Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr. (November 13, 1929 - March 19, 2014) was an ex-lawyer and the founder and former pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, an Independent Primitive Baptist church headquartered in Topeka, Kansas, known for its extreme antagonism towards most of modern society, in particular, homosexuality. The church uses hateful slogans on their picket signs such as "God Hates Fags", "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "America is Doomed". The Westboro Baptist Church is comprised mainly of Fred Phelps' large extended family, and although tiny in number, the group is infamous throughout America and regularly receives mainstream media attention for their audacity and the sheer degree of their hatred. Members are brainwashed from childhood to support Phelps' agenda and spread his dogmatic beliefs in a manner that can be considered fanatical at best and criminally insane at worst. On March 19, 2014, it was confirmed by the church that Phelps had died from natural causes.
Early Life (1929-1947)
Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr. was born on November 13, 1929 in Meridian, Mississippi to Fred Wade Phelps, a railroad police officer, and Catherine Idalette Johnson, a homemaker. He had a younger sister named Martha-Jean, who had been estranged from for many years. When Phelps was five, his mother died of throat cancer, and he and sister were raised by his great-aunt, Irene Jordan. Fred Wade Phelps would soon re-marry, however.
Phelps was described as having a normal childhood, excelling at school and sports, being an Eagle Scout, and even graduating from high school at age sixteen. When Phelps was seventeen, he was ordained a minster after having a religious experience. He soon left home to preach and became estranged from his family.
Adult Years (1947-1991)
Phelps began attending colleges around the country, such as West Point Military Academy, which he never attended at all, as well as some Bible schools. In 1951, Phelps was arrested for assulting a man while preaching, and was even featured in Time Magazine. That same year, Phelps earned his Associate's Degree from John Muir College. He moved to Arizona in 1952, where met his wife, Margie M. Simms. The two soon married and had their first child, Fred Jr. in 1953. In 1954, the Phelps family moved to Topeka, Kansas. During this time, Phelps got a job as a co-pastor at Eastside Baptist Church. However, the congreation wasn't too happy with Phelps. He would tell the male members that they should beat their wives if they didn't obey them. The members of Eastside tried to get Phelps voted out of the church, but failed. In 1955, Phelps was made pastor of Eastside Baptist's new branch church, Westboro Baptist. Soon after the WBC was established, Phelps severed ties with Eastside. Several members from Eastside joined Westboro, but some left after Phelps killed a dog with a shotgun after it defecated on his lawn.
During this time Phelps and his wife would go on to have thirteen children. Soon, Phelps began to take interest in becoming a lawyer, and in 1962, he began attending Washburn University. Phelps graduated in 1964 with a degree in law and soon founded Phelps Chartered, a law firm. While he was a lawyer, Phelps took up several civil rights cases. Phelps also claims to have brought the cities' Jim Crow laws down. Because of racist attitudes towards blacks at the time, residents of Topeka would label the Phelps' family as "nigger lovers". According his estranged sons Mark and Nathan, Phelps was also a racist, and would sometimes use the initials, D.N. with certain clients, which would stand for "dumb nigger". In 1977, Phelps was disbarred for perjury, which involved him making false claims about women during a lawsuit, and in 1979, he has permanently disbarred in Kansas. His children, however, continue run the law firm for him, even after his death.
Soon however, Phelps began to grow more abusive towards his family. His estranged son Nathan recalls that his father would usually come home in a foul mood, and would take his anger out on his family. Phelps would beat his children with his fists, knees, a barber strap, and soon upgraded from the barber strap to a mattock handle.
Phelps' health also began to get worse too. He started to take prescription drugs, and gain a large amount of weight as well. After nearly dying of a drug overdose, Phelps decided to lose weight. He started to run marathons with his family, and gradually lost weight. But even here, the abuse continued, as Phelps would make his family run for up to ten miles a day, and if they beat him home after they were done running, he would abuse them. Phelps would also started to make his young children go around the Topeka area and make them sell candy in order to keep money flowing into the family. He would make the children go into dangerous parts of town such as the red-light district, where his son Jonathon was attacked by a transvestite hooker. As usual, if the children didn't sell the amount of candy as expected, Phelps would beat them.
Picketing Years (1991-2011)
Phelps and the WBC began pickting around 1991, in order combat homosexual activities at Gage Park. Although the protests started out small, and gained little attention, the church soon began gaining attention nationwide, the most notable event being the funeral protest of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Around 2003, the WBC began to protest the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming that they died for a doomed nation. Several laws were soon made to restrain the church protests. While not banning them from picketing outright, the laws passed made member keep a large distance from the funeral.
The church made headlines once again in 2006, when Albert Snyder, father of Matthew Snyder, a fallen Marine whose funeral the WBC picketed, sued Phelps and the church for invasion of privacy, emotional distress, and other charges. Synder was soon awarded $10.9 million in damages. In Steptember 2009, the church brought the case before an appeals court, who ruled in favor of the Phelps', and Synder was forced to pay the court costs. In 2010, based on another appeal, the case was soon brought to the Supreme Court. Margie Phelps, one of Pastor Phelps' daughter's, represented the church, and in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the WBC 8-1. This case brought about much media attention, and many were disappointed by the outcome.
Final Years and Death (2011-2014)
Even after the lawsuit, the church continues to hold daily pickets, but Phelps had started to grow absent from them, mostly due his old age and health issues in his younger years. In recent years, the church has shown small signs of falling apart, due to fact that several members, mostly younger ones, have either left or were kicked out. Phelps also began to give his sermons less often, on Sunday's, usually letting one of the male members finish for him. In September 2013, Phelps preached his final sermon.
On March 16th, 2014, it was confirmed by Phelps' estranged son Nathan in a Facebook post that his father was in poor health, stating that he was on the "edge of death", and had been relocated to a hospital in Topeka. It was later officaly confirmed by church spokesman Steve Drain that the reports were true. Nathan also stated that his father had been excommunicated from the church in August 2013. Ironically, his excommunication came as the result of one of one of Phelps' few attempts to do something arguably benevolent, when the church's new board of elders, headed by Drain, turned on him after an attempt on Phelps' part to intervene on behalf of his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, who had been all but removed from the church herself.
According to family members, Phelps died of undisclosed health problems shortly before midnight on March 19th, 2014. Family members also stated that there would be no funeral for Phelps, due to the fact that the church views funerals as "worshiping the dead", making it unclear what will happen to him, and Westboro Baptist Church, now that he has died.
In June 2014, Zacharias Phelps-Roper, son of Shirley Phelps-Roper, allegedly made a claim to the Planting Peace organization that his grandfather, the late Fred Phelps, may have had a change of heart regarding homosexual people. According to Phelps-Roper, his grandfather stood outside of his church building and expressed his support for the Equality House within earshot of his congregation on the day that he was excommunicated from Westboro. It is believed that he had developed this sense of empathy after he had discovered that his wife was diagnosed with a serious illness.
Fred Phelps described himself and his church as "Old School Baptist", and they follow Calvinist principles as well. Despite his anti-gay actions, Phelps was a lifelong Democrat, and ran for both Kansas state Senator and Governer, both of which he lost. Phelps had also shown his support for people such as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who even allowed WBC members to come picket there in the late 1990's. However, after Hussein was executed, Phelps claimed that Hussein was in Hell. Phelps and the WBC also believe that President Barack Obama is the Antichrist as described in the Bible, and that his presidency is a sign of the end of the world.
Phelps and the church claim that all the tragedies and atrocities in the world are God's ways of "punishing" humanity for who "sin" rather than just sinning itself, and for "disobeying" His Word. They say that God actually hates all people, except for Phelps' and his followers, who consider themselves to be "God's Elect". According to most versions of the Bible, God loves everyone and will forgive just about anything as long as people actually repent for their sins in life, The church also states that He hates homosexuals most of all. They also think that homosexuality should be a capital crime. Westboro though, claims that 'God loves everyone' is a Satanic lie, not taught in the Bible anywhere; but rather, created by Gandhi.
The church regularly praises major tragedies and thanks God for causing them, and stages protests at funerals of victims, insulting the victims and others affected. Some of the church's more notable activities include protesting the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was murdered due to homophobic violence, and they have since picketed against a stage production based on his story, and boycotting the funerals of all fallen American soldiers. The church also pickets at the funerals of celebrities and other famous people such as Michael Jackson, Ronnie James Dio, Jeff Hanneman, Dimbebag Darrell Scott Columbus, Steve Jobs, and others. This practice, in particular, has generated massive legal controversy where the government has brought into question the protection of the group's activities under the First Amendment, which many argue the group abuses. Worst preacher ever.
The WBC has gathered so much controversy that even the Ku Klux Klan (a group known for its violent racist hatemongering) have distanced themselves from the organization: as noted by a disclaimer on the Klan's official website ensuring that they have no connections to the church and "absolutely repudiate their activities." Even Fox News, which known for its Conservative views, have also criticized the church. Ironically, skin color seems to be the only thing that Phelps and his followers don't discriminate against, since Phelps was a Civil Rights Lawyer in the 1960's.
People have formed counter protests to shield the Westboro Baptist Church's target from them and a man by the name of Chris Mason formed the Phelps-A-Thon, that allows people to donate money to an organization, usually an LGBT or Jewish Group for every minute that the Westboro Church targets that organization, thus the Westboro ends up indirectly aiding the group they're against. Another group that opposes the church is a motorcycle club called the Patriot Guard Riders, a group made up of war veterans who seperate WBC members from the funeral attendants.
In late 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which the church praised, several online petitions were made using the White House's We The People site. These included banning the WBC from protesting funerals, labeling them as a hate group, and others. All together, the petitions had reached 400,000+ signatures. These petitions were mostly set up by the Internet hacktivist group, Anonymous, which had also hacked the church websites on more than one occasion. Phelps and members of the church had also been banned from entering the United Kingdom, as well.
- Gay Bashing: Phelps and his church's most notable activities are their attitude and actions against homosexuals. Their message of "GOD HATES FAGS" has become infamous. The church claims that homosexuality is the most deplorable of all sins. They also claim that anyone who supports homosexuality is a "fag enabler" and what they're doing is even worse. The church also blames the death of soldiers, as well as every disaster and calamity that happens, on America's, and the world's tolerance of homosexuality, and the reason they picket funerals of soldiers is to get their message across.
- Religious Intolerance: Phelps and the WBC have also been hateful towards other religions as well, including Christianity, as the church views themselves as the only true followers of God. The Catholic Church is one their biggest targets, criticizing them mostly due to the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, and the WBC even have signs which read; "PRIESTS RAPE BOYS". They have also been critical of the Catholic Church's, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church's use of icons. Phelps and the church have also been critical of Protestant churches too, criticizing several Evangelical preachers such as Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, and Jerry Falwell, whose funeral they picketed. The WBC is also hateful towards Jews as well. They frequently picket outside of synagogues, stating that "JEWS KILLED JESUS", and even say that the Holocaust was God's punishment on the Jews. Islam is another religion criticized by the WBC, claiming that Mohammed was pedophile (which is technically true, considering he had sex with his 9-year old wife), and the church went so far to burn a copy of the Qur'an on September 11, after Pastor Terry Jones, another WBC target, chose not to. They also maintain a God Hates India website, showing their intolerance for Hindus and their polytheism, admonishing them to convert to Christianity. The WBC also condemned Ethiopian Orthodoxy, claiming it to be "grounded in a big, fat lie" and is a "strange co-mingling of Jewish and pagan rituals". They also believed that a true church must be "independent, local, autonomous, and without any formal affiliation with other churches", also hating Orthodox churches for being in full communion with one another, claiming that they're not "true New Testament churches".
- Child Abuse: Phelps also directed his anger towards his own family as well. Out of his thirteen children, four are estranged from the church and family. The estranged children (most notably his son Nathan) claim that their father would abuse his wife and children both physically and verbally, claming that he'd use his fists and soon started using a mattock handle, usually hitting his children to the point of bleeding. The nine children who remained in the church say that these claims are false, and say that they were simply spanked as children. His estranged children also feel that the Westboro Baptist Church is simply a method to direct his anger and hatred, now that his family members are older.
- Murder: Phelps killed a dog with a shotgun after it defecated on his lawn, and while he had never murdered anyone directly, he may have been indirectly responsible for the death of a young woman named Debbie Valgos. Valgos was a young woman who had a relationship with Phelps' oldest son, Fred Phelps Jr. Phelps Sr. did not approve of her, and even verbally attacked her during a sermon which she attended, calling her out as a whore. Fred Jr. and Debbie soon ran away together and got married. Phelps Sr. soon found his son, and forced him back to the church, where he later remarried and remained to this day. Valgos on the other hand soon got addicted to drugs, and later died from an overdose.