The Westboro Baptist Church (which is not part of any legitimate Christian denomination) has made headlines the world round for its protests at U.S. military funerals, hatred of homosexuals, support of dangerous foreign regimes and the like.
And now, NPR reports that the FBI invited the group, which prides itself on crafting protest signs that read "God Hates the USA" and "Pray for More Dead Soldiers," to assist in a counterterrorism training program...on a U.S. military base.
This spring, bureau officials invited leaders of the radical group to Quantico Marine base in Virginia. NPR has more:
...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.
According to Timothy Phelps, church leader Fred Phelps' youngest son, he spoke to local law enforcement officials at the FBI Academy at Quantico and later to agents in Manassas. Phelps says that the program was intended to assist agents in maintaining composure and balance when chatting with suspects with whom they vehemently disagree.
In the most recent sessions, which each contained about 50 individuals, tensions were high. According to NPR:
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."
There seemed to be a disconnect between Phelps' definition of the intended purpose of the classes and the FBI's. Law enforcement officials who attended the classes claimed that they were focused upon helping agents better understand domestic terrorists and extremists. Phelps, though, claims that the FBI lied to him and that he had no idea that he was part of a domestic terror curriculum.
Regardless of these technicalities, there is painful irony in the fact that, considering their anti-Americanism and anti-military sentiment, Westboro leaders were invited to speak at a military base. As NPR notes, these classes occurred at the same time that Westboro was engaged in a Supreme Court battle (which the group inevitably won) with the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew. If you'll recall, the group staged a protest at the fallen hero's funeral.
Following internal questions at the FBI, a memo has gone out telling staff not to invite Westboro congregants back to speak. The official who originally asked the group to participate claims that he saw the "church's" leaders as a viable resource for training agents in counterterrorism approaches.
What say you?