In the first part of this two-art series, I gave some background on the beliefs of and backlash against Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church. Click here to read more about the church, which espouses vicious homophobia at events around the US.
I interviewed Dave Sirus, whose Brick Stone persona is easily the most visible Youtube personality in regards to the Westboro Baptist Church. Sirus cultivated the figure of this “comedic journalist” in order to address various social issues. In a phone interview, he discussed his work in regards to the Westboros.
“The best way to counter people like (those in) the Westboro Baptist Church is by calmly and intelligently making fun of them… It’s a mixture of having a real ideological argument with them and ridiculing them from a highbrow, intellectual place,” Sirus said.
Sirus’ position on the matter makes itself clear in his videos, in which he visits Westboro Baptist Church protests and talks to church members through the Stone persona. Sirus, through a comical approach to the protests, achieves an effective and succinct portrayal of the Westboros as they are.
(As a warning, some of the videos contain explicit content and profanity.)
“The key to upsetting them is to not give them what they want,” Sirus explains. “They want to be treated as if they’re dangerous, they want to be treated as if they have a real ideological perspective that is to be feared because it is the word of God. And when you make fun of them and make them feel stupid and don’t give in to the anger that they want to inspire, you give them the exact opposite of the kind of attention that they want.”
Although Sirus doesn’t believe that it is possible to change the Westboros’ views, he hopes that his videos will help convince others, who may be on the edge in their views of the Westboro or may agree in part with the views espoused by the organization, to turn their backs to the church.
Indeed, Sirus’ development of the Brick Stone persona was based on these views. “The name ‘Brick Stone’ is the name that I use because I want it to be a very clear reporter character,” Sirus explained. “I wanted it to be clear that I’m not actually that reporter, that I’m just a parody of that reporter, and I think that the name ‘Brick Stone’ presents that.”
The Westboro Baptist Church elicits little sympathy from Sirus. “A lot of people want to believe that if you just have a talk with them calmly, they’re going to listen and change their minds, and that’s simply not true. These are fanatic fundamentalists who have been taught their whole lives that we are enemies of God.”
At the same time, Sirus doesn’t believe that over-the-top action can accomplish much, particularly when it can jeopardize anyone’s well being. On this note, Sirus is in accord with Anonymous’ actions in regards to the church.
Sirus noted, “What Anonymous does to the Westboro Baptist Church is, in my opinion, fine… they’ve never really done anything that was particularly damaging. They’ve shut down their website and that’s pretty much it. I think that’s a very innocuous thing…. I don’t think it’s really stopped the Westboros from doing what they do, which is going to protests.”
In regard to his own work, Sirus don’t seem likely to change in the near future. He hopes that his work will continue to reach out to people and diminish the influence of the church.
Sirus is not, by a long shot, alone in his views regarding the church. And neither should he be in his actions in regards to the church. And the American public appears to be united in its opinion of the church.
It’s easy to divorce ourselves from world issues like in far-of places like Kenya or China. Perhaps there is truly nothing we can do in regards to these international issues, and perhaps our relative apathy in regards to these problems is indeed indicative of only our powerlessness as individuals on a global scale. But the appallingly antagonistic force of the Westboro Baptist Church is here, in the United States, and diminishing it is a reachable goal. To work against the WBC is to make a statement in regards to our moral quality.
Earlier this year, 360,022 people signed a White House petition to have the Westboro Baptist Church legally recognized as a hate group. But even should this measure be approved, our work is far from done. There are many who agree with many of the church’s hate mongering messages and share in its homophobic and anti-semitic views. They may not approve of the Westboros’ approach, but there is no doubt that they have some sense of kinship with the church’s ideas.
The only way to truly divest the WBC of its insidious influence is to settle the issues that have made it so influential. There is something terribly wrong at work when we hear our political figures and TV spokespeople explicitly cite religion to justify discrimination towards homosexuals on national TV, assured that there will be no significant repercussions and that, indeed, they are giving their base what it wants to hear.
The WBC touches on issues that surpass it. Should we ignore the inherent ideological problems that fuel groups like the WBC, these issues will continue to divide the nation long after the church has been put to rest.
Fortunately, there are so many doors of opportunity for action. To start, we can create petitions, write to our Senators and support organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign. Attitudes towards issues like gay marriage are turning like never before. All it takes, when we’re so close to the summit, is decisive action to strike down the figurative Goliaths of the past for a more compassionate and fair future.