Emily Younker/The Joplin Globe/AP
Based in Topeka, Kan., Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an unaffiliated church led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, and attended mostly by some 70 members of the extended Phelps family. The fundamentalist congregation hews to an extreme ideology that condemns homosexuality and believes that America's national misfortunes are a direct result of God's wrath for failing to condemn gays, Catholics, Jews, and others.
WBC came to national awareness in 1998 after the group picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death for being gay. The group pickets every day in the Topeka area, and travels nationally to picket events that are likely to get widespread coverage. Westboro officials claim to have held over 41,000 protests since 1991, picketing events ranging from military funerals to high school theater productions.
Last year, the group picketed Michael Jackson's funeral and released a recording called "God Hates the World" to the tune of "We Are the World," a charity song that Jackson sang on.
Many of its larger protests have been met with counter-protests, some of which have turned ugly. In 2008, WBC picketed the funerals of three students killed in a house fire at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, but were driven off by a group of 1,000 students who confronted them.
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