The online hacktivist collective Anonymous first came into being to protest the Church of Scientology in 2008. After rising to prominence with recent pro-Wikileaks attacks against Mastercard, Visa and Paypal, the group is returning to its church-bashing roots. Anonymous' next target appears to be the hate-spewing Westboro Baptist Church. They may have met their match.

Yesterday, Anonymous issued an ultimatum to the congregants of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church. From the bombastic open letter:

We, the collective super-consciousness known as ANONYMOUS - the Voice of Free Speech & the Advocate of the People - have long heard you issue your venomous statements of hatred, and we have witnessed your flagrant and absurd displays of inimitable bigotry and intolerant fanaticism. We have always regarded you and your ilk as an assembly of graceless sociopaths and maniacal chauvinists & religious zealots, however benign, who act out for the sake of attention & in the name of religion.


ANONYMOUS cannot abide this behavior any longer. The time for us to be idle spectators in your inhumane treatment of fellow Man has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action. Thus, we give you a warning: Cease & desist your protest campaign in the year 2011, return to your homes in Kansas, & close your public Web sites.

Unbelievably, Westboro did not respond by shutting down its web site, or swearing never to protest another soldier's funeral. The 24-year-old granddaughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, Megan Phelps-Roper instantly shot back on Twitter:

Thanks, Anonymous! Your efforts to shut up God's word only serve to publish it further. God did that! Our response to you? Bring it, cowardsless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

Megan Phelps-Roper

And later, Westboro issued their own hilarious open letter:

A puddle of pimple-faced nerds organized under the cowardly banner of "Anonymous" claim they plan to hack Westboro's Websites… Bad miscalculation, girls!

Let us tell you how this will go: rebels will build a full head of steam based on false hope; the media will predictably do much breathless anticipating while giving another tsunami of coverage to Westboro's message; God will defeat your council; your efforts will fail.

She's right. If the point of an Anonymous attack on Westboro is to humiliate them, there is no point. Nothing Anonymous could do to Westboro would be worse than what they do to themselves: Protesting soldiers' funerals with enormous multicolored signs declaring"Thank God for Dead Soldiers," or putting out parody YouTube videos like "Hey Evil Reprobate Jews" (sung to the tune of "Hey Jude.")? And if an attack is meant to draw attention to their misdeeds, Who doesn't already know Westboro is scum? They revel in their repugnance. In the parlance of the Internet, Westboro are Master Trolls. Haters only make them famous.

Now that the gauntlet has been thrown, though, Anonymous must wrestle with the Westboro problem. In the chatroom discussing a potential Operation Westboro, opinion is divided. Some urge a full-on attack on Westboro's website, : "Defacing their website does seem like a good thing to start off with… 'Just kidding. God LOVES fags.'"

Others realize the self-defeating nature of an attack on Westboro: "going to go with the, no to opwestboro, they're just protestfags who are really good at using the same troll line on the right people to get a reaction. we've got better shit to do." (That "better shit" would be operations in support of protests in Bahrain and Libya.)

An Anonymous associate we spoke with seemed uncertain if anything will come of the war of words. "I think at this point its just mud slinging. Typical Trolls Trolling Trolls moment. But after Megan called them out they might do something now."

Eh, should be more entertaining than protesting a soldiers' funeral.

Update: according to a new press release, Anonymous is actually not attacking Westboro because... some reason.