Weekly Web Watch: Gender benders crash into Net fenders on the freeway to love

God Hates Fags (www.godhatesfags.com) is on the face of it much like any of thousands of hate sites on the Internet. Except that Fred Phelps, who runs the site and is pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, has gained a fair bit of media attention for picketing everyone from Bill Clinton and the Supreme Court of New Jersey to the Boy Scouts for, in his view, ’siding with sodomites’.

God Hates Fags (www.godhatesfags.com) is on the face of it much like any of thousands of hate sites on the Internet. Except that Fred Phelps, who runs the site and is pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, has gained a fair bit of media attention for picketing everyone from Bill Clinton and the Supreme Court of New Jersey to the Boy Scouts for, in his view, ’siding with sodomites’.

God Hates Fags (www.godhatesfags.com) is on the face of it much

like any of thousands of hate sites on the Internet. Except that Fred

Phelps, who runs the site and is pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church

in Kansas, has gained a fair bit of media attention for picketing

everyone from Bill Clinton and the Supreme Court of New Jersey to the

Boy Scouts for, in his view, ’siding with sodomites’.



The tone of God Hates Fags is pretty much set in opening sentences of

its main page. ’This page is dedicated to preaching the Gospel truth

about the soul-damning, nation-destroying notion that ’it is OK to be

gay.’ ’God Hates Fags’ ... is a profound theological statement, which

the world needs to hear more than it needs oxygen, water and bread.’ And

so on.



One part that has particularly enraged gays is a perverse ’memorial’ to

Matthew Shepard, a teenager who was beaten to death last October for

being gay. The site gives a running total of the number of days Shepard

has ’been in hell.’



It’s no surprise then that since March, God Hates Fags has been matched,

blow for blow, by another web site, God Loves Fags

(www.godlovesfags.com).



Where Phelps quotes Leviticus (’Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with

womankind: it is abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22), God Loves Fags quotes

the story of David and Jonathan (’I am distressed for you, my brother

Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was

wonderful, passing the love of women.’ 2 Samuel 1:25-26). As soon as

Phelps announces an upcoming picket on his site (such as one of the US

Open tennis tournament, planned for September 11-12), God Loves Fags

announces it as well, so that gay rights activists can go along and

shout just as loudly.



And so things might have continued, except that on the Internet, funny

things can happen. Neither Fred Phelps, nor Kris Haight and Rich Mackey,

who run God Loves Fags, reckoned on the guerrilla action which resulted

in the godhatesfags. com Internet domain being transferred from Phelps’s

ownership and control to Haight and Mackey. For a few days in

mid-August, anyone typing www.godhatesfags.com into his or her Internet

browser was taken to www.godlovesfags.com instead. Haight and Mackey

have insisted they had nothing to do with it. They simply woke up one

morning and found an anonymous e-mail notifying them that they were the

owners of their enemy’s domain. ’Please note that it was by no action of

our own,’ says a statement on God Loves Fags.



Phelps threatened to sue not only the owners of God Loves Fags but also

their Internet service provider, and it was in the face of this that

Haight and Mackey decided a few days later to give the domain back. The

action certainly got noticed: the number of page views on their site

prior to August 18 had totaled just 7,500. By August 21 it was 72,047.

Haight and Mackey received more than 1,100 supportive e-mails and 44

that were critical.



For people who are not professional campaigners, PR professionals or web

site developers, that’s not bad. It’s also unlikely to be the last

Internet guerrilla action of this sort. Corporations increasingly find

themselves in the firing line over ’hot-button’ issues such as gay

rights, abortion or the environment. That will happen on the Internet

just as much as in the physical world. While the task would have been

more difficult, it is not inconceivable that it might have been

mcdonalds.com that got transferred, or disney.com and shell.com. And

that might have been even more fun to watch.



- Stovin Hayter is editor of Revolution. All e-mails should be sent to

stovin@revolution.haynet.com.



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