San Francisco Bay Area, CA: Fred Phelps of the so-called Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group from Topeka, Kansas, is targeting San Francisco-Bay Area schools, organizations, and houses of worship to picket this coming week. We'd like to help facilitate community strategies for response. Phelps has been spreading his message of hate for years, targeting Jewish institutions and those he considers gay-friendly. Communities across the country that have been targeted by him and other hate groups have chosen different ways to respond to their organizing and hateful speech. The Anti-Defamation League is not alone in suggesting that the best response is no response at all. The hate group craves publicity. If Phelps’ people hold up their hate signs on an empty street, with no one watching, and no news cameras around, that is indeed fitting rejoinder to their message.
What are our choices when we encounter mean-spirited and hate-laden comments in response to news articles online? It’s a question we’ve been debating at the water cooler here at The Working Group, and one that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I scour the web daily for news of hate crime hot spots and stories of resistance. We wanted to open up the conversation to the NIOT community. Do we urge our newspapers to adopt more stringent comment policies? Should we join the conversation or ignore it, and if we ignore it, what message are we sending? Sadly, the examples of offensive speech and bigotry I’ve been encountering online are ample.