The circus came to town last week.

OK, it wasn’t the traditional version, but it did have clowns.

It was the Westboro Baptist Church road show giving a 45-minute performance Jan. 11 near DHS.

Led by longtime ringmaster Shirley Phelps-Roper, the five-member group put on a decent performance, but the even better one was the large turnout by students and a few residents as a counter production.

I’ve encountered the Westboro gang a number of times over the years.

Frankly, I was surprised they actually showed up, but they did, saying they were protesting the participation of a transgender student in the school’s recent Holly Ball royalty court.

There are a few ways to counter protest this group. One is simply ignore them. They hate that.

Last year, they called off a protest at Wichita State after only 20 minutes because no one paid attention to them.

Another is to be dismayed, upset and angry at them. Horrible move.

That’s the worst thing to do as that’s the exact reaction they seek. The more hostility they provoke, the higher their gain.

Then there’s by far and away the best tactic: humor!

As Mark Twain put it: “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”

It’s been said that bigots and fundamentalists have an adversely dim view of humor because it’s not a product of force, but of the intellect and it takes away the fear – and power – others may have of them.

Had all of Germany laughed at Hitler, he never would have gained any power.

In that vein, I was pleasantly surprised at how much humor the crowd employed at the event, which took place during an unseasonably pleasant afternoon.

Kudos to the classy sign-makers who held up classics such as “If God Hates Gays Why Are We So Cute?,” “Generic Angry Slogan,” and one of my favorites, “I Have A Sign Too.”

That’s the spirit!

Adding to the wacky atmosphere, which had shades of a day at Burning Man, was a fully outfitted Darth Vader, a man in a tutu, another passing out colorful M&Ms and an eclectic mix of tough biker guys, gays, serious-looking police officers and a plethora of tattoos and hair colors.

Everyone seemed fairly good natured and well behaved – and basically having fun in a festive atmosphere – just what Westboro doesn’t want to see happen.

At one point near the end, I saw Phelps-Roper crack a small smile as

if to say, “Hey, you guys gave us a good fight.”

Unlike many people, Westboro protestors don’t upset me.

They’re a one-line cartoon show. Phelps-Roper, with her exaggerated presentation of four colorful signs, upside flags and constant banter, is basically a combination troll and shock jock.

How can anyone take the group’s over-the-top slogans seriously?

I mean, “Thank God for 9/11?!,” “God Hates America?!”

It’s not a hate group, it’s a ludicrous punk group that is so patently absurd it’s a running farce.

But Phelps-Roper does know the First Amendment better than most citizens.

She even has a video camera at the ready in case anyone violates those rights, and she’ll be quick on the draw to file a lawsuit.

The motley crew is all smoke and mirrors and, as far as I know, avoids any sort of violence.

In that regard, the Derby cops did an excellent job of carving out a protest space and knowing the law to its letter.

But there are those who simply aren’t up on the beauty of the First Amendment, which rejoices in free speech – including hate speech –

no matter how distasteful one may find it.

Hundreds of thousands of brave men and women died for us to have that privilege, a precious right that very few in other countries enjoy the way we do.

That includes allowing Phelps-Roper to blow her nose into an American flag at the event’s end. No doubt she was hoping to shock and upset, but it didn’t work.

If anyone took notice of it, they rightly weren’t going to let her control their reaction – only laugh at her foolishness.

In the end, humor – as it should – claimed victory.

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