Fred Phelps Sr., the fiery founder of a small Kansas “church” who drew international condemnation for outrageous and hate-filled protests that blamed almost everything, including the deaths of AIDS victims and U.S. soldiers, on America’s tolerance for gay people, has died. He was 84.
Daughter Margie Phelps told The Associated Press that Fred Phelps died shortly after midnight Thursday. She didn’t provide the cause of death or the condition that recently put him in hospice care.
Estranged son Nathan Phelps posted to Facebook Sunday that Fred Phelps was excommunicated from the “church” last summer and was refusing to eat and drink and was near death in a hospice in Topeka, Kansas.
Church spokesman Steve Drain declined to comment on the membership status of Fred Phelps, but did confirm that the 84-year-old former leader is at Midland Hospice House, but had said, “The source that says he’s near death is not well informed.”
Throughout his life, Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, a small congregation made up almost entirely of his extended family, tested the boundaries of free speech, violating accepted societal standards for decency in their unapologetic assault on gays and lesbians. In the process, some believe he even helped the cause of gay rights by serving as such a provocative symbol of intolerance.
Phelps believed any misfortune, most infamously the deaths of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, was God’s punishment for society’s tolerance of homosexuality. He and his followers carried forward their message bluntly, holding held signs at funerals and public events that used ugly slurs and read “Thank God for dead soldiers.” God, he preached, had nothing but anger and bile for the moral miscreants of his creation.