicine. During its annual demonstration against the Academy Awards show in Hollywood, the homophobic religious group, notorious for its zealous protesting of military funerals, was itself the target of picketing by the aptly named Occupy the WBC organization, at Sunset Boulevard and Highland Avenue.
While the WBC brandished placards stating "God Hates Fags," "God H8s Media" and the more event-specific "Whitney in Hell," its political analogs countered with signs of their own. Messages ranged from the positive ("God Loves Everyone," "...And the Oscar Goes to Love"), to the confrontational ("F*** You Haters"), and even the facetious ("I Have a Sign Too"). The OWBC movement leader, who simply answers to the moniker AB, claims the WBC has earned their ire.
"Why not target the WBC?" AB posits. "If you are looking for the most fervent, destructive, vindictive, religious extremist group in America, it's them."
Founded by Fred Phelps and composed almost entirely of his extended family, the WBC began staging antigay protests in 1991. In 1998, WBC garnered national attention when CNN broadcast the group picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming youth beaten to death because of his sexual orientation. Along with persecuting the LGBT community, the WBC condemns all non-Protestant religions and claims Barack Obama is "most likely the Beast spoken of in the Revelation."
The group also protests military funerals, believing the deaths are God's punishment for American tolerance. (Last year the Supreme Court upheld WBC's right to protest, no matter how offensive its message may seem.)
Quelling those funeral protests is Occupy the WBC's primary objective, says AB. "If even one friend or family member at the funeral of a fallen military hero is sparred having to hear and witness a despicable, antagonizing picket, then this entire project was infinitely worth the time, money and effort."
If Sunday's rally was any indication, Occupy the WBC's efforts will include a heavy dollop of spectacle. In addition to the colorful signage, a sound system blasted music varying from Dr. Dre to Deadmau5. Several members donned costumes. AB, dressed as Moses, described the event as "a gathering of like-minded folks coming together with a purpose to shut down the incessant jerk-itude of the WBC."
This vibrant theatricality is not new to AB, aka Mormon Rockwell, as he's known in the competitive Air Guitar community, a subculture in which individuals simulate rocking out against one another to win titles and cash. It's like lip-synching with one's fingers. AB anticipates synergy between his political movement and these miming musicians.
"The greater Air Guitar community in this country are an honorable collective of superstars, all whom participate, or at least support the idea of what OWBC is doing," says AB/Rockwell. "Specifically, the great Sonyk-ROK of New York fame had a performance she was in of Rent picketed by the WBC not too long ago. And amongst us air professionals, an attack on one in our ranks is an attack on all of us!"
Since Occupy the WBC's conception in 2009, AB and comrades have been pricking thorns into the Phelpses' collective side on a national scope. This year alone, they're staged counter-protests in St Louis, Wichita, and Kansas City. OWBC's flamboyant exploits are chronicled on its Facebook page and website (www.occupythewbc.com). The group's actions already are reaping moderate success.
"On February 11, we succeeded in getting the WBC to leave a full 20 minutes early from a picket they were conducting at the memorial service of a poor 21-year-old kid who died last November in Afghanistan," AB says. "That's 20 minutes Occupy the WBC was able to spare the grieving family, friends and town from dealing with WBC's bull crap." The victory may be minor, but it's a hell of a start.