Westboro, death pannels, birthers: Coping with crazy

So, the Westboro Baptist Church came to Burlington — which I guess is like Michael Vick attending the Westminster Dog Show.Justifiably, a good chunk of Burlington came out to show the church that they weren’t in Kansas anymore.The whole scene was surreal.  Westboro was about as vile as it gets short of actual violence, and they were clearly seasoned veterans at raising the collective blood pressure of a community.Most of them held up four signs at a time, gripping two in each hand, and the messages were inappropriate even by the standards of public bathroom stalls.”American/Israel is Doomed,” “Fag Marriage,” “Some Jews Will Repent” — which I guess is their conciliatory, common-ground one — “You Will Eat Your Babies,” each more disturbing than the last.Despite my shock, I must say, in a weird way it almost seems appropriate that Fred Phelps and company would come to Burlington now.  I don’t know about you, but these last few weeks have felt like Crazy People Appreciation Month.The Birthers, a group of conservatives arguing that Obama is not fit to be president because of allegations surrounding his birth status, were given a forum despite their outrageously easy-to-debunk ideas. In the same weeks, a small, vocal minority managed to smuggle Fascist terminology into the health care debate.For weeks, professional newsmen and pundits had a public discourse on the possibility that health care was really a clever front for forced euthanasia and government “death panels.”Now, of course, there won’t be any “death panels,” or anything remotely close to them. So how did it happen? How did this far-fetched allegation sneak into legitimate discourse?It seems to me that the problem lies in our inability to leave the margins, you know,marginalized.The Birthers and health care protestors bring in the ratings, they impassion people and as a result they receive public attention far out of proportion to their support.And public attention is just the sort of soil these groups use to grow.As for Westboro — by far the most noxious of the fringe groups garnering attention recently — I can’t imagine Fred Phelps’s cross-country hate campaign would continue if they didn’t reliably attract counter-protests, make local news and occasionally initiate a fight and the subsequent settlement/lawsuit money.It reminds me of what they tell grade school kids about bullies, “ignore them and they’ll leave you alone.” If all Westboro got were some rolled eyes and maybe a middle finger or two, they’d probably be back in Topeka in a week.SGA President Bryce Jones couldn’t have put it better, “the strongest message we can give them is silence.”Now, I’m neither Jewish nor gay, so while I’m obviously disgusted by Westboro, I may not understand the implications of their presence the way someone with a different sexual orientation or ethnicity would.I’m just offering my take on the most effective way to deal with our common enemy — and all extreme, fringe groups in general.While it’s not always easy, sometimes the difficult art of ignoring is the best weapon of all.