The angels weren't very impressed by Mr Phelps. Photo: Getty
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What happened when the Westboro Baptist Church’s Fred Phelps arrived at the gates of heaven

It didn’t go quite as he’d imagined. . .

“Next!” says Saint Peter, beckoning an old man with cold blue eyes and a cowboy hat towards the Pearly Gates.

“Ah, Mr Phelps,” says the gatekeeper as the old man approaches. “What time do you call this? Twitter has had you down as practically dead since Monday.”

“Tweeter. . .” says Phelps, gazing furrow-browed into the clouds.

“Never mind. Right, let’s get started, shall we? I’m afraid we’ve had to up security here a little, since the Thatcher Incident last year. I’m going to start by asking you a few questions about your time on earth.”

“By all means, sir. I know darn well I’ve led a righteous life. Ask away.”

“Great! Right then, Mr Phelps,” says Saint Peter, picking up a clipboard, “I’m going to present you with some statements. In response to each one, I need you to tell me if you strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree, disagree or strongly disagree. All clear?”

Phelps slowly nods his Stetson-topped head.

“Number one: ‘To the best of my ability, I did unto others as I would have them do unto me.’”

“Strongly agree,” shoots the unblinking Phelps.

“Right,” says Saint Peter, chewing on the end of his pen. “I’m afraid that answer presents us with a slight administrative problem. I’m not actually cleared to deal with this sort of thing yet – these security measures really are very new. I’m going to have to get Maureen from the Department of Heavenly Prerogatives and Standards to come and lend a hand. Please bear with me.”

“But sir,” says Phelps, eyes widening into vicious blue marbles, “I’m a true Christian. I lived my entire life according to the Lord’s word. Surely there’s no need for this?”

Ignoring Phelps, Saint Peter picks up a crackling walkie talkie, “Maureen,” he says into it, “We have a possible A1327 violation here.”

The walkie talkie squawks something indecipherable to Phelps, but a winged woman in a pencil skirt, with a Heaven Border Security tag on a lanyard, soon appears.

“Hello Mr Phelps, my name’s Maureen. I’m going to be helping you through security today.”

“This is a downright outrage!” bellows Phelps, “I did not dedicate my life to preaching the word of our Lord Jesus Christ to be held here, outside of Heaven’s Gate, like a godforsaken sodomite.”

“I understand that you’re upset, Mr Phelps” says Maureen in a tone that suggests that she has no experience dealing with the upset whatsoever, “But I’m afraid you’ve violated section A1327 of the Heavenly Security Code – that’s the Love Thy Neighbour clause.”

“This is BS!” says Phelps, raising his arms.

“Please, Mr Phelps,” says a decidedly bored Maureen. “If you’ll just bear with us. . .”

“I want to speak to God,” says Phelps, “He knows I’m a good Christian.”

“Mr Phelps, I’m afraid it’s that church of yours,” says Maureen, emphasising the word “church” with a pair of elaborate air quotation marks. “Your whole ‘God hates fags’ thing. See, what you’ve actually done is libel God. And to put it mildly, Mr Phelps, he’s not a happy bunny.”

“Libel?!” shrieks Phelps, his red face twitching like an electrocuted rump steak, “Leviticus 18:22: ‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable’. Those are His own words.”

“I’m sorry Mr Phelps, but all of that. . . wrathful stuff was overwritten in the Gospel of Matthew. You know, ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’. God decided to do a bit of a rebrand at that point, you see. And to be quite honest, you can’t just hate your way into Heaven like in the olden days. In fact, all of these security measures are part of Operation Cuddly Pants. Jesus has personally demanded a crackdown on all the ‘haters’ (his word, not mine) getting through the Pearly Gates.”

Phelp’s jaw creeks into its full extension.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to fill out these forms,” says Maureen.

Phelps is nudged out of his catatonic state by the thud of a War and Peace-thick stack of paper hitting Saint Peter’s desk.

“It’ll take six to eight months to process,” adds Maureen, “In the meantime, you’re in luck – a room has just become available at the YMCA in Purgatory.

Two muscle-bound angels appear.

“Adam and Steve,” Maureen addresses them, “Please will you escort Mr Phelps downstairs.”

 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.