Religion in Society

Huh? FBI Uses Westboro Baptist Church for Training

| by Mark Berman Opposing Views

Top FBI officials have put an end to a controversial training program that featured members of the hateful Westboro Baptist Church addressing agents.

According to a report from NPR, the reason for inviting member of the church known for picketing funerals of U.S. troops with such signs as "God Hates Fags" was so agents could learn how to deal with people with whom they don't agree.

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The first sessions were held in 2008. There were recently four more.

Timothy Phelps, a church leader and the son of founder Fred Phelps, said he spoke to a group that included local law enforcement officers and FBI agents who had been with the bureau three of fewer years.

He said the program was designed to teach agents "how to stay measured when they are speaking with a witness or a suspect with whom they have a strong, visceral disagreement." He was not paid for his involvement.

NPR writes:

Law enforcement officials who attended the session said it was focused on domestic terrorism. They were told that the FBI invited Westboro members to the class so police officers and agents could see extremists up close and understand what makes them tick.

The FBI claims the church group knew this. But Phelps said he had no idea he was part of a domestic terrorism curriculum.

Phelps said if the FBI lied to them about why they were there, he would not be surprised. "Law enforcement across this nation uses false information frequently with us," he said.

"Top brass" at the FBI only found out about the program after more than 200 officers and agents attended, and quickly put an end to it. Thomas Brown, the assistant director of the FBI's Training Division, wrote a memo that NPR reports was one line long -- that the FBI was not to invite Westboro to any more training sessions.

The FBI official who dreamed up this idea told NPR that he personally finds Westboro "distasteful," but thought it would be a good tool for agents to learn how to build relationships with groups like Westboro.