The hacktivist group LulzFinancial, which is associated with Anonymous, was busy this week shutting down websites and releasing personal information of members of the anti-gay Kansas religious organization otherwise known as the Wesboro Baptist Church. Not only did the hackers shut down GodHatesFags.com and GodHatesAmerica.com, it doxed members of the church itself, posting names, addresses, and other personal info.
According to Examiner, it appears that LulzFinancial hit the Westboro Baptist Church sites in retaliation for the controversially intolerant church's intentions, which was made clear via Twitter by founder Fred Phelps' daughter, Margie J., on Wednesday.
She wrote on Tuesday, two day after Josh Powell apparently killed his two sons, Charlie and Braden, and blew up his Graham, Wash., home: "Westboro will picket the funerals of the Powell boys, Sat.,2/11, 12:15p, to remind @GovGregoire they died because of her rebellion. #obeyGod"
Phelps posted the next day: "This is why God's cursed you w Josh Powells blowing up kids. #picketfunerals #connectdots MT @nytimes: WA State Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage"
Michael Stone at Examiner.com reported that the two websites operated by Westboro Baptist Church were disabled for several hours on Thursday. In addition to shutting down the sites, LulzFinancial also doxed (released personal documents) to Pastebin.
As is apparent, the fringe ultra-fundamentalist Christian denomination has few members. However, their message has reached far beyond their numbers. With a presence on the Internet and the continuing picketing of funerals of American armed services personnel and famous individuals across the nation, Westboro Baptist Church has become the lead representative of virulent anti-gay intolerance. Their actions have been made even more controversial through the use of Christian scriptural interpretations as justification for what they say and do.
The Church's hostile attitude toward homosexuals, the callous disregard for personal privacy of family's grieving the deaths of fallen service personnel, and preachings of America's demise (not to mention the world's imminent doom) has received not only copious amounts of media attention, but there has been blowback. They've been sued and counter-picketed, ridiculed and lambasted by the press and Internet bloggers, and had their operations hacked and shut down.
In a case that went to the Supreme Court for final adjudication in March 2010, Westboro Baptist's right to freedom of speech was eventually found to be abridged by a lower court's ruling in Snyder v. Phelps (via Epic.org) to award the father of Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq, an $8 million settlement. The church had been ordered to pay damages for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
But all of it has only served to keep the Church in headlines. With every picketing announcement of a soldier or celebrity and every retaliatory effort made against them, Westboro Baptist continues to make the news.
The latest Westboro announcement targeted the recent deaths of Josh Powell and his two young sons. Powell has long been in the news, ever since he told authorities in Utah that he went on an impromptu camping trip with his two boys in sub-freezing temperatures in December 2009 and came home to find his wife, Susan, missing. Although never charged, Powell was considered by law enforcement as a person of interest. But, according to KOMO News, on Super Bowl Sunday, after a child services supervisor dropped off his two sons at his Washington home for a court-ordered visitation, Powell killed them and set fire to his house.
The official cause of death for all three persons was carbon monoxide poisoning, although the Pierce County Medical Examiner noted that the two boys had sustained several cutting blows to their heads and necks. A small hatchet was recovered at the scene as well.
Josh Powell had earlier sent various emails to friends and family members, most of which read simply, "I'm sorry. Goodbye."
It was this incident and the subsequent funeral for Powell's sons that Westboro Baptist Church used to call attention to the same-sex marriage law recently passed in Washington state, claiming that the boys' deaths were God's retribution for the state's new laws that allowed gays to form legal same-sex unions.
Just last year, Anonymous issued an open letter (here posted via CBS News) to Westboro that it was poised to shut down their Internet presence. The letter read, in part:
"Your demonstrations and your unrelenting cascade of disparaging slurs, unfounded judgments, and prejudicial innuendos, which apparently apply to every individual numbered amongst the race of Man - except for yourselves - has frequently crossed the line which separates Freedom of Speech from deliberately utilizing the same tactics and methods of intimidation and mental & emotional abuse that have been previously exploited and employed by tyrants and dictators, fascists and terrorist organizations throughout history."
Anonymous warned the Church to "cease and desist" or suffer the consequences. Needless to say, Westboro Baptist did not cease anything. Anonymous responded, as can be seen in the video provided by Switched, by shutting down Westboro's website during a live interview with a Westboro member on "The David Packman Show." All that was seen when accessing the Westboro website was: "Despite having had the capability to hack your sites previously, we chose not to and instead responded maturely to your threats, but you have not respected this."
LulzFinancial also took to the GodHatesFags.com website on Tuesday. On the same day, the group hit the Syrian Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the white supremacist website Stormfront.
From MSNBC: Although it was later announced that the Westboro Baptist Church canceled its picketing of the Powell funerals in exchange for air time on a Seattle radio station, it should be noted that founder Fred Phelps' decision to make the trade-off may have been a result in some part of his ministry's websites getting shut down.
(photo credit: JCWilmore, Creative Commons)