“They have used their constitutional rights,” Topeka Mayor Joan Wagnon says of Phelps and his followers, “to bully this town into submission.”
For 10 years, Phelps and his Westboro Baptists — a congregation almost entirely composed of his extended family — have waged a battle against lesbians, gays and a whole host of other perceived enemies.
They have used daily pickets, an array of intimidating tactics, scores of lawsuits and a veritable flood of faxes that are so filled with slurs and sex that they rival the product of the most prolific professional pornographer.
They run America’s most infamous anti-homosexual web site, http://www.godhatesfags.com. In the process, even as they made life miserable for their enemies, Fred Phelps and his followers have created a niche for themselves in Topeka…
…And Suzanne James, who recently resigned after eight years in the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office as director of victim services, says Phelps’s opposition to homosexuality obscures a deeper purpose — promoting himself and hurting others.
“I’m so tired of people calling him an ‘anti-gay activist’,” James told the Report. “He’s not an anti-gay activist. He’s a human abuse machine.”
The most striking aspect of Westboro Baptist pickets is the relentlessly personal nature of their taunts. Their targets are only sometimes homosexuals; as often as not, they are simply people who somehow crossed the Phelpses, often unintentionally…
…For years, economic growth in Topeka has been negligible — a dilemma Westboro Baptist has clearly helped to exacerbate. But the Topeka Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), which promotes city tourism and economic development, has declined to investigate the problem.
According to Randy Austin and Betty Simecka, who are both former CVB presidents, that is because of fear of Phelps’ harassment. Frustrated, Simecka and another former CVB employee got together privately to document the effect of Phelps and his church on convention business.
They found five instances where lost conventions could be directly attributed to WBC’S activities. In one case, a potential convention client was touring the city with a CVB official when they drove by a Phelps picket. “The lady [client] was hysterical and got down on the floor of the car,” the Simecka report said. “They will not ever consider Topeka for a meeting ‘as long as the Phelps group has a presence.'”
The estimated loss in these cases alone was $16.5 million…
We only need to look at the growing power of hate groups worldwide to realize that Topeka is not unique