Anonymous Speaks With Westboro Baptist Church

This may strike some readers as off topic (you’ve been warned!), but I find this exchange intriguing in a perverse way.

I have featured some of this story in Links. By way of background, various news sites reported that the internet group Anonymous had said it was going to mount cyber attacks on the Westboro Baptist Church, which among other things hosts the website GodHatesFags. Anonymous is best known for making life difficult for various players who have undermined Wikileaks, such as banks that have stopped processing donations to Wikileaks, but it has also played a role in supporting the rebellion in Tunisia by attacking non-essential government websites.

Specifically, a couple of weeks ago, a letter was published, supposedly by Anonymous, warning that if the Westboro Baptist Church didn’t shut down its public website, they would be targeted. It turns out Anonymous not did issue that letter, begging the question of whether it actually came from the church itself, as some have speculated, or a third party.

David Parkman arranged for representatives of the church and Anonymous to interact with each other. The Westboro congregant is so strident that she comes off poorly in the exchange. While it’s amusing in a sort of sick way to watch her, that is not the reason for featuring a clip like this.

This example may be too extreme a version to serve as a useful object lesson as far as most readers are concerned, but cults are extraordinarily effective business models. Goldman is a cult. It goes through elaborate and protracted screening processes to find people who are particularly eager (one might say desperate) to work there, which means they are preselected for their belief in the firm’s superiority. It goes to more extreme lengths than most Wall Street firms to enforce norms as well as rules (for instance, in my day, young associates were encouraged to have their summer shares in a particular Hamptons town. Being expected to have your social life wrapped up with fellow co-religionists is a cult phenomenon. Reports from recent summer associates lead me to believe the cult aspects are cultivated far more deliberately than in the past).

Consider: a couple of years ago, I knew someone in a senior staff position at Goldman who often did various studies for the management committee, usually on HR or firm culture matters. They would often be circulated among the managing directors, sometime more broadly. He was asked to look into the relationship between money and happiness. As most readers probably know, this is a fairly well investigated area, and most studies have come to the same conclusion: that once a threshold level of income is reached (usually enough to cover a middle class level of expenses, plus a bit of a buffer for savings/emergencies) more money does not make people happier.

When he reported these non-controversial findings, not only was his audience scornful and dismissive, but he was also instructed to keep the results confidential!

Now that may seem like an isolated example, but remember how quick and angry the reactions from most Wall Street denizens are when you challenge their pay levels. Their sense of entitlement is not based on a logically defensible position; it is an article of faith. But this exchange provides a crude but vivid reminder of the virtual impossibility of penetrating deeply held beliefs.

As reader Skippy noted,

The WBC is a prime example of how hard it is to engage in any reasonable discussion with BELIEVERS of any stripe, mental heroin methinks.

I wonder how many realize the fight is just starting, warming up, and unprepared for the acts that may be used against them.

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  1. psychohistorian

    That said, I will be going to my state capitol tomorrow at noon to show support for my fellow pond scum (a term of endearment) in Wisconsin.

    The process has begun. When the tipping point is reached, who knows.

    I have no problem knowing which side I am on.

    I think the country has a KOCH problem, how about you?

    1. psychohistorian

      I have been ruminating about our country’s KOCH problem and its effects on the rest of the world.

      One of the aspects of our KOCH problem is denial. Since imperialism in support of our KOCH problem is never discussed in our media, nor educational system. The raping of the 3rd world to feed our KOCH problem is never talked about in polite discussion of why there is terrorism.

      Another aspect of our KOCH problem is our deciding that its ok to lie to ourselves.

      Paul Repstock in a comment to another of Yves postings links to a Canadian article about their government not allowing the media to not be factual in their reporting. Yves complaint about the misrepresentation of fact in the article is right on and since it will never see the light of MSM day will never contervail the untruth.

      The take away from the article:
      “Kania said committee members concluded that free speech guarantees don’t apply to broadcast licence holders in the same way as they do to individuals.”

      And as I said in my thanks to Paul,

      This is the difference in the US, plain and simple.

      America is under control of banks, government and corporations all owned by the sociopathic rich that have used that chink in the countries moral and ethical armor to brainwash enough of us pond scum into thinking that their world is the right world.

      History will show whether the rest of us pond scum work together to deal with our KOCH problem.

      1. Psychoanalystus

        Sounds like this country has a serious KOCH-roach infestation. Kind of like my first apartment in New York, which was solved after a visit from a friendly exterminator.


    2. Chris M

      The unions are much like cults too. Notice how brittle they are when someone challenges their sense of entitlement. And look at some of their ridiculous signs. These are not people who can be reasoned with.

      1. Redgerrymander

        I would say you know little about unions or cults. Where exactly are your parallels?

        The right to bargain collectively is an entitlement in a democracy? The right to free speech, on signs displayed in public, means that you’re in a cult for expressing your ideas?

        And who, prey tell, should reason with a Governor who has gone on record (while he thought that he was brown-noising his biggest campaign contributor) proudly claiming that he was going to bust the union?

        Come back when you have some better talking points.

      2. skippy

        Unions are a reply to capitals machinations, if capital was a better husband, there would be no need for it…Capish. Yes…yes…then there’s the act becoming…of which it was born…father of it all thingy…labor is a slow learner…eh…they did not writ the book.

        Skippy…why does capital always point the failings on labor…when its in charge…writes the script…madness me thinks.

  2. scraping_by

    I like your two points. (No, not a Bettie Page reference).

    The Westboro creeps are actually quite pathetic. Last summer, I watched them in action about two blocks from my house. Some poor kid drove into an IED over in Afghanistan and was buried out of the highest toned church in town. Most of the protesters stayed about a block away, not willing to cross the line of motorcycles of the Patriot Guard. The three who got within sight of the church kept their sign hidden until they brought out the coffin, when they could open in up for the family. The local constables kept an eye on everyone but them (the city fathers don’t need the mess of splatted creeps). But 100+ veterans on Harleys were between them and the funeral. Except for one Boy Scout Leader, everyone left them alone.

    In the Jonestown recruitment idea, Wall Street definitely does the “stupid activities to prove you’re part of the congregation” thing. Frank Partnoy, in Fiasco: the Inside Story of a Wall Street Bank, talks about drunken skeet shooting tournaments everyone was “invited” to attend. The poker games Michael Lewis writes about are insider events as much as they’re sick displays of wealth and power lust. And who can forget the Enron Baja motocross expeditions.

    As a general thing, the good stuff in world finance is reserved for “one of the guys” whether it’s the sons of friends or the buggery boys of the Bohemian Club retreat. Meritocracy becomes a title rather than a description. The Cult of Us.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, this is well established usage. The New York Times is now considered to be the arbiter of accepted style in the US and it permits this expression in the manner I used it.

    1. Jinx

      I’m in agreement with you. I’ve heard WBC referred to as a “humbug” in the vein of P.T. Barnum. See link below for a description.

      Their entire operation is on of garnering publicity, holding absurd yet provocative protests and hope for an outburst that can be used as a grounds for a lawsuit. It would seem that the Phelps family count 11 attorneys amongst their ranks though some have been disbarred.

      Per your link it is indicated that a couple of Phelps attorneys are employed by the Kansas Department of Corrections and another draws a check from a homeless shelter. So basically these guys are on the government payroll and are essentially partially funded by taxpayer money while they run their side project trolling for civil suits.

      I also agree that these folks are a cult. A cult that employs the classic humbug to provide it’s revenue stream.

  3. Supert

    As a headless organisation, Anonymous does not always act as a unit. It is entirely consistent for anons to issue both the original warning and the refutation.

  4. Firebird1

    The WBC aren’t Christians. They’ve perverted Jesus for their own purposes. Real Christians don’t act that way. We are not all judgmental nutjobs, as some of the posters seem to think.

  5. Gimp Metasploit

    Next Anonymous will attack the KKK, or some other redneck bible pounders. It’s a cheap media trick, but it works. Foreclose on credibility, join the 4th estate!

  6. Cro

    Hailing from Kansas I can tell you all you need to know about Westboro. Firstly and very importantly, in a local interview with the an ABC affiliate years ago, Fred Phelps claimed that only members of his church were Christians and he only believed people from his church were going to heaven. That’s it, only his. I think that alone would be enough to establish his cult credentials. Many years before that episode any church that seemed to know anything about the Phelps disavowed support for people they KNEW were a cult. The church is mainly made of family members and in a clear sign as to their true ends and means, is a family composed of lawyers.

    People first in Kansas, then in the surrounding states learned not to pay any attention to the group. They’ve picketed at nearly any event that happened, mostly concerned about how much attention they would get. If cameras were there or a large amount of people, they were too. It’s how they get by. At first no one knew their scheme except the local law enforcement and court system. Locals left and right simply learned that like a whining child, they needed to be ignored so they could not get what they wanted. Plenty of local broadcasts have occurred with cameras positioned in just such a way that the Westboro people were cut out. If they wanted attention so badly we were just going to completely ignore them. It has been somewhat beneficial though. Whatever the political stripe of people involved on an issue, whatever the mix in a group debating any issue from left to right, whatever anyone’s position on homosexuality is, when Westboro shows up terms are quickly reached to minimize their impact and cut them out of the scene if possible. Everyone understands they are just there to incite hatred and inane, self-seeking grandstanding.

    Of course there is an even more practical side to all of this than seeing through a group of jerks for what they really are. The standard tactic of Westboro for decades has been to mount a ‘protest’ somewhere by legal means, upset someone left, right, military, peace-nik, neocon, treehugger, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Academic, Clergy, Mechanic, Upper-class, Lower-class, whatever, and sue that pants off the local law-enforcement agency for not providing protection during their lawfully conducted ‘protest’ thus violating their constitutionally protected right. The Kansas legislature has been at through the wringer trying to come up with ways that successfully curtail this group’s ability to spew angry, hateful, epithets at passerby’s, people out on a friday night at shopping centers, group celebrations, and mourning families for years without curtailing the right of everyone else. It’s not easy.

    In the end we’ve all just found it easier to ignore they exist when possible, supply occasionally dozens to hundreds of police to ‘protect’ the protesters and create a cordon around them large enough to be ‘out of range of thrown objects’ which IS needed but strangely enough also puts them much further out of earshot, have local law-enforcement greet and prep people from out of state explaining our strange, local free-speech problem (‘But I’m very folks, they are in their First Amendment rights, but we’ll help you out as much as we can’), and deal with the court cases as they eventually come through.

    This has actually worked rather well. But there has been a sad side effect. We’ve unintentionally exported our problem elsewhere. To locals that are not used to dealing with this particular group. Now, local officials have had plenty of conversations with municipalities across the country on how to prepare and deal with Westboro, but it’s difficult to prepare a local population. So they continue their racket.

    That’s the local Kansas guide for today. One addendum to keep in mind NO MATTER WHAT when dealing with this cult. It is a cult of LAWYERS. EVERY member of the family has their degree. They survive by SUING. Family members attend college and law school for one reason and one alone. To obtain law degrees so they might sue or obtain cause if denied access to those schools. Beware, but don’t forget: By denying attention you deny this group their life-blood. Don’t give in, don’t pay attention.

  7. notexactlyhuman

    The Phelps crew are a bunch of lawyers out gaming folk. One need only follow the daughter’s twitter feed to see just how phony they are. They provoke people who are distraught and then file a lawsuit. They no more believe in Jesus than the man on the moon, just like most the other charlatans.

  8. Psychoanalystus

    To me, as a psychologist, what is interesting about this interview is how similar the behavior and communication style of this woman from WBC is to that of Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, and many others on the far right. The immature, delusional, histrionic, illogical, and almost manic mental state displayed by this woman is well within pathological ranges.

    However, what is most troubling is not that entities such as WBC exists, but that its style (even if often at more temperate levels) is representative of much of the US evangelical movement. Lest we forget, this was also representative of George W. Bush’s thinking pattern. It is also one of the major underlying themes of the Tea Party and much of the Republican Party. It is infused with dogmatism, narrow-mindedness, delusional thinking, dehumanization of anybody thinking otherwise, and of course, it is driven by unchecked selfishness, a deep sense of entitlement, and ultimately an antisocial frame of mind. And make no mistake, this is also expressed into America’s national arrogance, hubris, belief in its exceptionalism, and pattern of disregard for human rights and international law.

    Two good books I read recently that shed some light on this phenomenon are Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion, and Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason.


      1. Psychoanalystus

        I had to cut back on my blogging because last year I made the mistake to sign an employment contract, so now I work like crazy, because that’s all that people in this country seem to know what to do with their lives. So my 3 or 4 hour siestas have been severely reduced. But in a few months I’ll be free from this sweatshop called the USA, and get back to my old routine…


        1. skippy

          Breathing is important…eh…some just don’t get it.

          Skippy…May we run into each other some day…I’ll see you when…I do…other wise…may the Universe look after you and yours…if it is to be.

  9. tz

    But how is it better to have merely another set of true believers but opposite to the original?

    How is “KockSucker” an argument about what to do about large state deficits any more than “GreedyTeacher”.

    Even our hostess – We either have a rule of law or not, so teachers that call in sick (instead of a personal day), and get doctors to fraudulently give them a note so they can run a marathon around the capital should also be subject to penalties for violation the law no more or no less than anyone in the upper chambers of Goldman Sachs.

    It is not justice in any sense of the word to subject anyone to an arbitrary standard of what some law should be but not actually is. Otherwise “progressive” merely turns one into a different kind of true believer, no different than those of this church, who refuse to discuss and reason because some fundamental cherished belief is challenged and the belief is threatened with reality.

    I detest and am revolted most by those who AGREE with me but do so in the manner of a true believer – they cannot argue the position, just know it is true and worth acting like a noisy, stupid, fool to support it.

    The voters of Wisconsin spoke last november. Perhaps what was spoken was rash, out of ignorance or fear, or something else less than careful reasoning. Yet that is our system. There were many people upset at all the money to unseat the Iowa supreme court justices, and many of those same people are traveling interstate to Wisconsin to overturn the results of an election.

    But the law and the system and the political process moves too slowly and indirectly for both sides, and both call for destruction of the law at its foundation. And they might succeed, since I hear it here as much as from the other side.

    1. Psychoanalystus

      You speak of “law and the system and the political process” very much like a fanatical televangelist. The law, system, and political process in this country have been completely delegitimized. The system is rigged in favor of oligarchs like Koch, and the political process has been destroyed by so-called laws such as the Citizens United ruling. Using your logic, one could argue that protesters in Egypt and Libya are breaking the law too. Do you see how illogical your arguments are?

      As far as voters in Wisconsin having voted for these measures, I don’t remember that governor ever mentioning that he planned on busting the unions or that he planned on selling major state assets to private entities for whatever price he felt like with no bid and public discussion. But if you have any such evidence, please kindly post it here.


  10. bmeisen

    Goldman a sect? Isn’t this the real dinger here? Admittedly WBC is worth a comment or two but … Goldman a sect? I haven’t read this accusation stated elsewhere as clearly.

    Yves offers at least two justifications, that GSax hires selectively and that it agressively enforces norms and rules. I’m sympathetic to the idea, and I can believe that Gsaxers get into more than just elitest, predatory, richest wiseass on the street identities. But a sect?

    The New Yorker piece on Scientology and Haggis portrays an organization that isn’t particularly selective. It promotes certain members however, let’s call them high-potentials, rewarding ambition, recognizing achievement both inside and outside the organization, and encourageing worldly wealth, much of which in the organization’s opinion and dogma should be and is returned to the organization. Barriers to leaving the church tend to be intangible and difficult to overcome by people who have made a commitment to membership. And not-so-high-potentials (even even children) can apparently end up in a form of brain-washed slavery. Does Goldman get into that too?

    1. Ina Deaver

      Uh, yes. Lower levels of the pyramid are characterized by a demand for total loyalty to the group, and by separating you from any outside interests or connections, usually through working you 12 to 18 hours a day. You are so damn tired and stressed, you don’t really have the time or energy for anything but work. You lose touch with the identity you had outside of work in a very short time.

      Then if you have high potential, you move up the chain. If you don’t you are either trapped at the oars on the slave ship until you break down (and are thrown overboard for chum), or you are kicked out of the organization and left with nothing, feeling like your entire life is gone.

      Incidentally, a slightly more mild version of this is also how high-end law firms operate.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I said cult, not sect.

      Ina describes it very well. Some of the cult elements of Goldman (and to a lesser degree the other investment banks, but it is particularly acute at Goldman) is belief that they are members of an elite. People at Goldman are genuinely convinced that working anywhere else, even in the same industry, is a major, irreversible step down. The first person I met there said she could not work anywhere else. I’ve known men who worked there 9-10 years, left to be very successful elsewhere, and what they said was virtually identical, that it took them a couple of years to get over leaving Goldman, that they saw it as a big step down (and no, they were not forced out, Goldman has career VPs and directors, plus some people make partner as late as 15 years. Hank Paulson made partner pretty late).

      Repeated violation of personal boundaries is another. Goldman would regularly ask associates to reschedule weddings if they conflicted with a deal. I can provide more mundane examples, but they take more explaining.

      Cutting of personal ties outside the cult is another. The extreme hours are a big contributor. It’s hard to have a social life when you can barely find time to sleep and get your bills paid. But on top of that, Goldman pushed people to have what little personal life they had with other Goldman people (witness the “encouragement” to have your summer rental in the same town where other Goldman people did). I was told (and I find this astonishing) that the firm now pays for employees to have dinner together with no business purpose (as in not, say, a deal team or part of a some sort of internal project). When I was there, among the professionals, all the women who got married married Goldman men. The only married women who were NOT married to men at the firm came there married. I worked at Salomon and knew people at other banks. Goldman was a big departure in this regard.

      The hours are more significant than you realize. Exhaustion is a ripe ground for cults. Est and other New Age cults will have sessions that run 12+ hours to lower participants’ boundaries.

  11. SH

    I think that what is missed here is the value of fanatics. You can go to yahoo each day and read “stocks soar on xxxx” or “stocks plummet on xxxx”. Everyday it’s the same thing. You can then go to sites like this and get away from the mean a little bit. Finally, you can go and read the crazies. The crazies don’t lie. They mean what they say. As a learning experience, you can waste a lot less time just parsing the comments of extreme opinions than tyring and figure out what the agenda behind the MSM and blogoshpere may be. I actually find extreme websites as a great starting point for content too. I was a student at U of I in 1994 when mosaic was first released to their computer labs. We were the first users. Having grown up in this environment, the best thing the interenet has done is given a voice to nutjobs. I can’t imagine the days of sitting around a TV watching the cuban missile crisis unfold. That was one voice. Let the cults be. Let’s embrace John Adams vision of numerous competing groups preventing any one group of gaining too much influence. That is all we’ve got to save us.

  12. Skippy

    *I am incomplete*…that is the only thing I know for certain in this…Universe.

    How others proclaim any self righteousness due to acquiring *templates of thought* cough being approached]ing mental sales people for answers …especially in antiquity’s light, with out due diligence is well…ABSURD.

    There are many…that would not wish for significant amounts of humans to engage in this habit, it would spoil the game they play, DOMINANCE or as ME likes…to envision it…shaping reality…in the name of some *LEADER*, too the benefit of a FEW…the faithful, genuflect, malleable, uninformed, great unwashed masses still waiting for deliverance from their self imposed admonishment…why am I not…FILTHY RICH!

    Skippy…ridged mental chains or spring metal…consult your ancestors…do they lament[?](searchers of the dead in dimly lite rooms) or chasers of light…yet crossed envisions mental horizon…me personally likes the mental gymnastics one must employ whence once certainty is refuted…mental time horizons are crossed and previous insanity is breached…how about you.

  13. Danny Haszard

    Harassment by religious extremist

    Jehovah’s Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,….this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011
    Danny Haszard

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