What Louis Theroux taught me about the Westboro Baptist Church:

I love Louis Theroux Documentaries. For those of you who don’t know, Louis Theroux is one of my heroes: a British documentary journalist who as an atypical way of interviewing. Some of my favorite of his documentaries were when he lived in Nevada’s largest brothel for a couple weeks, or spent a week with the high-rollers of casinos in Las Vegas.

I’ve known for a while he has done two documentaries on the Westboro Baptist Church.

I didn’t want to watch either documentary on the WBC. I knew they would make me feel sad, disgusted, and frustrated.

And they did.  

First of all, before I watched the hour long documentary, Louis Theroux America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis,” this is the extent of what I knew about the WBC.

Protest in Tokyo, Japan

Protest in Tokyo, Japan

The Westboro Baptist Church is arguably the most famous hate-group in America, while technically still classified by the Federal government as a non-profit organization (so they don’t have to pay taxes). They are known for their extreme ideologies, especially towards gay people, and for picketing funerals (military, death by natural disaster, icons, gays, or people of a different religion). With only about 40 members, they get nearly all their money from lawsuits and legal fees. Basically, they just love doing publicity stunts, like holding offensive signs, shouting, or trampling American flags.

However, aside from the recent explosion over the internet about how WBC members are probably going to be attacked if they choose to picket a Slayer funeral (the lead singer from the American thrash metal band, Jeff Hannerman, recently passed away), that was the extent of my knowledge of the Westboro Baptist Church.

And I was fine keeping it that way. I don’t like confrontation. I hate arguing, and I vehemently hate people who are purposefully mean to others. I know, I’m like a little girl.

I highly recommend watching the documentary,“Louis Theroux America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis.” This is what it taught me.

And this is what I learned from “Louis Theroux: America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis”

1. They are human. They have emotions; they use this cult as a form of fulfillment. Members of the WBC fall in love, they get hurt, and they learn how to hide their “dark” side from not only the rest of the world, but also to each other.

In a system like there, where your best friend can back-stab you or you could be excommunicated from the “church” for chatting with a boy online creates these kinds of individuals who think it is healthy to smother any feeling, idea, or attachment not approved by their elders. This is their way of life.

2. They are happy. Because a majority of their funding comes from expensive lawsuits (they have quite a few lawyers in the congregation), their full-time job can be picking funerals and protesting at the side of the road several times a day. In an interview with one of my favorite documentary journalists, Louis Theroux, one of the key members described the position “I’m as happy as I man can be on this earth.”

Poster from the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade in Yoyogi, Japan 2013However, the women holding the sign’s “happy” (during the 2013 Tokyo Rainbow Pride Gay Rights Parade) is quite a bit different than Westboro Baptist Church’s “happy.”

But I guarantee, just by watching their eyes twinkle when they get into arguments with strangers, they love what they do. They see their full-time job as making signs, re-writing catch pop music with highly offensive lyrics, and protesting by the side of the road. And they love their jobs.

Parents, of course, are extremely happy because they get to exert complete control over their children. They can curb any unwanted behavior by telling their child they will “burn in the hottest part of hell for all eternity,” and scare that kid into total obedience. No one in the WBC sees this behavior as strange.

3. As Louis puts it:

“They have embarked on an eccentric mission to live life in denial of the most basic human emotions. Stifling their own feelings, they felt entitled, in fact compelled, to trample on those of other people.”

-Louis Theroux

4. Some can’t take it. They break down and accidentally break a rule. Some leave voluntarily; some get “voted off the island” by the community, without being consulted. Once you leave, you aren’t able to get in contact with your ex-friends, parents, or siblings. As the saying in the Westboro Baptist Church goes “those who leave burn in the special, hottest part of hell.” The most common “deserters” seem to be women who have hit their early 20s – who suddenly don’t believe in the “don’t talk to a boy until marriage” or “absolute purity, deny all ‘wicked’ emotions” objectives they have had force-fed for the last 20 years. If they protest (can be as simple as wearing a bikini at the beach), they are kicked out.

My sister's dog missed his "girlfriend," my brother's dog

My sister’s dog missed his “girlfriend,” my brother’s dog

5. Most people stay. They thrive there. The “church” gives them a sense of entitlement, a place to showcase their ego.

Parents get the opportunity to exert complete control over their children (and other people), because as Louis explores in his documentary, when the father of one 21 year old girl discovered she had been chatting with a boy not affiliated with their church online, her father had her excommunicated. The dad put it in different terms.

6. Children and adolescence are “watched” and told what to say. 

Aside from, you know, being in a cult, children seem to have an easy life in WBC. Children get saved from the nasty, scary parts of being a child, mainly freedom. Decisions are made for them. It seems like young adults at WBC don’t have to decide where to go to school, what to study, what to devote their life to, and who to trust. They are told who to trust and what path to take.

Or, more accurately: their community and parents are “Big Brother.”

Funny signs Japan toilet

Sign in a Japanese toilet stall

From the documentary, you can tell when Louis asks them a question they have been “prepped” for. A little light goes off in their head. Louis asked one of the member’s son, a blonde, 11 year old boy “do you understand that gay people find the word ‘fag’ offensive?”

Barely letting Louis finish, the boy goes off on a pre-memorized rant – finishing it with a “they’re just a bunch of filthy fags. I don’t care if they find it offensive. It’s wrong. The bible says it’s wrong. So you can just shut up about it”

“Did you just tell me to shut up?” -Louis

“Ok, sorry. I didn’t meant, I just meant you can… ok sorry. I’m sorry.”

I’m not even joking (also, that was the only time I saw a WBC member apologize in the hour long documentary). When a small, 11 year old child realized he had told a “fairly respectable” adult to “shut up,” he started laughing and apologizing, not for saying offensive things, but for telling Louis to “shut up” (which, to be fair, was basically the least offensive thing that boy had said all day). The entire script for this 11 year old boy was obviously prepped; he had answered that same question many times before.

To watch that section, click on this link to the Louis Theroux video on Youtube, and skip to 30:05.

Children at WBC, just like any cult, are trained what to say, what to think, and how to respond to questions from reporters, documentary filmmakers, or other “earth dwellers.” I get it, adolescence is hard. It’s much easier with a tight-knit community deeply involved in each other’s lives.

Final thoughts:

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend watching “Louis Theroux: America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis.” (This is a different link than before, just in case previous one wasn’t working).

The documentary was painful to watch, as expected. Cults have, and always will, make me sad. The WBC happened to make me feel a little bit sick, as well. But it was an excellent learning opportunity.

A final quote from Youtube, that explains why I love Louis Theroux documentaries so much:

Louis Theroux would be well equipped to start a cultic religion. This video shows his amazing skills at asking the right questions, forcing them to reveal their gaps, making them stutter, and thus causing gaps in their consciousness. This method of hypnosis would be similarly applied in the westboro church whereas these people, are slowly tricked, hypnotized into being believers of the westboro church as these gaps in their memories/consciousness is filled with false information.


Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele


2 responses to “What Louis Theroux taught me about the Westboro Baptist Church:

  1. We watched this during my last day of creative writing seminars. It was interesting, to say the least. I feel bad for the kids, honestly, and you summed it up pretty well.

    • Wow, that must have been interesting to watch in class. I can’t even imagine.

      I had to stop it several time to cook or walk around, since I was getting too worked up.
      I still… I don’t even… Yeah…

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