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another day, another bunch of loonies–Westboro comes to Brooklyn

October 13, 2010

In today’s punch-drunk political climate,  a Paladino moment  can break out at any time.  Such was the case the other day on Ocean Parkway as Dov Hikind,  the notoriously hotheaded Brooklyn state assemblyman broke through a police barrier and appeared to lurch toward  one Shirley Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps,  a middle-aged woman  wrapped in both an American and Israeli flag which she didn’t mind blowing her nose into,  claimed to be doing nothing more than exercising her First Amendment rights, which included holding up signs saying “Thank God For 9/11” and “Your Rabbi Is a Whore.”

“You’re the whore,” shouted the steaming  Hikind,  who in his best Paladinoese, added “just be careful the rest of your day in Brooklyn” as he was led away by a bevy of police officers.

“The truth drives these rebels against God to act like wild dogs,  I love to watch them lose it,” said Ms. Phelps, the Ma Barker-like leader of clannish,  Topeka,  Kansas-based church,  with a dentition challenged grin.  Most famous for showing up to “celebrate” at funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan brandishing mind-bendingly offensive signs like “God Hates Fags”(it is their contention that the Lord is actively allowing the soldiers to be killed in retribution for America’s tolerance of homosexuality),  the Westboro Baptists,  whose congregation consists primarily of the extended Phelps family,  was in front of the Kensington Chabad House in the heavily Hasidic section of Ocean Parkway to,  in the words of Ms. Phelps,  “to remind these forgetful Jews that they killed their savior and that they are going to Hell for it.”

This message was not getting much traction with the Chabadniks,  most of whom have never read a page of the New Testament and believe that the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson,  not Jesus Christ,  is the Messiah.  Most of the Lubachvitchers on the scene appeared more interested in asking neighborhood visitors to put on t’fillin, the leather phylacteries they claimed would ward off “non-Jewish enemies,” than debating whether  or not Barack Obama was the anti-Christ. The counter-Westboro message was mostly advanced by a contingent of protesters who screamed increasingly obscene remarks from behind a police barrier. This went on for about a half hour until the seven members of the Church got into their mini-van,  cut across three lanes of traffic on Ocean Parkway and drove to a yeshiva on Avenue I where they again waved their signs.

So it was another day in the vast American melting pot,  one more,  however  cartoonish, opportunity to take mournful stock of where  we have come to. This is interesting since Fred Phelps,  the founder and driving force of the Westboro Baptists,  was once a civil rights lawyer who once won a suit against the Topeka School Board for providing inferior education to black students,  in violation of landmark Brown v. the Bd. Of Ed. decision. How one gets from there to God Hates Fags is something perhaps historians of our fractious age will be able to ascertain.

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