(Posted 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 31, 2009)
NOTE TO READERS: On Tuesday, Vermont’s same-gender marriage law, which the state’s legislature passed over Governor Jim Douglas’ veto, will take effect, according full marriage rights to the state’s gay and lesbian residents exactly nine years and two months after its pioneering civil-union law took effect. On that day, members of the Reverend Fred Phelps’ virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church plan to stage protests against the new law. Vermonters are divided on how to deal with the WBC’s protests, but what many may not know is that not only is Westboro a tightly-controlled cult whose members are exclusively relatives and in-laws of Phelps, but its longstanding condemnation of homosexuality as an "abomination" masks a dirty secret: That its members have lived rather "abominable" lifestyles of their own — Namely, repeated run-ins with the law and its leader having a history of out-of-control binges on alcohol and drugs and repeated physical abuse of his wife and children. The following article, which was originally posted in 2006, is being re-posted in updated form today, for the sole purpose of exposing the moral hypocrisy of the Phelpses.
By SKEETER SANDERS
(Originally published June 26, 2006)
An incredible thing happened a little over three years ago.
The daughter of the leader of a Kansas-based ultra-paranoid, anti-gay cult made a guest appearance June 10, 2006 on one of the three major 24-hour TV news networks, ostensibly to discuss the cult’s highly controversial protests at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the discussion quickly degenerated into a bitter, name-calling shouting match between the guest and the program’s host, with the guest calling the host a "bimbo" and the host firing back, "You’re an abomination!"
What made the live exchange so incredible was that it happened not on CNN, not on MSNBC, but on the right wing’s favorite news network, Fox News Channel. Even more incredible: The host is herself a conservative evangelical Christian who got into a heated, Bible-quoting duel with Phelps-Roper.
‘YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!’ FOX ANCHOR TELLS CULTIST
Appearing on the weekend edition of Fox’s "The Big Story," Shirley Phelps-Roper, the chief spokeswoman for the Westboro Baptist Church and the eldest daughter of the sect’s iron-fisted leader, Rev. Fred Phelps, was asked by the program’s host, Julie Banderas, why her sect’s members were staging protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers with slogans such as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "Thank God for IEDs [improvised explosive devices]" and "God Hates Fags."
The cult claims that the killing of U.S. troops in the two war-torn countries are "God’s vengeance for America tolerating homosexuality."
That didn’t sit well with Banderas, herself a conservative evangelical Christian — and she was loaded for bear. "What would you do if you had a son in the military?" she asked Phelps-Roper. "Would you damn him to hell as well? Because you’re going to join him there if you had a son!"
From that point, things quickly got heated. "I have eight sons and I have three daughters," Phelps-Roper responded, "And none of them would dare, dare fight for a nation that has made God its number-one enemy!"
"You are the devil!" Banderas fired back. "If you believe in the Bible, miss, you’re going to hell!"
INSULTS FLY BACK AND FORTH
Banderas: "The Bible says ‘the fear of the Lord is hatred of evil,’ [from the Book of] Proverbs. ‘Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.’ Perverted speech like yours: ‘God hates fags.’ You are preaching absolute bull– and you know what the final letter is!"
Phelps-Roper: "If you don’t tell them that this nation is full of idolatry, full of adulteries –
Banderas: "Full of insane people like yourself, ma’am!"
Phelps-Roper: "You’re proud. You’re proud of your sins. You can’t do enough sinning. You think ‘gay’ pride, bimbo! You have sinned away your day of grace!"
Banderas: "OK, you are an abomination!"
Phelps-Roper: "America is doomed! America is doomed! Before your eyes, missy, you’re gonna see the destruction of America!"
Banderas: "If America is doomed, then why don’t you get out? Why are you in this country? Why are you an American? Are you an American?"
Phelps-Roper: "I am exactly where my God put me to tell you plainly, that you are going to hell, and there’s nothing you can do about it!"
Banderas: "Why don’t you take your church to another country, then, ma’am? Thank you so much. You should not be proud to be an American, and thank you. Good-bye!"
The following day, Banderas was interviewed by fellow Fox News anchor Trace Gallagher about her war of words with Phelps-Roper. Said Gallagher: "Most would say that she [Phelps-Roper] is a little on the whacky side." To which Banderas replied, "Yeah, a little bit. And she claims to be a Christian! Hah!"
The ‘Skeeter Bites Report didn’t learn of the exchange until two weeks later, but when its editor and publisher viewed a video clip of the exchange on YouTube, he was astonished at what he saw and heard. Not so much that it took place at all, but that it happened on, of all places, Fox News. And the editor wasn’t alone. It also astonished many other bloggers and pundits as well — progressives and conservatives alike. The clash had been all abuzz across the Internet.
(The clip of the clash between Banderas and Phelps-Roper — which follows an interview with the father of a fallen soldier whose funeral was picketed by Westboro — can be viewed HERE.)
A subsequent interview of Phelps-Roper on Fox News’ now-defunct "Hannity and Colmes" talk show found the conservative Sean Hannity and his liberal former co-host Alan Colmes in rare agreement: Both blasted Phelps-Roper, with Hannity telling Phelps-Roper point-blank, "We’ve had a lot of nutty people on this show . . . but you are as mean and as sick and as cruel as anybody that I’ve had on this program. The fact that you use religion to justify your hatred this way is frankly mind-numbing."
Colmes was far more blunt, tearing into the Phelpses’ anti-Semitism as well as their homophobia. "You and you father hate not just gays," he told Phelps-Roper. "You hate Catholics, you hate Jews . . . You father referred to the Holocaust as ‘miniscule.’ You led a protest at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. You said Jews are ‘the real Nazis.’ You are an abomination! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are an embarassment to this nation! How dare you do this to the families of our soldiers!"
FAMILY OF FALLEN SOLDIER WINS LAWSUIT AGAINST WESTBORO
Westboro’s funeral protests have been so highly offensive to the grieving families and friends of our fallen soldiers that a Pennsylvania man has taken the cult to court, charging it with "intentional and outrageous" conduct both during and after the funeral of his son.
Albert Snyder, whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in a non-combat vehicle accident in Iraq, filed suit in May 2006 "to deter this group of people from these disruptive and mean-spirited protests at the funerals of deceased members of the military," according to Snyder’s attorney, Craig Trebilcock.
Phelps-Roper, herself an attorney, vowed to countersue Snyder, accusing the father of "conspiracy to violate [Westboro’s] civil rights and a violation of [the cult’s] civil rights."
In November 2007, a federal court jury in Baltimore found Westboro guilty of violating the Snyders’ privacy and of inflicting emotional distress and ordered the cult to pay the Snyders $10.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages.
A federal judge subsequently halved the jury awards to $2.9 million in compensatory damages and 2.1 million in punitive damages.
A LONG RECORD OF CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST THE PHELPSES
That Phelps-Roper was so quick to fire back at Snyder’s lawsuit should surprise no one, for the Phelps clan has a long history of filing frivolous lawsuits, according to the district attorney’s office in the Phelpses’ hometown of Topeka, Kansas.
In fact, a review of public records by The ‘Skeeter Bites Report has uncovered a wealth of civil and criminal charges against the Phelpses dating back nearly 20 years — in the case of Fred Phelps, more than a half-century — and evidence of abuse by Fred Phelps against his wife and children.
Fred Phelps first ran afoul of the law in 1951 when he was arrested in Pasadena, California on charges of misdemeanor battery against a police officer. The charges were later dropped. By 1987, however, getting into trouble with law enforcement would become a Phelps family trademark.
At the time, Fred Phelps and five of his children — Margie, Jon, Elizabeth, Shirley and Fred Jr. — were charged by police with extortion, witness intimidation, harassment, making false accusations and filing frivolous lawsuits.
The senior Phelps, who was a practicing attorney, was also facing disbarment hearings. He ended up striking a plea bargain in which he agreed to resign from the Kansas Bar and never again practice law in exchange for the charges against his children being dropped.
Throughout the 1990s and well into the soon-to-be-concluded first decade of the 21st century, the Phelps clan has run afoul of the law on numerous occasions in their hometown, but the Topeka district attorney often declined to press charges, mainly because every time charges were pressed against Westboro or one of its members, the cult retaliated by filing class-action lawsuits against the city, the police department and the complainant.
Westboro’s hair-trigger litigiousness, however, could not protect Jonathan Baxter Phelps from being brought to justice, albeit on relatively minor charges. Jon — whom many Kansans said was the one son of Fred Phelps who was most like his father — was arrested more often than any other member of the family, save for Fred himself.
‘OBNOXIOUS’ JON PHELPS HARASSED WOMEN WITH LEWD, OBSCENE GESTURES
Jon turned out to be the most obnoxious member of the Phelps clan, according to the Topeka Capital Journal, which published a major expose of Westboro in 1994. Jon Phelps regularly shouted obscenity-laced comments to passersby at Westboro pickets and often issued verbal threats at women to sexually assault them.
The newspaper reported that Jon was taken into police custody after a raid on the Westboro compound in December 1993 for an incident stemming from a local theater group’s production of the holiday classic, "The Nutcracker."
Jon stood outside the theater and asked passing children, "Did your daddy stick his [BLEEP] up your [BLEEP] last night?" while holding a sign that read, "Fags: The [BLEEP] Goes Up the [BLEEP]."
He was subsequently convicted of misdemeanor assault, witness intimidation and disorderly conduct.
PHELPSES AGGRESSIVE IN DEFENDING THEIR FAMILY, SECT IN COURT — TO NO AVAIL
In that same case, several charges against other Westboro members were later dropped; the trials that followed saw every member of Westboro over the age of fifteen testifying in the defense of their family and fellow congregants; over 100 defense witnesses were called in all.
Margie Phelps was found guilty of filing a false report with Topeka police and Fred Sr. was found guilty of disorderly conduct as defined by aggravated intimidation of a witness; all three lost their appeals. The Phelpses promptly filed lawsuits against the city and took their cases to an appeals court, where their lawsuits were dismissed.
In 1995, Fred Phelps’ eldest grandson, Benjamin — who operates the cult’s Web sites — was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct after spitting in the face of a passer-by during a Westboro picket and then laughing about what he did. Security cameras of a nearby business caught the incident on tape.
In 2004, Fred Phelps Jr. was arrested for possession of marijuana, but no charges were pressed. That same year, Margie Phelps and her son, Jacob, were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a police officer after disregarding the officer’s order that they were not allowed to enter a business’ private property for the purpose of staging one of Westboro’s now-trademark "God Hates Fags" protests against the company’s inclusion of gays in its employment non-discrimination policy.
DIRTY SECRETS THE PHELPSES DON’T WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW ARE EXPOSED
All of this — and much more — is a matter of public record. But what the Phelps clan really doesn’t want the public to know is that their patriarch has a history of alcohol and drug abuse — and physical abuse against his wife and children.
It’s a history that was exposed in 1994 by Capital Journal > reporters Steven Fry, John Michael Bell and Joe Tashcler, in a series of articles titled, "Hate for the Love of God." The series was later edited by Bell into a book, Addicted to Hate.
The book was never published, however, due to a dispute between Bell and the Capital Journal’s parent company, Stauffer Communications. Bell subsequently sued Stauffer Communications in Shawnee County District Court, alleging the Capital Journal owed him compensation for overtime and to clarify ownership of his notes and work product — his book.
Bell took the unusual step of attaching the entire manuscript of the book to his lawsuit, making it a public document. Significantly, the Phelpses — who are well-known for their hair-trigger litigiousness — have never sued the Capital Journal for libel. Because Bell’s manuscript is an official court document, the Phelpses cannot sue anyone who uses it. What follows in this article, therefore, is based upon Bell’s manuscript (The full text of the manuscript is available HERE).
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE BY FRED PHELPS WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF BOOZE, DRUGS
The dirty secrets of Fred Phelps Sr.’s life dates back to 1962, when Fred Sr. graduated from Washburn University in Topeka. Sometime after his graduation, Fred Sr. became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates, which he often took while also dousing large quantities of alcohol.
One of Fred’s sons, Mark Phelps, recalls the earliest memory of his father was that he shot a dog while in a drunken rage for the dog defecating on the Phelpses’ front lawn. The dog’s owner sued Fred for animal cruelty, but he successfully defended himself in court. But the incident led many of Westboro’s members who were not related to the Phelpses to quit in protest. Mark Phelps later quit Westboro himself.
"Several former Westboro members would sneak onto our front yard in the middle of the night and place signs that read: ‘Anyone who would stoop to killing a dog someday will mistake a child for a dog,’" Mark said.
REPEATED EPISODES OF WILD TANTRUMS AFTER DAYS OF ISOLATION
Fred remained hooked on drugs and alcohol for six years after the incident, according to Mark, and would often go on eating binges. He would also go for days or weeks without leaving his bedroom.
When Phelps did emerge from his bedroom, he would throw temper tantrums — throwing food, smashing dishes and screaming at his children for not eating, Mark said. When he became too exhausted to continue with his tantrum, he would take his wife Marge back into his bedroom to have sex while his children cleaned up the mess he left behind.
"It established a life habit for me," Mark Phelps recalls. "Even today, the moment I get home, I’m thinking, ‘Is Daddy mad?’ Our walls were stained with food. And my mom used to cry because she couldn’t keep good dishes.
"My father would also bust holes in the walls and doors," he added. "If they [the holes] were on the outside, he’d fix them quickly [to avoid generating suspicion from the neighbors]. But on the inside, he’d leave them unrepaired for months."
FRED FORCED HIS KIDS TO SELL CANDY FOR THE SECT
As a result of his binges, Fred ceased to earn money for the family — and because he barred his wife from working, it fell to the Phelps children to become the family breadwinners.
During this period, the clan’s sole source of income was the children’s door-to-door sales of candy, which Phelps called "The Children’s Crusade." Phelps assigned each of the children sales quotas; those who failed to meet those quotas were beaten with a mattock handle, a farming tool that is twice the density of a baseball bat.
The campaign often found the children selling candy in high-crime areas of Topeka and Kansas City. It was in Kansas City when a then-teenaged Jon Phelps and his eight-year-old sister Rebecca were assaulted by a transvestite after Jon "held forth the latest ‘fag’ joke making the rounds at his junior high school."
The transvestite, angered by Jon’s remark, pulled out a switchblade knife and chased them into an alley, where, as sister Margie Phelps recalls, "Jon got ‘bitch-slapped’ by a guy in a dress to teach him a lesson." Jon Phelps has maintained a particularly intense hatred toward transgenders ever since.
PHELPS KIDS TURN TO PETTY CRIME AFTER CANDY SALES DRY UP, TO AVOID BEATINGS
Eventually, revenue from the candy sales began to dry up, but Fred adamantly insisted that the money keep coming in. Fearing more beatings, the Phelps children began stealing from businesses around Topeka and resorted to other petty crimes, including purse-snatching.
They were often caught, but the DA was reluctant to prosecute, for fear of violent retribution from Phelps.
By the mid-1960s, Marge Phelps had had enough of Fred’s abuse. She loaded the children into the family car and attempted to flee from Fred, but none of her relatives and friends had the resources to accommodate 11 extra people.
She was left with little choice but to return to the Westboro compound, where Fred promptly beat up his wife.
A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE BY FRED LEADS TO MORE ABUSE OF HIS KIDS
In 1968, Fred Phelps attempted suicide while high on methamphetamines by trying to shoot himself in the head with a shotgun. He was so stoned, however, that he missed and ripped a hole into the roof.
Shortly thereafter, Phelps overdosed on a "speedball" cocktail of alcohol and amphetamines, slipping into a coma. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he remained comatose for a week.
After returning home from the hospital, Phelps put himself on a detoxification diet, eating no solid food for several weeks and drinking only water. He then decided that his children do the same, denying them food and forcing them to run ten miles a day.
Even his two youngest children — who at the time were six and eight, respectively — were forced into the regimen. If any of the kids finished the race ahead of Fred, he would severely beat them.
Even though by this time he had returned to work as a lawyer, Phelps still forced his children to sell candy.
(In conducting research for their expose, the Capital Journal reporters discovered that Phelps had defrauded the candy manufacturer, which promptly sued him after the newspaper published the reporters’ findings and won a judgment of $125,000. It remains unclear, however, if Phelps ever paid back the company.)
PHELPSES GUILTY OF GROSS MORAL HYPOCRISY
With their shameful record of criminal activity and physical and psychological abuse — to themselves and to others — Fred Phelps and his clan have no moral authority to claim that God hates anyone.
They certainly have no moral authority to condemn others for "disgusting" lifestyles when their own lifestyle is hardly an example of moral, upstanding citizenship.
The bottom line is that the Phelpses are the ultimate moral hypocrites and richly deserve every ounce of scorn that they’re receiving for their reprehensible and clearly un-Christian — even anti-Christian — actions.
What goes around, comes around.
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Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.