Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How not to counter-protest

Gawker reports that the Westboro Baptist Church were met in Mississippi by some people who decided to try and out-douchebag them. And succeeded:
The feel-good blog item of the day is the story of when the small town of Brandon, Mississippi successfully foiled Westboro Baptist Church's plan to protest a Marine's funeral. (Here is a video of the refreshingly protester-free road as Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers is returned home on April 14.) How'd they do it? They sicced the police on them and beat them up.    
Here is the story that is blowing up the blogosphere, which was originally posted on an Ole Miss sports message board:  
[Westboro Baptist Church] did show up, a few showed up a couple of days early.
 A couple of days before, one of them ran his mouth at a Brandon gas station and got his ass waxed. Police were called and the beaten man could not give much of a description of who beat him. When they canvassed the station and spoke to the large crowd that had gathered around, no one seemed to remember anything about what had happened.  
Rankin County handled this thing perfectly. There were many things that were put into place that most will never know about and at great expense to the county. Most of the morons never made it out of their hotel parking lot. It seems that certain Rankin county pickup trucks were parked directly behind any car that had Kansas plates in the hotel parking lot and the drivers mysteriously disappeared until after the funeral was over.   
Police were called but their wrecker service was running behind and it was going to be a few hours before they could tow the trucks so the Kansas plated cars could get out. A few made it to the funeral but were ushered away to be questioned about a crime they might have possibly been involved in. Turns out, after a few hours of questioning, that they were not involved and they were allowed to go on about their business.   
Ranking [sic] deserves a hand in how they handled this situation.        
As much as we despise the Westboro Baptist Church, it seems like police illegally detaining people in order to squelch atrocious and unpopular but constitutionally-protected free speech, is not something we should encourage! Although the part about parking cars behind them was pretty good.
No, it wasn't. That's also against the law, I'm pretty sure, and even if it wasn't it would still be a horrible way of attempting to combat people whose views you don't like.  Is it really so hard to grasp that the way to protest speech is with more speech?  That actually attacking people or blocking their cars into a parking lot so they can't drive anywhere just makes you the bad guy?  The glee with which this post describes the effort by a mob of people who don't like the WBC to threaten, silence, and physically attack them is disgusting. "What they say is hateful, so we're entitled to take any action we want against them." No, you're not. You're entitled to speak back, and to ostracize them if you want. That's it.

The WBC has announced that they will be protesting at ReasonFest, a gathering for atheists and agnostics at the University of Kansas on May 6th, and it sounds like a counter-protest is planned.  I'm betting that means people will show up in support of ReasonFest, of the right to be an atheist or agnostic, and to repudiate everything the WBC stands for. And I'm betting that means they will hold signs, shout things, and attempt to have conversations with WBC protesters if possible, which is what a counter-protest is supposed to be: the use of free speech to condemn the content of someone else's free speech.

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