WASHINGTON -- The FBI said Wednesday that members of an anti-gay fundamentalist group participated in the bureau's training of police officers and FBI agents – a move the bureau says it will take steps to remedy in the future.
The bureau extended the invitations to Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., for training this spring at two bureau facilities in Virginia: Quantico and Manassas.
Westboro has stirred widespread outrage with raucous demonstrations at the funerals of U.S. military service members. The group contends God is punishing the military for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
National Public Radio first reported the FBI's involvement with Westboro.
At FBI headquarters in Washington, bureau spokesman Paul Bresson acknowledged that Westboro was invited to the training sessions.
An FBI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that in retrospect, the bureau underestimated how the involvement of the outside organization would be perceived.
As a result, said the official, there will be additional layers of review or approval on outside speakers.
The official added that bureau personnel organizing training courses were trying to bring in a variety of views they thought would be helpful to investigators.
Bresson, the bureau spokesman, said that the invitation to Westboro "was done 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."
The training, Bresson said, was not only for FBI agents but for police executives from around the country – for whom an open line of communication becomes important at critical times during rallies or protests around the country where there might be a potential for violence and police officers might be called on to respond.