Anyway, I've been interested in the psychology of a family of apparently bright lawyers--11 in all counting Grampa Phelps--who would risk their livelihoods with such a public display of weirdness. Weirder still, Pastor Fred Phelps was once known for his work as a Civil Rights attorney, often working for free to defend poor Black clients in segregationist Kansas who couldn't afford to pay him. His family endured taunts like "n***** lover" for years, which he appears to have taken in stride. Daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper proudly boasts, "We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down." Indeed, he got much press & attention for his confrontational style in the courtroom which likely kicked off his thirst for media attention later on. (Not unlike how a Munchausen mom gets addicted to causing sickness in her child after a real illness that garners sympathy).
|Even in his youth (he had the crazy eyes)...|
Since Shirley & his other kids grew up being bullied and called names like this, they never knew anything else. Thus they learned to endure & eventually revel in it like their dad. But their undying devotion likely has darker origins. According to departed ex-member Nathan Phelps, father Fred was physically abusive to his wife & kids in the extreme. "He used his fists. He used his knees and he used ... the handle of a mattock," said Phelps, referring to a pick-like digging tool. "He used that in such a way that it split the skin on the back of the kid's legs so they bled." He beat his wife so badly that she still has a destroyed right shoulder & bone fragments. He also liked drinking & prescription pills, attempting an overdose in 1968. All this undoubtedly shaped his children's views in a major way by giving them lifelong fucking trauma. (I have little-to-no sympathy for adults who fail to form their own views independent of their parents & even less for those who mindlessly impose hateful views on their children, but it's still important to understand why people are the way they are).
While it's easy to understand why the Phelps kids & grandkids would fall into this sticky trap of crazy, it's much harder to grasp why outsiders would willingly migrate to Topeka, KS, & adopt this oppressive belief system. Who would put a target on their back to join America's Most Hated Family? Other nutbars, that's who. People trickle in from all over the world: the UK, Asia & various blue states to live & worship with the Westboro Baptists. They even got a new convert in 2019: a pansexual man named "J". (No, really). Current leader Steve Drain is a so-called outsider who originally came to film a documentary called "Hatemongers" in 2000. But he was sucked in by the rhetoric & ended up moving his wife & kids to Kansas to join the WBC. (His daughters Lauren & Libby have since defected, thankfully). Since Fred Phelps' death, Steve Drain has engaged in a hostile takeover, gathering the elder males of the church behind Shirley's back & appointing himself the de-facto leader by virtue of his maleness.
|The lovely Steve Drain :\|
Since Shirley Phelps-Roper & her sisters were always such a frontline force within the church, it's a bit disgusting that this "outsider" would pull rank like this, using scripture to justify his sexism. But I suppose this is her karma after years of loudly picketing the funerals of soldiers & hate crimes and indoctrinating her own kids--3 of whom have now defected themselves. Still, it's hard to watch this aging grandmother struggle with the conflict between her deeply ingrained brainwashing & raw human emotions. She's not only lost her family but also her standing within the cult. The video below is actually heartbreaking to watch:
However, I'm snapped back to reality when I see her daughter Meagan's reaction to being shunned & ignored by her family after leaving the church. No matter how these people came to these views, they've continued clinging to them LONG after the age of consent and are now punishing their innocent kids for simply being born & not drinking the Kool-Aid. Any ideology that would have you disown your offspring simply for not sharing your beliefs is a CULT by definition.
Ironically, it's rumored that Pastor Fred Phelps had a sudden change of heart shortly before his death, telling church elders he wanted to soften the direction of the teachings & even uttering to the gay people in the rainbow-colored Equality House "You're good people." (WTF?) Whether that was dementia or a moment of genuine clarity after a lifetime of hate is anyone's guess. Fittingly, he was de-throned for this 'blasphemous' act by Steve Drain & co and spent his final days mostly alone. I suppose this was his karma after years of abuse, harassment & hate speech. And the cycle continues.
|Messages on the Equality House <3|
So my take on these people, particularly founder Fred Phelps, is that he was a mouthy contrarian lawyer who got addicted to conflict & the "fighting the establishment" during the Civil Rights era. When his star faded in that arena (he was disbarred in the 1980's for being an abusive dick in the courtroom), he turned his wrath toward the issue of gays in the local park who would "cruise" for lovers. He enlisted his family to make colorful signs & the rest is history. The media couldn't get enough of the GOD HATES FAGS people. Phelps was a true narcissist through & through, involving himself in politics (once supporting Al & Tipper Gore, oddly) and going on daytime talk shows like Ricki Lake to push his agenda throughout the '90s. By the 2000's, the lawsuits had started rolling in. This was Peak Phelps in his prime. Watch the "Hatemongers" documentary for a glimpse of his unbridled ego in this period. It would almost be amusing if there weren't so many victims at his feet. Almost.
|If there's a devil, he looks like this Pastor.|
But to truly find out what makes these people tick, listen to the stories of defected family members Meagan, Nathan, Grace Phelps and Lauren & Libby Drain. They know where the proverbial bodies are buried. I suspect they could write many tell-all books on the abuse they suffered as kids in this hellfire-oriented religion. But so far, they haven't. They just want to live their lives and have access to their families, which won't happen as long as the cult mindset gets in the way. And that's entirely up to their parents who were once victims of horrific abuse themselves.
Meagan Phelps-Roper's TED Talk
People have asked whether Fred was a closeted gay man himself, which is a fair question considering his apparent obsession with this one particular "sin" for so many years. There is evidence that homophobes are often gay themselves & simply projecting their feelings of discomfort onto others. Not exactly shocking if you have even a base knowledge of psychology. But I know of no evidence that Phelps was gay. His obsession seems to have started when gay men in Gage Park attempted to come onto him and his grandson (allegedly). What's more likely is that he saw local news stories about gays "cruising" for lovers there & got paranoid. (This is covered in detail in the Hatemongers documentary).
What we do know is he cut ties with his parents & siblings in early adulthood because his dad was not pleased with his decision to become a pastor. This undoubtedly fed his rage in a general sense, particularly toward the military. His father had wanted him to stay in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point which he had paid a lot of $$$ to get him into. But Fred dropped out after a tent revival & the rest is shitty history. Might he have had a negative experience at the Military Academy...perhaps with sexual assault by a male? Rape in the military is nearly as rampant as it is in prison so it's a possibility. There's no way to know, but something definitely happened to turn this man into a hate-filled monster. Just check out his smirking, belligerent behavior below:
Phelps on Ricki Lake (1993)