Demagoguery and the Westboro Baptist Church: Deconstructing the Tactics of Hate

By David M. Maslyn
2014, Vol. 6 No. 02 | pg. 3/3 |

Success from Retaliation

Since the church began protesting, there has been major backlash from not only those offended by their callous, hateful protests, but they have now become the target of vigilante retaliation. In response to Westboro's protests, average citizens have taken it upon themselves to "protest back," so as to block out the disheartening words of the church. A group of motorcycle riders donning large American flags, calling themselves the "Patriot Guard Riders" will follow the caskets of soldiers to the burial ground in order to drown out the shouts of the Westboro Church, for example. Some people will hold up larger signs with humorous or inspiring messages on them and stand in front of the church in another attempt to cover up their hate. Others have organized groups to simply block out the hateful signs and shouting by standing in their way.

These tactics can often be effective in the sense that they successfully inspire and generate support for the victims of Westboro's hurtful message. But as the intensity of these conflicts increase, interest in videos and news coverage of the anti-protests rise. These videos have remained popular online, and continue to generate buzz whenever they are posted. Some have even reached into the millions of views. The popular rock band Foo Fighters even have a video in which they perform an impromptu concert on the back of a flatbed truck in order to block out a Westboro protest. Word of these anti-protests is beginning to spread as quickly as the church announces their next target.

Along with these videos, Internet memes, or photographs with often-humorous messages, have begun to emerge and spread around Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. One example, posted by username Hokie200proof (2010), shows an unflattering image of Shirley Phelps and reads, "[Westboro] believes Gods hates Jews…Jesus, Mary, all twelve apostles, and everyone in Old Testament was a Jew."

Although these videos can be exciting to watch and images easy to laugh at, they play a major part in Westboro's rhetorical strategy. There are currently more than 840 websites linking in to Westboro's website currently, including Twitter, Wikipedia, and Stormfront (Klein, 2010, p. 110). Videos involving Westboro, like the ones previously discussed, account for millions of views on YouTube, and have been covered on news stations and websites throughout the country. According to Webstatzone, their website now receives over 15,000 views per day (2012). Penetrating these numerous channels of media and online social communities like Facebook and Twitter was likely no mistake, and if it was, it can be considered the best mistake the church could have made. According to Klein (2010), "The most popular online genres among today's younger generation are social networks, gaming, video-sharing, and music download sites." (p. 77) The web and viral content have become a major part of the young generation's life, and therefore a free channel of expression without censorship for Westboro's message of hate. If the church's main goal is to create polarization and create anguish, pain, and hurt in their target outgroup, they will certainly achieve that if everyone simply hears their voice.

When the bombing of the Boston marathon happened in early 2013, pictures and messages began to appear online warning the Westboro Church not to protest the funerals of the victims. The success of the church's rhetoric is best represented by the fact that these messages were posted before the church ever announced a protest. As mentioned before, the Westboro Church's main goal is to polarize, demonize, and attack. They intend to create an ingroup and an outgroup, and preach punishment and aggressive hatred of the outgroup, while never offering a chance to join the outgroup. But, being "proponents of nonviolence," and in an effort to maintain legitimacy, Westboro never preaches for violence or direct action. In fact, in their "memorial" site to Matthew Shepard, they even say, "WBC does not support the murder of Matthew Shepard: 'thou shalt not kill'" (Matthew Shepard Memorial).


If the goal of the church is neither violence nor eradication of the outgroup, then their aim must be to punish or cause anguish to the outgroup. They do this by successfully making common, innocent people worry about encountering the embarrassment and sadness of the Westboro Church showing up to protest the funeral of a loved one. Their choice of picketing victims is calculated so as to be as mainstream as possible and to shock people into listening to their message. The Westboro Church shows little interest in recruitment, but rather in causing mental anguish to those that they hate. By taking advantage of our curiosity and newfound interest in viral media, the Westboro Church has been successful in having an impact on our lives. Although they are unlikely to persuade people that they are right, they have unquestionably impacted the lives of many victims by making us expect their presence and forcing us to hear their hateful rhetoric.


Brooke, James. (1998). "Gay Man Dies From Attack, Fanning Outrage and Debate." New York Times. Retrieved From:

DailyNewsEveryday. (2012). "Michael Moore vs. Westboro Baptist Church." YouTube.

God Hates Fags. (2013) Westboro Baptist Church. Retrieved from:

Hokie200proof. "Scumbag Westboro." Photograph. Quickmeme. Retrieved from:

Klein, Adam G. (2010). A Space for Hate. Duluth: Litwin Books, LLC.

Pakman, David. (2011). "Anonymous hacks Westboro Baptist Church Website LIVE." YouTube.

"Perpetual Gospel Memorial to Matthew Shepard."( 2013) Westboro Baptist Church. Retrieved from:

Roberts-Miller, Patricia. (2008). "Characteristics of Demagoguery." Department of Rhetoric and Writing, The University of Texas at Austin.

rorshac. (2011). "Westboro Baptist Church Humiliated in Vegas." YouTube.

WebStatZone. (2012). "Godhatesfags Overview." WebStatZone Analytics and Statistics. Retrieved from:

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

This could be referring to Nazi propaganda from the 1930s. However, it is, in fact, an ideology that is gaining influence in contemporary Europe. This time, allegedly, it is not Jews that have a plan to take control over Europe; it is Muslims. The nation is not perceived as being stabbed in the back by Marxists and “cultural Bolsheviks”, but, allegedly, by multiculturalists and “cultural Marxists”. This is the “Eurabia... MORE»
In the days of past, the clarion call and mission of the black church was two-fold: it served as a beacon of hope for the lost-soul seeking grace and mercy, but it also functioned as an oasis for all issues affecting the community. The black church served as a voice in the wilderness, crying out that equality and justice belonged... MORE»
The need for individuals to categorize themselves and others based on gender has guided the way individuals interact with one another throughout history. The construction of gender, particularly when it comes to young males, has led to the amplification of negative characteristics associated with hegemonic masculinity. These negative... MORE»
The relationships between power and rhetoric have been the subject of many recent studies, most notably from the conversation concerning “critical rhetoric” (McKerrow, 1989; Murphy, 1995; Ono & Sloop, 1992; Shugart, 2003; Zompetti, 1997). Recent discussions have also occurred regarding the nature of vernacular discourse... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in Business & Communications

2021, Vol. 13 No. 09
This research lies at the nexus of political communication theory relating to emotional affect and political processing and the burgeoning field of sentiment analysis. News coverage can affect opinion both through the information it provides and... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 06
This research study explores factors that present barriers to reporting workplace incidents and contribute to cultures of non-report. The research purpose was to explore human, workplace/organizational, and external factors identified by industrial... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 8 No. 11
In its beta release, Google Glass was positioned as a groundbreaking technology - a glimpse into a future that has long been promised in science fiction. It was met with media fanfare and consumer interest, despite costing more than most PCs on... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 7 No. 1
Predicting the future of the news industry begins with understanding the history of newspapers and the current news delivery landscape. Because the Internet has brought fundamental shifts to news distribution, successful organizations of the future... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 7 No. 1
Instagram allows users to share a snapshot of their lives with a mass audience in a matter of seconds. This capability and power has not gone unnoticed by celebrities, who are highly aware of the impact their social media accounts have on fans and... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 7 No. 1
Since its development, YouTube, the world's third most popular online destination, has transformed from a video-sharing site into a job opportunity for content creators in both new and mainstream media. Based on content analysis, the study examined... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 7 No. 1
Today, more than 15 million Americans practice yoga, making the ancient Indian discipline synonymous with the Western society's culture of wellness. As a way to market themselves, practitioners and instructors of yoga have utilized Instagram &ndash... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


Presentation Tips 101 (Video)
How to Manage a Group Project (Video)
7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School