As ye sow…
All of the reports point back to the same announcement on Facebook from one of Phelps’ sons, Nate (who fled the cult at 18 years old back in 1976, has since come out as atheist, and has spent many of the last decades working in favor of LGBT rights). A few people have called Nate and other excommunicated family members to confirm a few facts: the senior Phelps was excommunicated from his own cult last August, and he’s currently a patient at the Midland Hospice Center in Topeka.
No one outside the church knows precisely why the younger hate-mongers have decided to excommunicate their 84-year-old racist, wife-beating, child-abusing, hate-spewing patriarch. Did he have a change of heart as he approached death? Has his mental faculties simply deteriorated to the point that the lieutenant malignancies feared he could be manipulated into signing over family assets and the like? The story some of the estranged members of the family tell is that there has been a power struggle—a group who supported the daughter who has been the official spokesperson and apparently running things the last few years versus a group of the male “elders” who thought they should be in charge. Supposedly as the fight raged, Fred senior admonished everyone to be kinder to each other, and that apparently convinced them he was losing his marbles.
I have a friend who insists that none of the members of the church really believe what they say. His primary evidence is the fact the group frequently provokes private citizens and government officials into doing things that they could be sued for. To me, that just proves that they’re not stupid. During the last twenty-some years, the revenue from those lawsuits has accounted for less than 10% of the cult’s annual travel expenses, as estimated by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The cult makes most of its money from the fact that every working member of the extended family (everyone in the cult is either a descendent of Phelps, or married to one) turns over all of their earnings to the church. Presumably, the many members collecting welfare do, as well.
It also ignores the testimony of literally every member of the family that has been excommunicated and fled the cult over the last 40-ish years. They consistently tell tales of the racist, misogynist, and homophobic abuse Fred and his designated leaders constantly heaped on their own children and spouses in order to control them. Such as the Christmas day when Phelps decided two of his sons, Nathan and Mark, weren’t being properly respectful, so he beat them with a mattock handle until they were unconscious, ordered their siblings to splash water on them until they were awake, then beat them unconscious, again.
Sure, they’re using the church as a front, but it’s an excuse to spew their abusive hatred at anyone and everyone that they want to control. It’s not that any of them secretly believe that all people are deserving of respect and dignity, and they’re just doing this for the money. They won’t say no to the money—they love taking money away from people they hate—but the hate is very real.
I have to admit that I’m not completely objective. Back in the 1990s one of Phelp’s clan spent a lot of time trolling Usenet groups and the like, gathering email addresses to send hate-filled messages to. Since I posted a lot on QueerNet back then, I became a target. I mostly laughed it off, making only one or two replies with questions about why he was so obsessed with what he thought my sexual activities were, before putting his address in a kill file some his emails would be blocked. But he was a persistent (and experienced) hater, and just switched to another email address. He seemed to have dozens of them.
He was also fond of posting his hateful diatribes, mentioning the names of those of us who he had contacted, to the public forums. The QueerNet administrator would ban the address, make an announcement that he’d banned the address, and advise people to ignore him when he next resurfaced. The administrator would occasionally mention how many different addresses he had managed to identify as belonging to the Phelps poster.
The amount of time and energy that this one member of the hateful clan put into setting up new addresses, subscribing to lists and forums, gathering names, then sending hate mail made it clear it was a full-time job. There is no record that his internet activities ever resulted in the church filing a defamation suit or the like, let alone winning it.
Phelps’ daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, has been effectively running their business and the church for some years, now. And apparently fully believing that they are living in the very last of the last days, has been forbidden any of the younger ones who are not already married to form friendships with members of the opposite sex, let alone allowing them to date or think about marriage. Which was the final straw for at least one of the recent refugees from the cult/family.
If Fred senior has had a change of heart, and is dying in that hospice with visitors forbidden, to die either alone or in the company of the members of his family who consider him a traitor, well, all I can say is, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person.