The Westboro Folks and Quantico

For whatever reason, the following story never gained much national attention, but I think it is noteworthy nonetheless.

Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer

The Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for picketing soldiers' funerals with signs like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates the USA."

Yet the FBI recently invited leaders of the fundamentalist church to the Quantico Marine base in Virginia to talk to FBI agents as part of the bureau's counterterrorism training program. But after four sessions this spring, the FBI canceled the arrangement amid criticism from inside the bureau, while church leaders claimed that they had been misled...

The FBI first invited the church group to address the FBI's law enforcement training classes back in 2008. And initially, there were no apparent problems. But the most recent sessions, including three at Quantico and one in Manassass, Va., stirred up controversy.

I appreciate the FBI for being innovative with their training. Agents will be involved in investigating controversial groups like Westboro, and the more insights gleaned by personnel the better.

Westboro officials were not paid and no government funds went to the organization; which is good since they are almost unanimously despised by every person residing in the States.

I think the issue here is with the speaker, Timothy Phelps.

Phelps is an ACTIVE leader in the Westboro group.

Historically, when training like this is offered to enforcement agencies, the speakers are reformed or recovering participants in whatever criminal or domestic terrorism movement.

A former street gang leader.

A reformed white supremacist.

An repentant mobster.

This is based on the premise that the speaker wants to help others and will disclose insider information that is beneficial to law enforcement.

In contrast, when you have an active member of one of these organizations motivated to spread his/her message, you are more likely to get misinformation or simply rhetoric that is not helpful for agents trying to protect society.

So, in the future FBI training coordinators, please limit invitations for speaking engagements to "reformed" members of the groups that your agency deems as potentially dangerous to the country's populace.


Matthew MacNish said...

Interesting. I'm not sure that having an active member of a group like this speak would be a complete waste of time, depending on the audience. I mean behavioral sciences could probably learn a lot, but you probably wouldn't want this kind of person spouting their propaganda to fresh recruits.

Clarissa Draper said...

That's funny. Didn't one of his sons stop the church and write a book? Why don't they ask him to speak at Quantico?

Yellow said...

And the FBI couldn't turn this member? I think our skills are lacking.

J. J. in Phila said...

It might be important to understand the psychology of the group.

I would note this distinction between those other "formers" mention and the leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church.

A mobster, street gang leader, or white supremacist (probably), all engaged or at least advocated violence.

While I find the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church reprehensible, as far as I know, they neither engage in nor advocate violence.

Bob G. said...


Seems like that would be akin to having Bonnie & Clyde stopping on by the FBI HQ to discuss:
"alternative banking procedures regarding witrhdrawals"...
On some level it could be useful...I suppose.

I pretty much like my enemies at ARM'S LENGTH...or further away.

Good post.

Stay safe.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

I'm glad you posted this. I read the article when it came out in the paper and didn't get much out of it other than confusion because I didn't understand how speakers were chosen.