Q&A with a former member of the Westboro Baptist family

Nate Phelps, the 6th of 13 of Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps's kids, took to Reddit for an Ask Me Anything Q&A. Nate escaped his father's notorious, hateful "church" when he was 18. As you'll see from the interview, the Phelps household was a microcosm of Fred's hateful, loony doctrine -- a place of grotesque violence and lunatic belief.

Thanks! The first three nights after I ran away, I slept in the bathroom of a gas station near the high school I attended (Topeka West). From there, my brother's (Mark) mother-in-law offered me a room at her home. Very little I miss. It was so destructive and took years to undue. I have talked about the sense of security and belonging I can recall feeling from time to time when we were having church services on Sunday evenings. Something about being tucked in that building that's half buried and feeling like we're the only one's that god loves...it's hard to articulate...

My father believes homosexuality is a special sin you can't recover from. He get's this from some obscure passage in Romans. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of selective quoting. But this is lost on them because they never really were taught to examine the Bible and decide for themselves. They were taught to believe what he believes. This leaves them wholly unable to truly debate anyone. They recognize certain sounds and respond to those sounds with the sounds they learned. They don't critically analyze the incoming sounds at all.

One of those sounds they recognize is "why do you preach if you don't think people can be saved" to which they respond with the sound "it's not our job to save, only to preach". It's what I call the divine Nuremberg defense...

I remember one of the Shawnee Mission (I think East) schools doing a killer counter protest. My personal favorite is the Jewish Center down in Texas that raised enough money at one of their protests to buy a new ice making machine for the center. They put a plaque on it that said something like: "The Fred Phelps Memorial 'Hell Froze Over' Ice Machine".

IAmAn Ex-Member of the Westboro Baptist Church (via MeFi)


  1. Undoing indoctrination that begins with childhood is a long, terrible, and arduous process. Congratulations to the young well-spoken Phelps for making this long journey. Nearly every line he said was resonating with me on a hauntingly deep level.

    It is comforting to know that there is hope for the victims of this special sort of psychological torture.

  2. Frankly, I’m surprised that it sounds like there really is a core of actual belief there.

    Not that this excuses it – far more evil in the world is the result of true belief than simple greed.

    But after reading about the legal bullshit and the specific targeting of the most helpless and innocent to piss people off and trigger a backlash, I had come to assume that the whole thing was a giant con game, like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, or Joe Ratzinger. Or simply sociopathic trolling, as does seem to be the case with the patriarch, in the beginning before he wrapped his sociopathy in the trappings of his cult.

    1. I think they were nutty and then figured out they could get paid by pushing buttons.  It helps them maintain their belief everyone is against them because they are the true believers and keeps the coffers full.

    2. Yeah, I’m surprised at how much it sounds like the much more mainstream cult I was raised in (the Jehovah’s Witnesses.) 

      – Belief that you are the only correct religion.
      – Predicting the End Times to be right around the corner.
      – Obsession with sexual behavior.
      – Public interaction with non-believers is the whole focus of the religion, and they get off on the negative responses of others. 
      – Acting otherwise friendly and normal in your everyday life.  
      – Enforcing absolute conformity, abusing and excommunicating anybody who gets out of line.

      Really, I can see in the interview that Phelps seizes on some of the exact same scriptures to reach his conclusions.

      “Hate what is bad, and love what is good…” Some people really jump on that first clause.

      1. Except for the obsession with sexual behavior, that’s exactly what it’s like in radical politics, the End Times being The Revolution.

        1.  Is the obsession with sexual behaviour replaced on the left with an obsession with economic behaviour?

          These zucchini are organic.

          These zucchini are locally grown.

          You are both supporting destructive practices that will destroy the earth.  You must only buy zucchini that both organic and locally grown!

          Supporter of capitalist hegemony!  The only true zucchini are from the dumpster!

          1. Is the obsession with sexual behaviour replaced on the left with an obsession with economic behaviour?

            Yes.  You would totally get busted for buying expensive shampoo or name brand cat food.

    3. I would really recommend reading The Topeka Capital-Journal’s 1994 series on the history of Phelps and his family. It includes personal stories from both Nate and Mark Phelps and makes for some gut-wrenching, powerful reading.

      One of the things I came away with from the series–from the history described there it sounds less like Fred Phelps has a coherent religion and more like the story of an emotionally and physically abusive man, and the way he has used religion and ideology as a way of maintaining control (and perpetuating the abusive relationship) long after his children became adults.

      Here is a link: http://cjonline.com/indepth/phelps/

      1. Yes, I read that a few years ago. It’s very long, and very, very, worth reading. It paints an entirely different picture than the one I was used to of the Westboro Church – not because it makes it more sympathetic, but it makes it so much more disturbing than you ever had imagined before. If you think you know enough about them, and you haven’t read this series, you really don’t know anything at all.

      2. Whoa that’s a long deep dive into dark waters.
        It does need to be understood. We seem to be coming into another age of them, and all the other flavors of vicious fruitcakes with a talent for rewiring human brains.

  3. Was it verified he is who he says he is? This sounds like a great oppurtunity to pull a Daisy, if nothing else. It just seems too good to be true.

    1. He talked about posting the link to the ask me anything from his twitter account as proof.  He left the family a while ago and has been speaking out against them ever since.  The answers are those of someone who has been through alot and wants to help people understand.

    2.  It’s a matter of record that Nate Phelps has been speaking out against the family and in support of LGBT groups for a long time, and he’s said many of these things before. I can’t think why this person would impersonate Nate Phelps just to repeat the same stuff.

    1.  Reading her answers is fascinating. http://www.reddit.com/user/jaelholroyd/comments/
      The circular logic and leaps in logic are amazing. “Here’s a quote about dogs not going to heaven and here’s another quote that says something about dogs next to a sentence that mentions Sodom. Therefore, obviously, homosexuals aren’t going to heaven!” It is almost cut-up technique as theology.

      I wonder how many people they think are in heaven because from their explanations is seems like the place is pretty empty…

  4. ‘One of those sounds they recognize is “why do you preach if you don’t think people can be saved” to which they respond with the sound “it’s not our job to save, only to preach”. It’s what I call the divine Nuremberg defense…’

    iirc they self-identify as a Primitive Baptist church, and those churches (disclosure: my wife is a PB) tend to be very heavily either 1.) Calvinist or 2.) former Two Seeds In The Faith Baptist churches.  The latter tend to believe that there’s no reason to go out into the community, go on mission trips, etc. because the world is divided between people who have been called by God to serve Him, and those who have not, and there’s no point in ministering to the ones who have not.

    Yeah, it’s a bit twisted.

    1. “The latter tend to believe that there’s no reason to go out into the community, go on mission trips, etc. because the world is divided between people who have been called by God to serve Him, and those who have not, and there’s no point in ministering to the ones who have not.”

      Honestly?  I wish more Fundamentalist churches would adopt an attitude like that.  Preferably mixed with an ideal that you still have to love your neighbor even though he’s going to Hell and so should participate in charitable activities.  But even a  “leave the unbelievers alone and worry about yourselves” approach would be healthier for all of us than a “get all up into everyone else’s business because you’re so concerned about their eternal soul” approach that most churches hew to.

  5. Are we sure that he’s saved from Phelps?  What if…. what if  you CAN’T be saved!!!??  It’s in Romans somewhere, I think.

    (JK…. good on the kid for bravely leaving and rejecting this hateful man’s vitriol.)

  6. “It’s what I call the divine Nuremberg defense…”
    Yowch. The proudest moment of a parent’s life is when one of their children Godwins them in an interview.

    1. Liked for the point, but must note that sometimes a nazi is really a nazi.

      Fred Phelps talks like he’s all about eliminationism, to borrow the language of David Neiwert and Mark Potok. He likely would have fucking LOVED to have the lightning bolts on his collar.

      1.  Agreed. I was just having fun pointing out this example of Godwin’s law, but I realize that not all comparisons with Nazis are inaccurate.

  7. The description makes me think of the Quivering Brethren from “Cold Comfort Farm”:

    “They’ll all burn in hell,” added Amos in a satisfied voice, “and” I mun surelie tell them so. … Aye … ye can come … ye poor miserable creepin’ sinner. Maybe ye think ye’ll escape hellfire if ye come along o’ me, and bow down and quiver. But I’m tellin’ ye no. ‘Tes too late. Ye’ll burn wi’ the rest. There’ll be time to say what yer sins have been, but there’ll be no time for more.”

    1. I don’t know.. I’m more under the impression that anyone who thinks that all things happen due to divine intervention should be murdered. And in the defense it can be quoted that this is part of their divine intervention and, by extension, what the person ultimately wanted.

      Yes, I’m saying if you see Fred Phelps either beat the shit out of him or kill him. Right, right, violence is never the answer. But it’s clearly the most morally justifiable action as it has a far greater benefit to society to not let the asshat live. Free speech and personal liberties be damned. It’s for the good of the group.

  8. The Phelps phenomenon raises some disturbing questions. The most serious one is about American journalism.
    There’s plenty of crazy people in this world, yet the question remains why does Phelps receive the coverage that he does? Westboro Baptist exists only to generate publicity, and the Phelps family is well-financed as a result of that freely given coverage.
    All in the cause of hate.
    That Phelps has managed to do so and for so long, when there is no “news” to what he is doing, just shows he’s capable of play a lot of allegedly smart people like a fiddle.

    1. What I find horrifying is that some people play this game so much better than Phelps. Like Limbaugh. All it takes is the slightest, occasional dose of sanity and you go from being a nauseating but essentially powerless entity like Westboro to exerting enormous influence on the national political agenda.

      1. Or just using the “I’m an entertainer” blanket excuse instead of the “I’m a preacher” one.

        Pat Robertson is like a lovechild of the two.

        The internet must certainly be part of why the resurgence of this is occurring. They used to be limited to revivals, gun shows, street-corners, newsletters, etc.

        Now in addition to them actually reaching the like-minded, professional trolls can false-flag internet forum acid attacks under the cover of their kind of mask.

  9. There must be something off in Kansas. Fred Phelps has run multiple times for congress and governor in the Democratic (!) primary (in the early and late ’90s), and, far from getting abysmal results, he’s actually gotten respectable percentages.

    1. Holy crap! From your link:

      Democratic primary for United States Senate, Kansas 1992
      Gloria O’Dell: 111,015 (69.20%)
      Fred Phelps: 49,416 (30.80%)

      Randall Terry runs as a democrat too… but for him it’s just gaming the system, since networks must air offensive ads they would otherwise reject.

    2. Well…
      1) Kansas IS in the bible belt
      2) Many free thinking Kansas natives will jet off to Liberal Town, USA in search of living in more like minded communities, which creates a micro Idiocracy syndrome.

      It’s no secret, as this article demonstrates, that it is very difficult to reach opinions outside of your lineage.

  10. I think we can all agree that Fred Phelps needs to be run down by an F-250. Nate.. please be the one to do it. At least you’ve got the personal anguish backstory that would hopefully keep you out of jail.

    I would normally say “..but seriously” here. The sad thing is I am being serious. Thanks to Nate for proving there is hope and that ignorance does not always beget ignorance.

  11. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in anti-WBC counters on a few occasions.  It used to be a lot more fun back in the day, when you were both literally trying to occupy the same stretch of sidewalk.  Now, you gather a half-mile down the road and wave at passing cars.  Probably more civil, to be sure, but I’m not sure WBC has earned a great deal of civility.

  12. I think Nate is writing a book on his experience, and has a long essay on a site somewhere… letmesee… I can’t find it. I think he had it at his official site at one point. That was a great read.

    IIRC, they only half believe the hate they spew. They do it so they can be censored and thus file lawsuits against cities etc. It’s how the thief makes his money.

    Having lived nearish Topeka all my life – I’ve got to “enjoy” their bullshit at many an event.

    And in the “truth is stranger than fiction” dept., a gay ex-DJ in KC has been palling around with them some. http://www.pitch.com/plog/archives/2010/09/15/scoops-goes-to-hell-an-ex-dj-gays-out-with-westboro-baptist-church

  13. I’m still tickled pink by the Jewish Center response. Best anti-troll ever. Refuse to get angry and let them boil over. If you don’t feed them, they starve.

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