The ultra-divisive hate group, Westboro Baptist Church made multiple stops at various universities throughout North Carolina, including Guilford College, Duke, and UNCG last Monday on November 18.
Though they legally could not be stopped, the arrival of the hate group, most commonly known for its outlandish jeering towards gay people and offensive displays at military funerals, prompted students, professors and others to react with their own counter protests.
The counter protesters were successful in drawing attention away from Westboro Baptist by playing instruments, singing and transforming umbrellas into shields blocking Westboro Baptist’s hateful signs.
Unfortunately, a few counter protests don’t necessarily change the disturbing statistics.
According to RTI International, since the election of President Obama, hate groups like the ones that attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville Virginia, have only become more active throughout the United States.
The only logical question to follow such a discovery would be, why? What would cause human beings to join such extremist groups?
After conducting multiple interviews with former hate group members and with the help of the non-profit organization, Life After Hate, RTI International found a multitude of shared factors between the individuals.
Their studies found that 75 percent of the interviewees had been exposed to racist comments as children. Each interviewee also experienced difficulty adjusting in their adolescent years, some form of abuse and “family instability”.
The inability to feel accepted caused each of these individuals to be more vulnerable when faced with the opportunity to join a hate group throughout their search for a sense of belonging. Hate groups know this and therefore tend to prey on those deemed susceptible to join.
In their efforts to recruit members, they begin with seemingly harmless fun and it is only once new members feel a sense of connection, that they begin to feed them detrimental lies.
It’s clear to see why this method tends to work for hate groups, however, it is possible to reverse their impact through awareness and education. While leaving a hate group often requires giving up a sense of belonging, it does indeed happen.
Just look at former Westboro Baptist Church member, Megan Phelps-Roper as she materializes hope in this possibility. Growing up, Phelps-Roper was fully ingrained in the organization due to the fact that her grand-father, Fred Phelps, is the founder of Westboro Baptist Church.
Despite initially finding herself wholly dedicated to the group, Phelps-Roper and her sister, ironically named Grace, managed to leave in November, 2012.
While Megan Phelps-Roper is just one example of what’s possible, her current advocacy work sets a standard, that if followed, has life-altering potential.