Westboro Watch Postbag: The Story Behind Addicted to Hate...?

Posted by Capn Coconuts On Wednesday, February 1, 2012 1 comments
Someone claiming to be close to Jon Michael Bell sent me (and perhaps to Alyzza Martin as well) an e-mail of the story behind the production of Addicted to Hate. Is it for real? Well, I haven't verified anything yet, but it's interesting nonetheless. Here ye goes, audience!
Hello, Cap'n Coconuts and Alyzza!

I was perusing your site and was surprised and pleased that someone has finally done a clean edit of the manuscript. I was close to the author and therefore I am in a position to provide some details on how the story was sprung loose. It has been a presence on the internet for 18 years.

Thank you, Alyzza, for taking the time to polish this work.

Few people realize the digital version of "Addicted to Hate" is not the original manuscript authored by Bell. As you have obviously spent a significant amount of time on the edit, perhaps you will enjoy this background information.

I have long ago lost track of Bell, but I do recall some of the things he told me about the case. It's one I'm sure he still recounts, as he was very amused by the actors and the play.

He was hired personally by the editor to find the goods on Phelps and "cut him off at the knees" in a full length book. This followed some insults Phelps had directed toward the editor and his family that were taken much to heart.

Taschler and Fry were staff writers who had initially been assigned the job, but they had failed to turn up enough dirt to satisfy the enraged editor. At this point, Bell was found and brought to Topeka.

In August of 1993, Bell was able to convince Fred Phelps that, even though he was a journalist, he was vulnerable to a Westboro conversion--something that would have caused the paper no end of embarrassment. As a result, Bell was allowed to spend two weeks living inside the cult's compound and even established a strong romantic rapport with one of Fred's daughters during that time.

You simply can't make this stuff up.

Bell followed his tenure at the Westboro compound with a five-month investigation, concluded in February of 1994, that turned up leads going back decades, including the possibility Phelps had once been addicted to drugs provided illicitly by a local pharmacist. Bell's work also pointed to intriguing links between the Westboro Baptist Church, the Christian Identity Movement, and as yet unidentified military elements in the area around Fort Riley and Junction City. Following the Oklahoma City bombing a year later, the Kansas Attorney General's Office asked to review hundreds of pages of research notes that Bell had amassed.

But when Stauffer Communications, the media corporation that owned the Capital-Journal, was suddenly put on the block, the corporate office lost all taste for a book about Phelps. This is because when a company is sold, all pending lawsuits apparently must be resolved. As it was thought Phelps would sue at first publication--a challenge Stauffer had at first relished-- these new circumstances would have forced a quick and expensive settlement on the publisher.

Perhaps you can understand then why the paper took the steps that it did:

First, it quietly collected all existing copies of the work, then, without warning, it suddenly fired both Bell and the editor who had commissioned the book. It was 1994, and Bell preferred to work on an Olivetti-Lettera 32, a sleek little manual typewriter, thus his product existed only in hardcopy. The publisher knew this and was thorough enough to search Bell's desk and seize a second security copy.

All to little avail.

For the paper, the problem did not go away. Rumors quickly spread around Topeka that the Capital-Journal had been frightened into killing the investigation and firing the principals behind it. In response, the newspaper claimed it would soon print the original, much shorter, and less damning piece written by Taschler and Fry.

Sympathetic employees inside the paper kept Bell informed on the projected publication date, and only days before the Taschler-Fry article was to appear, Bell filed suit to determine ownership of the intellectual property. He also submitted as evidence the entire manuscript, a third copy of which he had secretly kept. Since court testimony is exempt from litigation, the manuscript could now be leaked without fear of a lawsuit from either the publisher or Phelps.

Bell then left more copies on file at the Kinko's in Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City. None of this was his own idea, but that of a prominent trial lawyer, Jerry Palmer, who called it "libel laundering" and claimed it was his own invention. It may well have been. Palmer was a former president of the American Trial Lawyers Association.

The next day, The Pitch, a weekly alternative paper in Kansas City, hit the stands with the headline: "Scared Stiff in Topeka: What the Capital-Journal Is Afraid to Tell You about Fred Phelps." This was accomplished by prior arrangement with its editor, CJ Janovy.

Stauffer Communications was left flat-footed. Its ham-handed response was to send attorneys to local radio and television stations, forbidding them to quote from the text. This astonished the national media to the point the Washington Post ran a long article in its Sunday edition concerning how strange it was that a paper would attempt to suppress a story it had commissioned itself.

A few days later, the manuscript was ordered sealed by the court. The master copies of the manuscript left at the Kinko's were seized by Stauffer's attorneys, but not before several dozen were purchased and circulated. The Capital-Journal then ran its own vanilla version of the Phelps' story to general public mockery.

The following weekend, without Bell's knowledge, friendly elements in Topeka held a two-day bash, a rather wild party where the celebrants took turns digitalizing the entire text. While this allowed the book to go immediately up on the net, the manuscript was seriously flawed as a result. It was riddled with words misspelled, replaced, or deleted, while sentences and entire paragraphs were left out or recast in tangled prose.

In addition, and as you guessed, Alyzza, the version submitted to the editor was only the working draft. Bell had thrown in a great deal of information, but had no expectation it would all remain in the final text.

It was the one thing Bell regretted about the adventure. However, he was loathe to remedy it since he was forbidden by the court from further dissemination of his work.

This then was the version that would go viral on the internet and remain there for 18 years until you saw fit to correct it, Alyzza. I know my old buddy is thanking you, wherever he might be.

If I can, I would add that Bell loved closers. At the end,

"fierce white toothed beasts come to trip the flesh of our indolence."

was originally written as:

" fierce white-toothed beasts come to rip the flesh of our indolence."

That, and Yates was William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet. Again, wherever my old drinking and writing buddy is, he's smiling on your gracious deed...

And it's difficult to believe that, in part due to the greed and cowardice of corporate journalism, we're still stuck with Fred today.

So, Cap'n Coconuts, if you wanted to get THAT story out, you'd be an angel indeed...

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

The man who wrote "Addicted to Hate" was a former agent-provocateur who has worked in such roles since COINTELPRO. Fred Phelps would be giddy to know his most caustic review was penned by a former Naval Intelligence officer who has worked undercover both in the United States and overseas. What was Bell's actual role at the Capitol-Journal? While Phelps may be an asshole, I am concerned how our government can apparently place its agents freely in newsrooms across America. Bell is now a college professor in Tucson, Arizona. Why? What's his actual role there?

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