A (Sort Of) Satirical Review of the Westboro Baptist Church’s 2010 I-70 God Smack Tour, as seen by Walter Beck.
In many ways, it was like a rock ‘n’ roll show; we were up and out before 8 AM, we had coffee, cigarettes and were blasting music on the way. Our friends were excited to see us; and when we got to the gig the crowd seemed excited and happy.
But the difference was that we weren’t going to see Metallica or Iron Maiden, we were there for serious business: the thugs from Westboro Baptist Church made their appearance in the early morning of October 3rd, 2010.
We waited around St. Patrick’s Catholic Church as we got our signs ready, which ranged from the biblical “God is Love” to the political “Equality for All” and even the satirical “This Space for Rent”. Most of the crowd was dressed in street rags, although some of my friends were dressed a bit more strangely – Erik was wearing a pink fuzzy Bunny suit, sort of like in A Christmas Story.
As we waited, the news media showed up and a reporter wanted to talk to some of us. Naturally I let him put his mic in my face as I babbled for a few minutes and got the crowd riled up. He thanked me and then moved down the line.
I spotted the greenish van with a Kansas license plate and we moved to the corner of the sidewalk, and sure enough the Westboro folk made their grand entrance to the fine city of Terre Haute with the heiress herself, Shirley Phelps-Roper, taking center stage. She had four signs in her hands and a couple of inverted flags tied around her waist (the American flag, Rainbow Flag … and I do believe I saw the Vatican flag as well).
Like any good show, they kicked it off with a bang, chanting for a while and obviously digging the crowd. The news folk kept their cameras rolling throughout the whole spectacle and the cops just stood by watching for signs for violence or trouble.
Well, what’s any well-publicized tour without some music? And believe me, the Westboro crowd was happy to oblige as they sang poorly written satires of Ozzy, Queen and Lady Gaga. We in the peace corner felt like singing as well, so we belted out a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, Christian songs and some patriotic numbers in honor of the veterans who were amongst us.
We went back and forth for a bit as the cameras rolled and the peace and love just poured out of us, even though I don’t think Shirley and her crowd were receptive of our gifts. Her crowd packed up the van and sped off for a second performance to take place at Bible Baptist Church. And so we, the peace and love crowd, got in our vans, trucks and cars to follow them there.
The Westboro crowd beat us to it. They had already set up and were chanting and singing. So we countered, beginning our chanting and singing again. It was the same gig as at St. Patrick’s – apparently even on a national tour these folk aren’t too keen on changing their performance.
One brave soul broke from our ranks and placed a flower at the feet of Shirley. I forget his name, but he is a true warrior and peace maker. And what did our favorite hate-mongering star do with this simple offering? She crushed it under her heel and proceeded to try to sing a bad parody of ‘Crazy Train’. Not to be outdone, we, the peace crowd, sang our own a cappella version of ‘Crazy Train’.
During the Bible Baptist rally, I caused the reporter from WTWO to slip up. He was doing his work, and I had a sign with a big smiley face on it that said “Smile If You’re Gay”. When the reporter was trying to tell the story, I yelled, “Hey this sign says ‘Smile if you’re gay’ – it seems like the Westboro people are smiling an awful lot”. He broke up laughing and couldn’t continue.
Shortly after, the Westboro folk packed up their van and left as we peace and love folk sang the chorus of Guns ‘N’ Roses’ ‘Paradise City’. It was a victory for peace and love as the Westboro protesters sped back to I-70 and I know as I write this there will be another town hit on their 2010 “I-70 God Smack Tour”.
All in all, as far as acts goes, this was one of the worst I’ve seen. Their performance was terrible. They didn’t surprise us with an encore. There were no tour shirts available, and like most touring media stars, they wouldn’t stick around for a “meet and greet” with the people who came out to see them.
NOTE: This piece was originally written in Terre Haute, IN in the immediate aftermath of Westboro’s appearance in October 2010. It is now being published in Polari Magazine for the very first time.