Slain boys: Radio host gets death threat for deal with Westboro
Washington state-based radio host Bobby D says his job is pretty simple -- entertain listeners each morning with pop music, celebrity interviews, saucy banter and general zaniness. In other words, he's probably the last person you'd expect to find brokering the deal that kept Westboro Baptist Church protesters away from a funeral Saturday morning for two slain children.
But Bobby D did just that when he agreed to turn over a portion of the Bobby D Show on Monday morning to Fred Phelps Sr., founder of Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist. The church has gained notoriety for its extreme anti-gay views -- views that lead church members to protest outside funerals for U.S. soldiers.
The deejay's efforts earned him a death threat. "Yeah, someone threatened to blow us up," Bobby D told The Times. But many more people hailed him for stepping in and putting a stop to what likely would have become a media circus of protesters, counter-protesters and grief-stricken relatives.
Some of the comments posted on the blog for the Bobby D Show: "Thank you…It was a gift to be able to celebrate the lives of two beautiful boys without any negativity." "Thank you for proving that good can triumph over evil." "Thank you sir, for displaying what true Christianity looks like."
Here's how events unfolded:
Josh Powell horrified Washington, and indeed all of America, on Feb. 5 when he took an axe to his children -- Charles, 7, and Braden, 5 -- and then killed all three of them in a gasoline-fueled inferno in Graham, Wash. The deaths were the culmination of a disturbing family drama that dated back to the 2009 disappearance of the boys' mother, Susan Powell, when the family lived in Utah.
While this tragedy was playing out in headlines, Washington state legislators were on their way to approving same-sex marriage legislation that Gov. Christine Gregoire signed into law Monday.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church connected the dots between these two seemingly unrelated events. They laid the blame for the deaths on Gregoire and announced that they would protest outside the boys' funeral to remind everyone that the boys died because of the country's increasingly permissive attitude toward gays and lesbians.
That led counter-protesters to promise to be a buffer between Westboro members and grieving relatives. The boys' maternal grandparents, meanwhile, pleaded with everyone to stay away so the family could grieve in peace.
Bobby D said he was watching the events unfold much like any other Washington state resident -- it had nothing to do with him. Then, he came across an article that noted that Westboro congregants have increasingly been employing a new strategy: They agree to call off protests in exchange for radio time, which they believe gives them a broader audience.
"I thought, 'Hey, maybe I could do something here,' " Bobby D said. He knew the deal probably wouldn't gain him new listeners and would no doubt offend many. But he said he remembered an especially dark time during high school when he lost his mother, and then his best friend. He said he couldn't imagine how painful it would be to have Westboro congregants -- or anyone else -- causing a ruckus outside those funerals.
"On one hand, I didn't want to give these guys a venue to spew their hate," he said. "On the other, I thought, 'Man, I can stop these people from doing this.' "
Bobby D contacted Westboro, and church members agreed to halt the protest in exchange for air time. Bobby D interviewed Phelps on Friday and promised to air the conversation Monday morning, but only if Westboro steered clear of the funeral. Both sides kept the bargain, and the interview was broadcast as planned.
(Bobby D. also told Phelps that, during the interview, he could not use the F-word -- referring not to the four-letter F-word, but the three letter F-word used as a pejorative for gays.)
You can listen to the interview here, as well as read more about Bobby D's decision.
The interview was difficult, Bobby D said. He had genuine questions for Phelps but also had to rein in his outrage at some of Phelps' answers. Bobby D said he didn't want to antagonize Phelps and trigger congregants to relaunch their protest plans.
Not everyone agreed with Bobby D's move, as evidenced by other comments left on his blog: "You’ve turned extortion into a business deal." "Bobby, you've been played." And "Trading air time for protests saves Westboro money in travel expenses and gives them a much wider outreach."
But Bobby D said he has no regrets. "I’d rather people be mad at me and hate my show than have these people ruin a day that was already going to be so horrible," he said.
-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
Photo: Bobby D at work. Photo credit: The Bobby D Show