The Westboro Baptist Church apparently has a thing or two to teach the FBI, so leaders were invited by federal officials to help train agents at Quantico, NPR has discovered. Churchgoers were called in to show agents what makes extremists tick, according to federal sources. Early training sessions went off without a hitch in 2008, but were canceled this year after complaints by agents and leaders furious with Westboro demonstrations hailing the death of US troops.
Westboro church leader Timothy Phelps, son of founder Fred Phelps, said he had no idea he was part of the FBI's domestic terrorism curriculum. He characterized his participation, which was unpaid, as helping 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." The FBI official who called Westboro in said he found the group personally distasteful, but seemed to confirm Phelps' view that church members could help agents engage people they disagree with. Former members of the Ku Klux Klan have also been invited to speak to trainees in the past.