Topeka Capital-Journal – Nov. 2, 2001
Osama bin Laden has been around so long, hating and killing Americans, that it’s a wonder he’s still alive. You’d think that by design or by accident someone on our side would have found him and made him history, or someone on his side would have turned on him, taken aim, and said, “Go with Allah.”
It’s a near-miracle that nothing bad has happened to him, considering he has made the terrorist rounds, setting up camps, recruiting suicide squads, giving interviews and even going on television to tell us he’s going to kill as many of us as he can.
We have a right to fear him. He apparently has enough money to carry out his threats for years to come, and he has thousands of believers willing to fly airplanes into buildings, or do anything else he asks.
Worst of all, he has time. He’s in no hurry. It could be months, or it could be minutes, before his next scheduled massacre, and it could happen almost anywhere. He has us living in fear, and we’ll continue to live that way until he’s gone.
It can be said of him that he truly is getting away with murder, and to stop him we have to find him, or get lucky with a 500-pound bomb or some subtler weapon, like 500 gallons of napalm in his favorite cave.
The life he’s lived up to now is the stuff of fiction, and the questions keep coming back: How does he get away with it? How much longer is he going to get away with it?
Topekans mulling those questions could be understandably discouraged. They ask: How can we expect this country to ever stop Osama bin Laden if we, the solid, upright, patriotic, fed-up citizens of Topeka, can’t stop a man who has been spreading hate here for years?
We ask, how much longer do we have to put up with a hate-monger who has buffaloed the law, the leadership and the local citizenry into believing he’s untouchable? What is it about him that makes him immune?
Fred Phelps doesn’t preach terrorism or violence, doesn’t threaten to kill anyone, doesn’t deal in weapons, doesn’t equip and train suicide squads, and he doesn’t hide out. He doesn’t need to, because so far nobody has figured out a lawful reason to round him up and herd him out of town.
Phelps’ weapons are words. He has a vocabulary that is scary, and I’d back him in an international Bible-quoting competition. He and his flock go around town and around the country picketing and preaching their hatred, and what they claim to be God’s hatred, of homosexuality.
Their picket lines feature signs saying God hates fags, and Phelps names the fags. No person, no group of persons and no establishment are too big or too small, or beyond his reach. He also distributes a steady stream of faxes that have hate dripping off the pages, and in reply Topeka wrings its hands and says it wishes he’d go away.
Phelps claims he’s the pastor of a real Baptist church, which must make a lot of Baptists cringe. The fact is, to paraphrase William Allen White, Fred Phelps is to religion what football is to higher education. Barely relevant. What he does is manufacture hate without reason, and he sees homosexuality behind every bush. It long has been true that if you’re not on his fag list it means only that he hasn’t gotten around to you yet, and it is better to be called a fag than a friend.
Phelps also preaches that God hates America because it harbors fags, and as punishment has turned the forces of terrorist evil loose on the country. God also gave the world AIDS in retribution for tolerating homosexuality.
It is to Phelps’ credit that he doesn’t beg for money, despite the fact he could raise a lot of it from people who feel as he does. Obviously he gets funds from somewhere, because his picketers have a hefty budget for traveling coast to coast to hassle everything from show business to funerals.
I asked him once about the money angle, and he said he wasn’t rolling in dough, and he added, “But I ain’t hurtin’.”
Lawsuits generated by the picket lines haven’t bothered him, and it seems he has given the police more grief than they have given him. Wherever he goes, he demands police protection of his right to picket. “Concerned citizens” never have made him run for cover.
Phelps and bin Laden have in common an incredible capacity for hate, a strong will, and staying power. Phelps’ hatred is aimed at a wide range of targets, nearly all of which exist only in his mind, and he says God hates them all and everything they do. On the other hand, bin Laden’s hatred is focused on Americans and Jews.
To steal a line from Fred, and from Psalms 6: “Our souls are in anguish. How long , O Lord, how long?”