"Who is this group that's coming? And I realized ... it's Fred Phelps and my heart just dropped. I can't believe they're coming. Why us? Out of all the schools, why us?"
—Daisy Renazco, Gunn High School teacher
Above is one of NIOT.org's most popular videos, "Gunn High School Sings Away Hate Group," which has garnered more than 225,000 views on our YouTube channel. Ellen DeGeneres, in a Tweet, said she was "so unbelievably proud of Gunn High School in Palo Alto, CA for demonstrating love & acceptance in a peaceful way."
What's significant about this video is that it showcases how a community can stand up to hate in a peaceful and constructive way. The video was shot in 2010, when the Kansas hate group known as the Westboro Baptist Church (Fred Phelps' family) announced they would picket Bay Area schools and Jewish institutions. The students of Gunn High School, located in Palo Alto, Calif., decided they could not sit quietly.
Then, when the Westboro Baptist Church threatened to protest the funerals of the Arizona shooting victims in January 2011, the Tucson community responded en masse. Internally, we noticed a revived interest in our counter-protest and rally videos that document community approaches to dealing with hate groups. Gunn High School students sang, Lowell High School students danced, Olympia, Wash. citizens mobilized every facet of the community, and in Newark, Calif., as in Tucson, Ariz., there were angels. In May 2011, the hate group threatened to vist Joplin, MO after the town was devastated by the deadliest tornado on record.
Many groups have reported that direct confrontation with hate groups is counterproductive. But communities do want to affirm their values and have used these creative ways to respond. In these videos, you'll find anti-hate actions, stop-the-hate rallies and other creative events communities have held when hate groups come to town.
How are you responding to hate in your town? Please let us know.
Community responses to the Westboro Baptist Church
(See community responses to white supremacist groups here)
Lowell High Students Dance Away Hate Group
2010, San Francisco, CA (3:17)
"We're not going to hell, we're going to dance."
—Student sign at rally
When Fred Phelps' hate group pickets at Lowell High School in San Francisco, students rally to show their love for their diverse, inclusive community.
Check out our Local Lesson, Helping High Schoolers Take the Lead, which features an interview with Gunn High School Principal Noreen Likins.
Creating a Shield Against Hate
2004, Bloomington, Ill. (1:55)
"Their message of hate is very painful for young people, and it's very important that they see that there are people who don't agree with this visibly, and that we won't let words like this and thoughts like this just be out there without any response."
—Paula Ressler, Bloomington resident
When members of Fred Phelps' anti-gay group targeted churches and businesses in Bloomington, Ill., concerned residents and NIOT leaders organized a counter event and brought umbrellas as a symbolic shield against hate.
Angels Turn Their Back on Hate
2002, Newark, CA (2:03)
"The angels are here just to make a peaceful statement .. and let the people of the Bay Area and the country know that we turn our backs on hate."
When anti-gay extremist Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church announced the hate group would picket Newark Memorial High School's production of The Laramie Project, community members like Gail Nelson couldn't sit quietly. Borrowing from a scene in the play, concerned citizens dressed as angels to block from view Phelps' followers and their hateful placards.
The Heart of West Virignia Beats Strongly Against Hate
2010, Charleston, West Virginia, Slideshow
Stop the Hate Rallies, Spread the Love flash mobs, and yard signs of unity dramatically overwhelmed the bigoted placards carried by the Fred Phelps family (known as Westboro Baptist Church). The WBC targeted Jewish and Catholic institutions and a local university in Charleston. Horrifically, as news from the Montcoal Mine disaster became more tragic, the hate group also targeted the community of fallen miners.
Here are photos courtesy of Kate and Paul Sheridan:
The coalition resisted the idea of counter protests in favor of demonstrations of community unity. One of the most creative methods emerged from Covenant House, a group who helped organize flash mobs of local residents who practiced electric slide steps as they danced to a disco beat version of “Take me Home Country Roads". See the blog post here.
A Tiny Town Grows Strong as Supporters Rally to Stop Nazi Takeover
2013, Leith, ND (5:03)
When a white supremacist starts buying up tracts of land in the small farming town of Leith, North Dakota, civic leaders wonder how they alone can resist plans to establish Leith as a Nazi enclave. When members of the National Socialist Movement come to visit, supporters from across the state also come, swelling the ranks of the local townsfolk from just over a dozen to a couple of hundred united in their message, "Not In Our State."
Adams Unity Coalition Responds to Hate
2010, Gettysburg, Va. (3:11)
"We knew we had to band together and do something positive for the community."
—Carol Burns, Greater Gettysburg Area NAACP
In June 2010, the Aryan Nations came to Gettysburg to hold a rally on the on the historic battlefield where Abraham Lincoln delivered his most stirring defense of American democracy. The Adams Unity Coalition, a group made up of several local organizations, came together to hold their own peaceful rally across town that celebrated and embraced the diversity in their community.
Read more about this rally from in our blog post, Tainting the Ground where Abe Lincoln Walked and in our Local Lesson, Historic Gettysburg Battlefield "Re-consecrated" after Hate Group Rally.
Strategies for when the Neo-Nazis Come to Town
2006, Olympia, Wash. (7:11)
"Sometimes the worst threats bring out the best in people."
—Reiko Callner, Unity in the Community
When the Neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Movement, came to Olympia, Washington, community members responded by celebrating diversity and unity in the community. Related Local Lesson: A Guide to Responding to Hate Groups: Lessons from Olympia, Washington
Youth Lead Fight Against Hate in Olympia, WA
2006, Olympia, Wash. (3:00)
"I didn't want to be one of those people who turns their head and looks the other way while this was all going on."
—Anthony, Olympia High School student
High school students in Olympia, Washington, take action when the Neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Movement, organizes in their town.
Countering the Klan
Kokomo, Ind. (3:51)
"These people are here to start a fight."
—Joe Follick, Kokomo Tribune
In the 1920s, Kokomo, Indiana was a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan. When the new KKK plans a recruitment rally, Kokomo says Not In Our Town. The mayor, community members and the local newspaper wrestle with First Amendment issues. The town decides to hold a multicultural "Unity" rally on the same day as the Klan's rally. Though few attend the KKK rally, the Unity picnic draws over 2,000 people and becomes an annual event.