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Westboro Disinvited From FBI Training

Westboro Disinvited From FBI Training

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Leaders of the antigay Westboro Baptist Church have been addressing training sessions for the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- until recently, when FBI employees objected to the church's presence, and church officials claimed they had been misled about the sessions' purpose.

National Public Radio's Morning Edition reported Wednesday that Westboro had been invited to the sessions in 2008 and again this year, but the arrangement was canceled after four sessions this spring.

Timothy Phelps, the youngest son of church founder Fred Phelps, said he had been told Westboro members had been invited in order to help FBI agents and local law enforcement professionals learn "how to stay measured when they are speaking with a witness or a suspect with whom they have a strong, visceral disagreement."

But those who attended the sessions said they were focused on domestic terrorism, and they "were told that the FBI invited Westboro members to the class so police officers and agents could see extremists up close and understand what makes them tick," Morning Edition reports. The FBI says Westboro officials knew this; Timothy Phelps says they were misled. The FBI has invited other controversial figures, including former Ku Klux Klan members, to similar sessions.

In any case, FBI employees were not thrilled at Westboro's presence, and many of those who attended the trainings sent memos to supervisory personnel asking why the group had been invited. The congregation, based in Topeka, Kan., first became infamous for picketing funerals of gay men who had died as a result of AIDS or hate crimes -- such as murder victim Matthew Shepard -- with signs saying the deceased person was in hell, among other hateful messages. In recent years it has demonstrated at funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, with signs asserting that the deaths are God's punishment for America's tolerance of gay people. The fact that some of the training sessions were held at a military base -- Quantico Marine Base in Virginia -- made the situation even more awkward.

The uproar led to the abrupt end of any ties between Westboro and the FBI. The assistant director of the agency's training division has issued a directive that Westboro is not to be invited again, NPR reports.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.