Saturday, 22nd March, 2014
Pastor Fred Phelps is gone, called to glory if you believe the teachings of his hate-spewing ministry, the Westboro Baptist Church. To me it seems more likely that his remains are mouldering away somewhere, obeying the laws of physics and biology. But either way, it seems an appropriate moment to pause and reflect on the man and his legacy.
I had some history with “Gramps”, as his family and followers liked to call him. I made two documentaries about his church for the BBC: The Most Hated Family In America in 2006 and America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis in 2010. In all, I suppose I spent about a month with the members of the WBC, trying to figure out what induces them to dedicate their every spare moment – when they aren’t keeping down respectable jobs as lawyers, correctional officers, salesmen in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas – to flying around the country standing as close as they are legally allowed to funeral-goers, and waving hate-filled placards with slogans like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, “Fags Eat Poop”, and of course “God Hates Fags”. They became notorious for picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the WBC teachings, the soldiers were being punished for fighting for a nation doomed in the eyes of God for its tolerance of homosexuality.