Westboro Baptists ‘booking flights’ for Johannesburg to protest Mandela’s funeral

By George Chidi
Saturday, December 7, 2013 17:02 EDT
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A Westboro Baptist Church member pickets a Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles on June 19, 2009. Photo: Flickr user k763, creative commons licensed.
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The Westboro Baptist Church has a long history of media-soliciting domestic and international hate protests, with pickets targeting the funerals of dead children at Sandy Hook, fallen soldiers and celebrities like Paul Walker drawing outsized attention.

Their next dive into the fray is a triple-gainer by their historical standards, though — a protest of Nelson Mandela’s funeral. In South Africa.

In a series of deliberately-provocative Twitter posts, the church says it is buying plane tickets to South Africa and is hoping to coordinate with South African police while they stage a protest at the funeral, citing Mandela’s divorce and remarriage as evidence of damnation.

The Westboro Baptist Church has gained international infamy for picketing the funerals of dead soldiers with offensive signs such as “God hates f*gs” and is widely considered to be a hate group. WBC founder Fred Phelps is — perhaps surprisingly — a veteran of the civil rights movement, but the group’s more offensive picket signs and statements may run afoul of South Africa’s limitations on free speech. The 1996 constitution contains more protection for free speech in law and practice than most countries in Africa, but “advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm” is not protected.

And if the early Twitter reaction to the WBC announcement is any indication, incitement may already be happening.

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