June 29, 2011
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Anna Christopher, NPR


   

NPR NEWS REPORTS: FBI INVOLVED WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH LEADERS IN STAFF TRAININGS AT MILITARY BASE

GROUP CONTROVERSIAL FOR PROTESTING MILITARY FUNERALS PARTICIPATED IN FOUR TRAININGS AT QUANTICO, MANASSAS

NPR News has learned that the FBI involved members of the Westboro Baptist Church, the controversial fundamentalist group known for picketing at military funerals, in its training of law enforcement officials this spring at two of its facilities, including one at the Quantico Marine Base. The report from counter-terrorism Correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is airing today on Morning Edition, and available now at: www.npr.org/2011/06/27/137454497/fbi-invited-controversial-church-to-talk-to-agents

Temple-Raston reports that the FBI -- which says it invited the church leaders to its counter-terrorism training program to teach agents to better understand extremist groups -- now acknowledges that involving the group in such trainings may have been a mistake.

In an email obtained by NPR, a top official at the FBI stated that the FBI was not to invite Westboro to future training sessions. NPR also learned that top officials at the bureau objected to the Westboro invitations after more than 200 officers and agents had already attended the sessions.

Law enforcement officials who attended the Westboro training sessions tell NPR the focus was domestic terrorism, and they were told that the FBI invited the church group to the class so police officers and agents could see extremists up close and understand their motives.

Westboro tells NPR it had a different understanding of the purpose of the training. Timothy Phelps, the youngest son of the church's founder, Fred Phelps, says he spoke to agents at Quantico and another FBI facility in Manassas, VA. Timothy Phelps tells Temple-Raston the program 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." He says he thoughts he was teaching agents and local law enforcement how to be better interviewers and he had no idea he was part of a domestic terrorism curriculum. The FBI says the group knew that they were part of a terrorism training session.

The full story from Temple-Raston is available now at NPR.org. All excerpts must be credited to "NPR News." Broadcast outlets may use up to sixty (60) consecutive seconds of audio from the reports. Television usage must include on-screen chyron to "NPR News" with the NPR logo.