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Odd Couple: Westboro Baptist Church and ... the FBI?

National Public Radio reported Wednesday on a truly bizarre partnership of sorts between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. For those of you who remain blissfully ignorant about the WBC, it is a Kansas church that "has sparked outrage around the country for its pickets, which feature profane and derogatory language warning people about the danger of Hell." The church reportedly preaches that God hates gay people, as well as Jews and Catholics, and is famous for picketing the funerals of dead soldiers. It won a free-speech battle over those funeral protests at the U.S. Supreme Court in March.

You might think, then, that the WBC is not the most likely of candidates to be assisting the FBI with its counterterrorism training program. And yet not long ago, the FBI invited WBC leaders to its Quantico Marine base in Virginia to speak with FBI agents as part of that training program. As the NPR article discusses, there is a good bit of confusion as to what the purpose was for WBC's attendance, and still more confusion as to how an invitation was extended to them in the first place.

A church leader named Timothy Phelps told NPR that he believed WBC was invited to the FBI program to teach agents "how to stay measured when they are speaking with a witness or a suspect with whom they have a strong, visceral disagreement." The FBI, however, now says that the meet-up with the WBC was for a different purpose -- "so police officers and agents could see extremists up close and understand what makes them tick." While the FBI says the WBC understood this, Phelps says he "had no idea he was part of a domestic terrorism curriculum."

Meanwhile, NPR reports, nobody in the "top brass" at the FBI even knew WBC was assisting the FBI until more than 200 officers and agents had attended one of the four sessions and memos finally started to circulate asking why WBC had been invited. The assistant director of the FBI's Training Division has since terminated the FBI-WBC relationship with a one-line memo simply stating that the FBI is not to invite Westboro to any further training sessions.

Posted by Bruce Carton on June 30, 2011 at 04:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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