Forming in Kansas in the 1950s, the Westboro Baptist Church has steadily risen to become a prominent religious group in the United States, and arguably, the most hated in the country. They are mainly comprised of members of the Phelps family—the kin of late church leader and founder, Fred Phelps. So what exactly has the Westboro Baptist Church done to make the rest of the country (and a lot of the world) despise the sight of them?
Their strong beliefs regarding whom God does and doesn’t love have led them to believe that it’s their duty to educate the rest of America about the rules of their religion. They are opposed to just about anybody who’s not in their church, and have a particular hatred for those who love the same gender and soldiers. Spitting on the memory of the dead is their favorite pastime, and that’s just the beginning.
Here are 15 sad facts about this group of hate.
Disclaimer: This article is not representative of the entire Wesboro Baptist Church community but rather represents the opinions of a select few.
15 They'll let you know that you’re going to burn for eternity
The Westboro Baptist Church is similar in many ways to a cult—they are very exclusive, conditioned and indoctrinated since birth, and shamed out of leaving the church. However, one of the key differences is that while most cults are driven to lure other members in and expand their church, the WBC has a different aim. They don’t picket funerals and spread their messages about how everybody but them is going to hell to try and get you to change your ways and join their side (not that that wouldn’t be obnoxious too!). They aren’t interested in adding to their membership using anyone but their family. Rather, they picket and protest because they want to let you know that you’re going to burn for eternity. That’s all. In their own way, they believe that they are showing you true love by warning you how hopelessly doomed you and your family are.
14 They’re actually protected under freedom of speech
If you’ve ever looked at some of the atrocious messages on the WBC signs, you’d probably think that they qualify for hate speech. People have tried to sue them in the past for their antics, but they’re actually protected under freedom of speech. One notable case saw the church picketing the funeral of a Marine named Matthew Snyder, and his family sued them for defamation and invasion of privacy. In the beginning, the Snyder family were awarded $10.9 million in damages, but then the decision was overruled in appeals court, because it was ruled that although their messages were hurtful and invasive, they had the right to say them under free speech. After that, the Snyder family actually had to pay the church’s court costs of $16,000. Naturally, the public stepped in and raised funds to help out this poor family. The Supreme Court have ruled in favor of the church quite a few times now too.
13 Not even other notorious hate groups like them
Though the WBC is probably the most hated group in America, they aren’t the only hated and hateful group. And you’d think that since there are a few of these groups running around, they’d band together. But that isn’t quite the case! Another prominent hate group, the Ku Klux Klan, is as disgusted by the actions of the WBC as the rest of the country. Many members of the Klan are veteran soldiers, so they take particular offence to the way the WBC pickets the funerals of soldiers. Remarkably, members of the KKK have actually appeared at the funerals of soldiers to counter-protest the WBC. The “Imperial Wizard” of the Klan himself, Dennis LaBonte, has shown up and discretely handed out small American flags in support of the deceased soldiers and their families, and against anybody who thinks the soldiers should be burning in hell for fighting for America and its people.
12 They believe we're always being punished for our sins and natural disasters and terrorist attacks prove it
Just about everybody sees the WBC as a hate group, except the WBC. They believe that it’s their duty to help everybody else by alerting them to their sins and the way they’re going to be punished for them. So yes, they believe signs that say “God Hates You” and “Thank God for 9/11” are big favors for the rest of us! The founder of the church, Fred Phelps, was actually once a supporter of the civil rights movement in America. He received his law degree in 1964, and then set up his own law firm which specialized in battling racial discrimination. Throughout the 1980s, he even won several awards for his work with African-American clients. Believe it or not, the church maintains that their “Scripture doesn’t support physical violence or racism.” They don’t spew any hate toward different races, and nor do they support violence; just don’t be accepting, a soldier or someone who is gay around them!
11 The “hactivist” group "Anonymous" have stopped them before
It’s easy to see how the WBC have pissed off quite a few people over the years. Irritatingly, most of the people that they bother are powerless against their hate, as they’re protected under free speech laws. But they have made at least one powerful enemy who can strike back at them, and that’s the “hactivist” group known as Anonymous. This discrete group of internet warriors constantly fights back against corruption, crime against children, oppressive religions, anti-piracy laws, and anything else they deem to be unjust. In the past they have hacked websites of major credit card companies, federal governments, and even the FBI, so the WBC is nothing for them. When the church announced plans to picket the funerals of Sandy Hook and Boston Marathon victims, Anonymous hacked their website, posted photos of kittens and Martin Luther King, shut them down and even got into their private Twitter accounts. Hats off to Anonymous!
10 Members must give 30% of their income to the church
Another trait that the Westboro Baptist Church has in common with standard cults is that its members are expected to contribute financially, and must give 30% of the income they make to the church. Most members are working lawyers, which comes in handy when they get sued and are involved in other lawsuits. Because they are protected under the law, they often win their cases, and so make most of their money by winning their lawsuits against cities or states who try to infringe their right to the freedom of speech. In recent times, they sued the city of Bellevue, Nebraska for $17,000, the city of Topeka for $43,000 and the state of Kansas for $100,000. Basically, they try to take legal action against anybody who tries to ban their protests, and they usually win. So what do they do with all that money coming in? Picket. Protesting costs them up to $300,000 a year.
9 They inspired a new law because they were protesting too much at people's funerals
They may be protected under the First Amendment, but all the public outrage in response to the WBC has resulted in a new law. Because of the family’s consistent and upsetting protests at funerals of soldiers and other military personnel, the U.S. House and Senate passed a new act in 2006 entitled Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes. Now, the family (or anybody else) is not allowed to protest within 300 feet of national cemeteries starting from an hour before a funeral, until an hour after its completion. Violation of this Act results in a fine of $100,000 and a year in prison. The law has definitely given grieving families of military service members some comfort, but the WBC still protests as closely to the churches and cemeteries as they legally can. Thousands have signed petitions to stop the church altogether, but at this stage, there’s nothing that can be done. That’s when you call Anonymous!
8 They brainwash their children
The children and grandchildren of Fred Phelps are taught the ways of the church from birth. Elementary school-aged children are involved in the pickets, and although they’re not chained and coerced into it by force, they are essentially brainwashed into it. They don’t really understand what the signs that they hold up say, and are also targeted by people who drive past the pickets and throw food, drinks and other things at the WBC. Many outsiders don’t separate the child members of the group from the adults, and are equally disgusted by them all, which is totally unfair to the children. Too young to grasp what they’re actually doing, and too young to defy their parents and the other adults they’re surrounded by, they were born into an incredibly unfortunate situation that’s beyond their power. It is possible to leave the church, but not as a child. However, once they come of age, leaving is definitely a possibility…
7 They’re losing members everyday
Founder Fred Phelps had 13 children that he brought up in the church, and the majority of them have remained. Only two have left, and are now basically seen as dead by their siblings. His 13 children gave him 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, all of which are brought up with the same intense belief system. However, the brainwashing doesn’t work eternally on everyone. Recently, 20 members have abandoned the church, and no longer communicate with their family members. Once the Phelps members leave, they can finally get real about what actually goes down behind the closed doors of the church, and some of Fred’s grandsons have claimed that their grandfather used to beat them and their mother quite often. Ex-member Libby Phelps-Alvarez revealed that the church teaches that everyone outside is a lost soul and she was brought up to be terrified of leaving. Since leaving, she has been forbidden from seeing her family.
6 Fred Phelps was buddies with Saddam Hussein
Being labeled the “most hated family in America”, it’s clear that the Westboro Baptist Church members don’t have too many friends. So you can’t really blame them for seeking friendship where they can get it! In 1997, Fred Phelps wrote to Saddam Hussein and praised him for allowing Christians to preach in Iraq, a Muslim state. He asked for permission to go and preach in Baghdad, against the American soldiers who he referred to as “militant sodomites” and accused of ruining America. Saddam granted them entry into the country, so the WBC took their pickets all the way to Iraq to protest the actions of the U.S. military. The church members attacked Bill and Hillary Clinton with their signs, and of course, condemned anybody who wasn’t straight, to hell. Considering the tensions between the two countries at the time, this act was seen as a vile betrayal by the rest of America, and probably didn’t win them any friends.
5 Fred’s Church turned on him before he died
Fred Phelps spent his later years creating the church and raising everybody in it, but it kind of came back to bite him before he died. It has been reported that as he came to the end of his life, Fred saw the error in his ways and wanted to treat the public with more kindness. This didn’t sit well with the other members of his church, and a board of elders made up of his own sons and grandsons, voted to remove him as pastor. He died in 2014, but the church continues without him. We suppose it’s sad that it only occurred to him to treat people with respect a year before he died, and that he never got to change the ways of the church. But since he started the church and fed them all those strict teachings, he really had nobody to blame but himself. You have to be careful when creating monsters!
4 "All who say, ‘It’s OK to be gay,’ have the blood of Matthew Shepard on their hands”
The WBC see natural disasters and tragedies differently to the way most functioning humans do. Every time there’s some kind of catastrophe, they believe it’s the work of God to punish the immoral. That includes terrorist attacks, school shootings, tsunamis and earthquakes. They have even been known to claim that there are no terrorists or murderers behind these acts—those are supposedly fabrications to hide the fact that God is responsible. One tragedy that they celebrated was the cruel murder of university student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death for being gay. At Matthew’s funeral, the church arrived and gave out leaflets which read: It is too late to rescue Matthew Shepard from the life of sin and shame into which he was lured by the perverted, depraved, and decadent American society into which he was born. All who say, ‘It’s OK to be gay,’ have the blood of Matthew Shepard on their hands.”
3 Their words when the King of Pop passed away: "Thank God for the death of this filthy, unthankful brute beast"
The church uses their colorful website and Twitter accounts to announce their picketing plans, and people get quite upset whenever they declare that they’re going to show up at particular funerals. Many people were offended and horrified when the church announced their intentions to protest Michael Jackson’s funeral, writing on their website, “We will be there to tell you to Thank God for the death of this filthy, adulterous, idolatrous, gender-confused, nationality-confused, unthankful brute beast.” However, the public need not always get so upset, because Westboro don’t always keep their promises! This was the case with the funeral of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Ironically using their iPhones, church members let everyone know that they were going to picket the funeral to punish Steve for teaching sin and giving God no glory. Luckily for everyone involved, they never showed up. They do show up sometimes, but that still doesn’t make them reliable picketers!
2 They happily note that thousands of Swedes died in the 2004 tsunami
On the list of people hated by the WBC are gay people, soldiers, anybody who says it’s okay to be gay, anybody who says that Jesus loves everybody, anybody who calls themselves a Christian but is not in the church, and Swedes. That’s right: Westboro detests Sweden almost as much as America! It all started when a Pentecostal Christian pastor was arrested in Sweden for hate speech against homosexuals. He was given a month in prison for his crime, but didn’t even serve that. This all angered the church so much that they arrived at an appliance store in Topeka, where they’re from, to berate store staff for selling Swedish vacuum cleaners. If you check out their website today, you’ll see that they haven’t let go of their grudge against Swedes, and happily note that thousands of them died in the tsunami that swept Asia in 2004. Obviously because God hates them and their appliances.
1 Some countries have banned them from entering their borders
While the Supreme Court seems to constantly act in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church and there’s little that the government can do about them, despite thousands of people signing petitions, some countries around the world have decided that enough is enough. The Canadian government banned the church in 2008 after they announced their plans to picket the funeral of murdered 22-year-old Tim McClean. The family members still tried to cross the border at Niagra Falls, but were denied entry. The United Kingdom also doesn’t want to be bothered with the Phelps’ BS, and banned them from arriving after they declared that they would picket Queen Mary’s College which was hosting a production of The Laramie Project, a play about Matthew Shepard. Since the church displayed gratitude when devastating wild fires in Australia wiped out thousands of homes, it’s been speculated that other countries may also ban the family from spreading their hate abroad.