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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Westboro Baptist Church Pickets Loyola High School

Michael Juliani |
November 9, 2012 | 2:15 p.m. PST

Assistant News Editor

Timothy Phelps holding his signs on Venice Blvd. (Michael Juliani / Neon Tommy)
Timothy Phelps holding his signs on Venice Blvd. (Michael Juliani / Neon Tommy)

Two guys from the Westboro Baptist Church picketed in front of Loyola High School on Venice Boulevard for about an hour Friday afternoon, holding signs that said "Priests Rape Boys" and, notoriously, "God Hates Fags."

The Westboro church has become infamous for protesting America's tolerance of homosexuality by showing up to military funerals and big cultural events to tell everyone else that they're going to hell.  As a graduate of Loyola (an all-male, private Jesuit high school) I couldn't miss the opportunity to hear Westboro's specific views about an institution personal to me.   

Only two people from the church showed up: Steve Drain, a tall, bearded man probably in his late 30s, wearing an Under Armour shirt; and Timothy Phelps--a member of the family that makes up the central population of the church--who was wearing a soccer jersey that said "Phelps / 7" on the back.  Both men held a catalog of signs that they switched through two at a time.

Loyola security had taped off the front entrance to the school, and three LAPD cruisers parked down the street on both sides of the scene.  At 12:36, the lunch bell rang and students poured out of the halls, but weren't allowed into the front circle where the picketers could come in contact with them verbally.  When I went to Loyola, it wasn't unusual for this area to be gated off anyway.

Drain and Phelps held smug demeanors but weren't hostile and didn't chant anything or make any kind of noise.  In the traffic on Venice Boulevard several people yelled "Fuck you" or "I love gay people" at the men, some others just honked or shouted unintelligibly.  Drain and Phelps hardly blinked.

"When you're telling 99 percent of people that they're going to hell you're not going to make friends," Drain said. 

The two men were happy to talk with anyone who approached them, but were unforgiving in debates about the merits of their beliefs.  I asked why they had chosen Loyola High School of all Catholic institutions in Los Angeles and Drain said, "Don't you think these guys are as deserving of the truth as anyone?"

Drain told me that although many people can find things to dispute in most of their picket signs, nobody can refute the fact that "Priests rape boys," he said, tapping on the sign.

A few Loyola alumni showed up to see what was happening, including David Henney, who is now a junior studying economics at USC.  He arrived on the scene by asking the two men, "What's the truth?  I was told that if I came here today I could hear the truth." 

Phelps responded, "God hates fags." 

"Is that all?" Henney replied.

Henney bantered with Phelps for about 15 to 20 minutes, at times getting sarcastic.  "Don't be a smart-ass," Phelps scolded him once.  Phelps talked about how universities "teach every one of their children to sin," and Henney said, "I go to a top-20 school and I party.  I think it's great."

Two guys from SacrilegeStreet.com, a website that interviews people about religion with a puppet, spent almost the whole hour talking with people on the scene, including me.  Three USC grad students who participate in USC's Campus Crusade for Christ showed up as counter-protesters, but only got there right as the Westboro guys were leaving.

Cory (who didn't want his last name printed), who studies biomedical engineering and self-identified as an "evangelical Christian," had a bag of waters and Gatorades he offered to Loyola security guards and the other onlookers.  He said he wanted to spread the message that Jesus died for everyone, "regardless of their lifestyle."

Cory was holding a sign that quoted Jesus saying "Love your enemies," and while the Westboro guys drove off in a gray sedan, two busloads of kids drove by yelling at Cory as if he were part of the Westboro Baptist Church.

The whole scene had been pretty calm and only lasted an hour.  Drain and Phelps had a full day.  After Loyola, they went to UCLA to picket and were guests on Russell Brand's TV show at night.  Drain told me that he's headed to Washington D.C. for Veterans Day, "for Obama," he said.

Once Drain and Phelps left, I crossed the street to talk to one of the Loyola security guards.  I told him I graduated in 2009 from Loyola and he asked if I knew someone from my year he's related to, but the Loyola media lady came over and asked for my press pass.  She brought the pass into Ruppert Hall and came out two minutes later. 

"It's over," she told me kindly.  "It's kind of a non-event for us."


SacrilegeStreet.com talks with Timothy Phelps:

Loyola alum and USC student David Henney talks with SacrilegeStreet.com about Westboro:

Henney talks with Phelps.  "Obama is the chief murderer."  Sorry for the vertical view:


Reach Assistant News Editor Michael Juliani here.



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