During my older brother’s college years, the Ku Klux Klan planned a march through the sleepy Southern town in which his school tended the delicate young minds in its charge. As the fateful day approached, the college administrators wrung their hands over the best approach to dealing with the potentially explosive mixture of goose-stepping knot heads and a couple thousand college students drunk on school spirit and youthful vigor. The students ultimately formulated a plan to hold a giant picnic on the intramural fields located on the far side of campus from the Klan’s planned steel-toed strut. The residents of the town were all personally invited, and nearly all attended. The Klan marched through a town empty of all but the ghosts of their sad delusions.
I think the picnic idea was nothing short of brilliant, if for no other reason than that loosing my brother and his friends on the Pinhead Pageant would have generated a bigger crowd of shrieking lunatics in white dresses than the half-off sale at a Manhattan bridal superstore. Where better than college to learn that even soft-underbelly-of-society types like Klansmen have the right to hoot, holler and wear the laundry? Where better than college to learn the value of ignoring them?
But the Klan is easy to ignore. Not that its particular brand of hate isn’t noteworthy; I just can’t get that worked up about a bunch of clowns who have trouble spelling multisyllabic words but know more about thread count than a Beverly Hills madam.
This weekend in Savannah — a city that has endured my presence for years — another group of more virulently venomous villains will be smearing this lovely town with filth. Fred Phelps and his twisted minions of the Westboro Baptist Church have delivered to Savannah the dubious honor of being the latest locale to suffer their foolishness. Unlike a Klan march in a sleepy college town, the Westboro sideshow in a city of more than 250,000 is likely as difficult to ignore as a palmetto bug in your grits.
Ever since word filtered out that the Westboro crazy caravan was headed this way, all Savannah has been abuzz with plans to assemble to demonstrate against Westboro, prank them or simply gawk at the goings-on. There are Facebook groups dedicated to organizing peaceful counter protests, and there are other groups that have more “energetic” responses planned. I will be among neither the former nor the latter.
I am man enough to admit I lack the compunction to stand within range of reprobates like the Westboro flock. If one of them shoved one of those “God Hates Fags” signs in my face, I would make him eat it. (Just in case my mom is reading this, I would be polite about it. I’d offer him some sweet tea to wash it down.) One of my more spiritual friends recently reminded me that Jesus would not only tolerate Phelps and his herd, He would likely love them in accordance with Scripture. My response was a fairly colorful version of: “Do we think there’s a great deal of confusion over which one’s Jesus and which one’s Ben?” I will eschew a visit with Phelps, because I suspect writing “Outside the Asylum” while inside the big house would be fairly difficult.
Allow me to offer the inevitable caveat: As long as Phelps and his accomplices abide by local ordinances (which they seem maddeningly willing to do), they are — and they should be — allowed to make absolute buffoons of themselves. Those of us with crania larger than Georgia white shrimp are allowed likewise to either point out observable buffoonery or pointedly ignore Westboro’s cavalcade of crazy.
Whether it’s Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam or “Creepy McStalkerston” and the Montana chapter of the Moody Loners’ Militia, America endures even its most aggressively stupid children. At the very least, their presence reminds us how blessed we are to know better than cheer the deaths of men and women in uniform, 9-year-old girls and/or Ronnie James Dio.
This weekend, while the Westboro Baptist Church slithers into my neighborhood to offer its high-decibel condemnations of military heroes, children and former Monsters of Rock mid-carders, I will be playing in my flag football league’s playoffs. It’s not that I don’t have some choice words for Phelps, it’s just that I would rather sweat, wheeze and limp for three or four days than find a way to make bail.