Sunday, February 27, 2011

Does The End Justify The Means?

Westboro Baptist Church (which proudly proclaims itself as " the most controversial church in the world!") is the latest in a long line of untouchables taken down on their own knife by the cyber-revolutionaries of Anonymous.The hatemongers of Westboro wanted to play a mind game with the super hackers of Anonymous- and lost.  An ultimatum purportedly sent to WBC by the on-line vigilante group called for them to cease and desist their  homophobia, bigotry and other assorted mischief -they are known to send out teams to stage protests against mourners at military funerals- or their multiple websites would be rendered inoperable. There is some confusion as to who actually fired the first shot in this contest-Anonymous either actually sent the diatribe to Fred Phelps' minions, or WBC faked a letter from Anonymous to start the ball rolling-no one really knows and the story about contact between the two is unclear.  What is clear is that members of the loosely organized Anonymous eventually did made good on their ability and literally hacked into and jammed WBC's websites while  live in the air during an interview with  smarmy WBC spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper last week.(See the interview here:

The sites,, and several more overseen by Westboro Baptist Church have been inaccessible and remain so as of this writing. For all of WBC's carping about religious truths and the First Amendment, no one seems to be circling the wagons in their defense...absolutely no one. Not a single notable celebrity in the faith community has spoken up on their behalf. I doubt their personal, home-grown flavor of "God's Word" is missed by many.

Perhaps if WBC wasn't the persistent burr under the saddle for so many, someone would have exhibited a bit of sympathy for them, but they are relentless. When word started to spread throughout cyberspace that they had been rendered ineffectual, the public breathed a collective sigh for the momentary relief. They're still out there picketing ( in theory, although they've skipped the last few targets listed on their schedule before it went down.) I'm certain they're still waving their famous neon orange, yellow and green signs that say God Hates_______(fill in the blank), and encouraging their children to grind the American flag into the sidewalk. But at least for a time, we don't have to listen to their inane rhetoric online.

Which brings me to the next part of this little conversation: does the end justify the means? I think I can safely say that as much as the majority of us caught ourselves smiling when we heard the news that WBC had been given their comeuppance, just as many are now wondering if Anonymous went too far by crossing the Free Speech line this time. There are also some frightening aspects to Anonymous: no one actually knows who they are or how many members they have.We don't know if the WBC take down was a planned strike or the act of a single rogue hacker in their midst. What we do know is they are very, very tech savvy and capable of attacking at will-which their history has proven time and again. So I ask again:" Does the end justify the means?"

What exactly does that oft used (and over used) phase actually mean? It means that the morality of the action in question is based solely on the outcome of that action, and not on the action itself. It's psychological shorthand for doing anything you want to get the desired result...and not necessarily by way of legal means. It doesn't matter if the methods used are ethical, fair, or truthful. It can involve what to some would seem immoral methods, but is not based on that necessarily. It has nothing to do with being right, or fair or good.

I can point out that Westboro Baptist Church -which is actually a cult founded by Fred Phelps and has nothing to do with the  mainstream Baptist Church at large- has done some pretty reprehensible things at times. Picketing at military funerals because (in their twisted logic) the deceased was sacrificed by G-d because of a tolerance of homosexuals by the country is a pretty thin stretch, no matter how many brain cells you are lacking. Saying that G-d sent the shooter to Tuscon to kill a little girl, a federal judge and seriously wounding a member of congress 'because America is disobedient' is beyond credulity. But they have said these things, and more, and have done so legally, because of the First Amendment of the Constitution protects their right to free speech, no matter how stupid it sounds. Anonymous, in it's zeal for showing the world that the hatemongers of WBC are mere humans and not the Chosen they think they are and can be silenced, has inadvertently committed a crime and denied them their constitutional right.There is no way to reframe that statement to make it any more clear; what they did was wrong in the eyes of the law, even if in the arena of common sense it appeared to be the right thing to do.

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