Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Free Tips for ex-Westboro Baptists Apologizing

So, nobody asked me for this advice, but if I only gave out advice when people asked for it, I would probably burst from all the advice building up inside me.

Today, Anderson Cooper apparently interviewed Libby Phelps Alvarez, granddaughter of Westboro Baptist founder Fred Phelps (via Gawker -- I did not watch this). She was raised in the church, but fled / escaped / defected in 2009, and has recently started speaking publicly about her experience. Let me just say that she deserves a lot of respect for that. I mean, she had to reject her whole upbringing and family, which must be hard, even if your family is full of Phelpses.

Here's the thing that pissed me off though. Her interview included the following statement of regret:
I do regret if I hurt people, because that was never my intention.
This is such the standard, cliche pseudo-apology that it is easy at first glance to overlook what an offensive pile of garbage this is. First of all, "if"? Really? Again, this is super common in these circumstances, but if you've spent most of your live holding up "God Hates Fags" signs at the funerals of soldiers and children, you know damn well that you hurt people.

Even worse, though, is the second bit. When some politician or celebrity pseudo-apologizes, saying it was never their intention to hurt anyone, it is often at least plausible that they were being careless, and not intentionally hurtful.

In this case though, hurting people is precisely the intention of every public appearance the Westboro Baptist Church makes. Now, maybe you could make the case that you thought you were practicing tough love, hurting people in a way that would lead them back to the path of righteousness, or some such nonsense. This would be bullshit, of course, but it would at least be plausible according to some sort of twisted logic.

The fact is, you did intend to hurt people. I believe that you wish now that you had not hurt people in the past, and that's great. I believe that you were a kid, did not know better, and are not fully responsible for your actions, at least up to a point. I believe that you think of yourself as a good person, and I am eager to believe that you have become one. But when I see this sort of pseudo-apology, it makes me a little bit skeptical.

Maybe try something like this: "I know that I hurt a lot of people, and I am sorry. I understand now how hurtful my words and actions were in a way that I did not understand then."

I feel bad about this. I mean, given where she started from, she has progressed further in the past few years than most people do in their lifetimes. But if you're going to make amends publicly, a good way to start is by being honest.


  1. Look man she was born into this. what do you expect! she is sorry and we should treat her like the nice young lady that she is. so dont be so hard people! please.. words of @grampscramps on twitter

    1. I'm sympathetic, but the whole point is that the apology that she gave does not really convey to me that she IS sorry. I would like very much to believe that she is a nice young lady, but a mealy-mouthed pseudo-apology that is blatantly false -- and seems designed to deflect responsibility rather than accept it -- is not very convincing.

  2. It -is- strange wording, especially as she was spouting pure liquid hate her whole life. But then, I don't believe that family does a lot of apologising, in private and certainly in public. I see your point, Jon, and pseudo-apologies irk me too, but she's new to this so I'm tempted give her the benefit of the doubt. For now, at least.

    What you say is solid advice, though. Sincerity is hard to fake, but insincerity is weirdly easy to accidentally fake. Life is fun like that.

    1. Yes, I think it is entirely possible that she is genuinely sorry, and that when she apologized, she went for a phrasing that she has probably seen and read many times. If that's the case, then I mean this as genuine advice.

      On the other hand, I think it is possible that she has not really sat down yet and thought about what she spent most of her life doing, and what it would mean to apologize for it. In that case, I would mean this as a nudge for her to dig a little bit deeper.

      (You know, under the hypothetical and unrealistic assumption that she would wind up reading this.)

      Either way, as I say, she deserves a hell of a lot of respect for the journey that she has already made, which is one that would probably be beyond the abilities of most people raised in that circumstance. And in a way, I am taking my disgust with pseudo-apologies in general out on her statement. But the the claim that it was never her intention to hurt people struck me as just crazy, even when compared with other pseudo-apologies.