Book: Matthew Shepard Myths Launched Westboro Baptist Church

Book: Matthew Shepard Myths Launched Westboro Baptist Church

The extremist organization Westboro Baptist Church–which is known for protesting at fallen soldiers’ funerals–owes its rise to national prominence to the media circus that surrounded the Matthew Shepard case, the founder of a Shepard memorial organization said in 2011.

“Matthew Shepard’s funeral elevated the profile of a vocal anti-gay church to national notoriety in October 1998,” Tom Morton wrote for the local Wyoming paper the Casper Star-Tribune in March 2011, before quoting the executive director of a group devoted to Shepard’s memory.

“It was Matt’s funeral at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church that garnered Westboro Baptist Church a lot of attention,” Jason Marsden, the executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organization based in Denver, said then.

This weekend, Austin Ruse reported for Breitbart News that a forthcoming new book–The Book of Matt by investigative journalist Stephen Jiminez–argues that everything the mainstream and leftwing media and gay advocacy figures reported about the Shepard case was not accurate.

“Even before Shepard died, two of his friends were peddling the narrative that he died at the hands of vicious homophobes,” Ruse wrote for Breitbart News this weekend. “Within days the gay establishment latched onto what would drive the hate crimes story for years to come; even now, the Laramie Project, a stage play about the killing is performed all over the country. Indeed, it will be performed next week at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC.”

“But what really happened to Matthew Shepard?,” Ruse added. “He was beaten, tortured, and killed by one or both of the men now serving life sentences. But it turns out, according to Jiminez, that Shepard was a meth dealer himself and he was friends and sex partners with the man who led in his killing. Indeed, his killer may have killed him because Shepard allegedly came into possession of a large amount of methamphetamine and refused to give it up. The book also reports that Shepard’s killer was on a five-day meth binge at the time of the killing.”

It turns out, too, according to Jiminez’s book that those in the gay advocacy community, the mainstream media and leftwing media helped the extremist Westboro Baptist Church gain national prominence by their own admission.

Before Westboro’s work to protest Shepard’s funeral on Oct. 18, 1998, the Casper Star-Tribune’s Morton wrote, it “was known mostly for its ‘God hates fags’ protests around its hometown of Wichita, Kan.”

“However, enough was known of the tactics of the church members and its pastor, the Rev. Fred Phelps — loud preaching and provocative signs such as ‘Matt in Hell,’ ‘AIDS cures fags’ and stick figures in sexual positions — that Casper city officials cordoned an area in City Park for them to protest,” Morton wrote. “The day of the funeral, which coincided with the worst fall snowstorm in memory, attracted international media attention that focused on Westboro Baptist Church. The church frequently picketed the trial of Shepard’s murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, in Laramie, later productions of the play ‘Laramie Project’ at schools, and finally found its greatest responses when picketing funerals of soldiers killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Without the kleig lights the media shone on Westboro Baptist Church, most Americans would have remained blissfully unaware of the hate group’s existence.