The Federal Bureau of Investigation recruited members of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church to train agents and police officers in speaking to people they disagreed with, a practice the agency has said it will discontinue.
The Topeka, Kan.-based church sparked outrage for its practice of protesting military funerals of gay soldiers with signs bearing statements such as Thank God for Dead Soldiers, a practice that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately deemed constitutional. Timothy Phelps, a church leader and the son of head pastor Fred Phelps, said that the FBI programs was designed 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.
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said Westboro was invited in an effort to establish open dialogue in an academic setting to train law enforcement on how to more effectively engage with the activist community. But an unnamed official told NPR that they would be halting the practice, noting that they had not anticipated the public relations fallout.
Law enforcement officers who attended the class said it was focused on counterterrorism, giving them the opportunity to interact with extremists.