Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Counter Protest Part Two...

The Documentary covers four groups – The Ayran Nation white supremacists, the Westboro Baptist Church (hence our being on their list for picketing on their website.), the Israeli/Westbank Conflict and the Iraqi/American conflict. Mike Ramsdell went in and filmed among these groups, openly telling them his purpose and why he was filming. There were chilling scenes that I will never forget…Each section here has been linked to scenes from the documentary, so please click the link to see clips of what we saw. 

Billy Roper, white supremacist leader of the White Revolution
The deliberate hatred of the NeoNazi white supremacists, and their cool, calm erudite leader Billy Roper was the most difficult part to watch. 

Klansman at white supremacist festival.

There was a White Supremacist summer festival, with kids who were encouraged to chase a greased pig…we live in the south and greased pig chases at festivals are not unheard of around here. However, they end with the pig being given to the victor who catches it – sometimes it goes home to become a pet for the kids, sometimes it goes home to the farm to grow up to become bacon and breakfast. Not a very animal rights sort of thing, but not the horror that we saw on the screen in front of us. The cute little pig was goaded into running with the kids in high pursuit; however when it was caught hours later in the dark, the kids kicked and stomped and beat it to death. I saw one very young child bring his foot down in a vicious blow on the pigs head…the adult with them was encouraging the carnage and cheering them on, and then gutted the carcass with his knife right there in front of the children. The kids ended the segment by proudly holding up the body for the camera. No child was horrified, or turned away in disgust or fear – it was clear that they had done it before and knew what was expected at the end when they ran the piglet to earth.  Think about it – the kids learn killing from this, to treat life with contempt, and then hear their elders and parents call “niggers”, “Jews”, and “fags” pigs…it may have been the worst scene in the film.

Children of the Westboro Baptist Church on the picket line. 

On to Westboro Baptist Church, and here again the Hate and it being taught to kids was appalling. They put their small children on the picket line with them, teaching them to sing songs, like God hates the USA and carry signs that say “God Hates Fags” and “Mathew Shepherd – in Hell for six years”. They showed a church service in the Westboro Baptist Church , with hymns that literally had hate lyrics and the looming presence of Fred Phelps, ranting that God hates everybody, that he laughs when people go to Hell, and rejoices in their suffering.  

Shirley Phelps-Roper, organizer of the picket lines. 

The cameras went into the home of Shirley Phelps Roper (no relation to White Supremacist Billy Roper, although the name is an eerie coincidence), to show her with her kids. She is one of the older daughters of Fred Phelps now about age 50, and is now spear heading the picket lines and the driving force behind them.  That was confusing…at home in this scene, she was a loving gentle mother to her children, in a perfectly normal house (if you ignored the stack of Hate signs in the corner…) I have to say, I…actually like her. I see a strong, powerful woman. She is intelligent (she holds a law degree and is a practicing lawyer), loving, and amazing in her own way. But I disagree violently with everything she stands for and what she does to promote Hate. And I do think she has been damaged emotionally on the way by the poisonous upbringing she grew up in. 

Violence in Gaza - the Israeli/Westbank conflict.

The Israeli/Westbank Conflict was heart wrenching – soldiers in the streets, constant attacks, children praising “martyrs” who died bombing buses,  fear in everyone’s hearts of suicide bombings, families who have lost husbands, wives, children on both sides. One of the opening scenes about this was a gathering of  Israeli women, outside in a pleasant spot for a picnic – it was called a Widows Dinner – they gather to support each other in the loss of their husbands. 

Car bombing in Israel.

Both sides expressing hate, both sides expressing that they’d stop killing if the other side would stop killing them – but who will be the first to stop? 

American Troops in Iraq.

Then the American/Iraqi troops.. While Ramsdell was there filming these scenes, one of the soldiers in the troop he went out with, was killed. Ramsdell was deeply shaken by this. A few days later, he was contacted by one of the other soldiers in the unit who said that the father of the young man who died wanted Ramsdell to come film his funeral! Ramsdell , stunned, went, and had a long talk with the father about what the documentary was about. The father still said, “Please film the funeral”, so he did. Then, Ramsdell went back 4 months later, and talked to the father again, to be sure that he understood the purpose of the film and was ok with it. He was. 
And so it goes back and forth, in a cycle of hate and killing, mistrust and unwillingness to talk, unwillingness to be able to look beyond idealogical differences. How do we break the cycle?  Continued in Part three....


  1. It brings tears to my eyes to read about these children and the over all hate these people promote. I can't help but hold my daughter close and shield her eyes from something she doesn't even understand yet, even though I know I can't protect her forever. All I can hope to do is raise her with the idea that you love everyone, even the ones you don't necessarily like. I think that's the best any of us can do.

  2. One of the Phelps kids did break free from the old man's hateful cult -- Nate Phelps. He lives in Canada now and blogs about his life and ongoing difficulties due to his rabid upbringing. His website (and blog) are found at

  3. Sorry -- there's no www in the url. It's

  4. Hi
    This is hard to even read about, though nothing here is news to me. I stay aware of the hatred expressed here, and any time I stop and focus on it, I feel so discouraged. But then I shake off the discouragement and go about doing what I think I can--teaching, thinking, talking-and the hardest part--trying to purge any thoughts of hatred/racism/sexism/genderism--any and all--from myself.I am especially repulsed by adults who teach, actively teach, cruelty to children and of course by the cruelty itself.I have trouble embracing those people without bile rising up.Disgust, repulsion--it is a real stretch for me to lay down judgment, on them and on weaknesses in myself, to strive to embrace all in acceptance and compassion.

  5. Actually, 3 of Fred Phelps children, all older adults now, have left the family - cut offs are a way of life in their dynamic. One changed her name and is completely divorced from anything to do with the Westboro Church and family. She is almost impossible to track and has slammed the door literally on possible interviewers. One is Nate, whom you mention, and yes, I already follow his blog. The third, also very hard to track is rumored to be gay. I have to say rumored, because I have yet to lay my hands on what I would call proof positive, although I have what I would accept as pretty good word of mouth confirmation. If that last is true, I wonder if that's what set off the anti-gay rhetoric? It would make sense.
    And is a real stretch, it is hard, sometimes even impossible, to make that leap from disgust, horror, and fury. But always, ALWAYS, there is a back story, that when you seek it out, you suddenly realize, that even if you loathe the actions of the individual, you must see them as human and you see how they got where they stood. I have a teacher that said if we could stamp out child abuse, we could end most of the evil on earth. Somewhere a chain reaction gets started, sometimes even through no fault of the individuals involved...and the patterns and the dynamics begin to spiral out of control, down the generations, that pile abuse on to abuse, that creates and causes a Fred Phelps, a Billy Roper...being able to see past the actions and not demonize them into monsters DOES NOT mean you agree and condone their actions. But it does mean that it becomes possible to somehow break the chain of hate and misunderstanding. And it is hard. Hate and violence is always easier. That probably goes back to those instincts wired into us for survival, that get stimulated out of control.

  6. I have spent the week reflecting on the images, the messages, the stories of this film. It haunts me. The horrible cruelty of the pig's death as a metaphor for fags, niggers and such stuns me. I know such prejudge exists, and yet I'm astounded by it each time I encounter it. The training of children to kill horrifies me. The end result, when carried to its logic extreme, is a psychopath or a person with psychopathic tendencies.

    And I'm struck by how the white supremest so easily becomes the enemy in my own mind while Westboro Baptist Church, with equally hate filled messages, leaves me saddened by their certain history of abuse and self condemnation turned outward and projected on the world. One would think Billy Roper's past must have been similar, yet I feel no sympathy for him. Perhaps I see a difference between someone who would kill me for loving a woman and one who would simply damn my soul? I can die at someone like Billy Roper's hands, but I don't believe for a second I'm headed to hell, as Shirly Phelps-Roper believes.

    Yet I have to wonder if the children of Shirley Phelps-Roper aren't inevitably going to become the same kind of hate mongers as not only their mother, but like someone such as Billy Roper. They've been groomed for it. I find it chilling to watch a five-year-old boy sing "God hates America" and hold such signs. What stops him from killing Americans when he's 18 and filled with God righteous hate?

    Just a few my thoughts as I wrestle with what I saw.