He was dubbed the “Hater-In-Chief” for creating one of the most reviled religious institutions in the world.
This week the FBI dumped almost 250 pages of damning documents on the late former Westboro Baptist Church preacher Fred Phelps, who died unceremoniously last year. Lifted from the ream are redacted bulletins painting the pastor from Meridian, Mississippi, as an anti-gay bigot with psychotic issues who landed on the feds’ radar back in 1967.
Most bizarre is that the zealot who brazenly attacked cops and homosexuals with near-equal vigor was two-faced. He routinely demanded protection from the same authorities he publicly shamed.
One of the many letters Rev. Fred Waldron Phelps writes asking for aid was recorded on Sept. 3, 1993. On this occasion, Phelps faxed to local authorities a 16-page handwritten screed filled with “terroristic threats” that he’d received by some disgruntled TV viewer who watched Phelps “debate with fags” on the Jane Whitney Show.
The letter starts out “Dear Fred Phelps, You are a SOB Nazi SOB Nazi Bitch…If I had a gun I would blast you away.”
In the fax, Phelps writes “Since we regularly picket against the fag threat to our nation in Topeka, and will picket again soon… we thought you should know.”
A month later, a subsequent letter penned by an unnamed FBI agent casts blame on Phelps and his congregations’ combative antics for turning themselves into targets. (The Phelps-ites burned the Stars and Stripes and relied in their signage on their limited dictionary of buzzwords like “Sodomite,” “Bitch,” and “Whore.”) The agent wrote, “It would appear that Mr. Phelps is intentionally provoking these types of responses.”
The feds also suspected they were dealing with a mental case, according to a 1987 document that stated: “[Fred] Phelps was felt by office of origin to be in need of psychiatric care as a result of persons interviewed claimed Phelps to be irrational.”
However bogus the threat, the agent added, “The FBI does have the responsibility to investigate and prevent potential violence against any person regardless of their religious political views, however.”
In public, Rev. Phelps wasn’t thanking his police for keeping his flock safe, but instead wearing his crimson war paint. “I was often the target,” retired Police Chief Gerald Beavers told The Daily Beast in a phone call from his home. “He was protesting at headquarters all the time and he was yelling that I wasn’t doing my job and he was screaming at the other [police] officers.”
Offline, Phelps also tried to create his own insurgency by sending defaming notes to various public officials. “The fax machine was his weapon of choice,” Beavers said. “And he sent those faxes to everybody in city government.”
Yet the police chief said he still performed his job and protected the church’s salty leader and his faithful when they went out on the streets of Topeka to scare civilians into submission. “Whenever they were out on the street we had them under surveillance, we had a police officer in the area in case someone tried to attack them.”
Fred Phelps Jr., 61, and the oldest of the 13 Phelps kids, told The Daily Beast that his father had cause to be upset. In 1993, when Chief Beavers was running the department, his church members were savagely beaten by “ex-convicts” hired by a local Topeka restaurant called Vintage.
Vintage employed a lesbian staffer and this drew the Westboro Baptist Church to the sidewalk to protest.
Phelps said the Topeka Police knew about it and sat there watching his family and loved ones get pulverized. “They knew this was going to happen and it was all pre-planned,” Phelps said. “They sat there and watched it.”
On the group’s website, GodHatesFags.com, Phelps Sr. said that the Vintage Restaurant assault was a broader attempt to muzzle Westboro. He chalked it up to a “a conspiracy between members of the police, media, city government, and a crooked lawyer/judge/strip joint owner/bloody jew, america sought to silence WBC by beating her members bloody on the sidewalks outside the Vintage Restaurant in Topeka.”
Phelps then claimed that the incident only invigorated his crusade. “Every day since (not most every day, not every day except bad weather, not most days, but EVERY DAY), WBC has stood on those same sidewalks to remind you of your crimes and hatred, and that God will avenge our blood, which cries to him from that ground (Gen 4:10).”
And he was a force to be reckoned with. Multiple FBI bulletins describe Phelps as “keenly aware of what his rights and limitations are… He and his followers carry a video camera with them to film those who attempt to stop them from demonstrating.”
When Chief Beavers’s tenure in the police force came to an end in 1996, he remembers exhaling because he was done with Phelps. “I survived and I was like saying to myself it was one of those things that after I was out of it. [sigh]. Okay,” he said.
Three years later, a local Hispanic man reached out to the authorities demanding they do something to put an end to the Westboro Church and warned that if nothing happened he was going to get 30 gangsters known as “Los Hombres” to storm their compound “and take care of the problem” and that there would be “another Waco.”
Again Phelps went crawling to the cops for cover.
In one letter addressed to the new Topeka police chief and Mayor Harry L. “Butch” Felker on March 12, 1996, Phelps pleaded to act.
“You two gentleman, by not enforcing the law on our behalf and by refusing to give us police protection, are encouraging more violent crimes against us, including these latest murder threats against our church members and their children,” Phelps wrote.
The rancorous tone increased. “Nothing but a slavish and servile pandering to irrational, lynch mob hysteria of the mindless masses, whipped up to a foam and a froth by a rabidly pro-homosexual media, accounts for your cowardly conduct herein.”
And multiple times Phelps invoked the wrath of God should any of his church members be attacked. “You are herewith further advised if harm come to any of our people—our lives, limbs or property,” he wrote, “We intend to hold each of you personally and individually responsible, morally and legally.”
Like most every threat, nothing happened. In fact, Topeka’s Gang Task Force supervisor determined that Kansas doesn’t have a “‘Los Hombres” gang’ and “he knows of no homicides organized by any Hispanic gang.”
Yet Phelps continued to go to the authorities when he felt threatened—and not just the local cops. The FBI heard from him, as well.
That was the case when a woman emailed Rev. Phelps that she was going to use her AK-47 and “poisonous gas” on him after the two faced off at a gay person’s funeral in San Francisco. Eventually, his church members “were taken away by police in a van for his safety,” according to an FBI document.
Fred Phelps Jr. says the group continues to keep lines of communications with the police “wherever we go.”
“We have a practice that we faithfully adhere to which is we notify law enforcement before we go into any community,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s appreciated by virtually all law enforcement.”
And necessary, when you’re outnumbered every time by riled-up crowds. “People throw stuff at you and shoot BB guns at you and there’s violent people out there so we notify law enforcement,” he said. “We certainly have a broad range of experience with law enforcement and sometimes they do a wonderful job and sometimes they don’t.”
The group escaped with their lives during a rally in Delaware with their black “God Hates America” T-shirts and scurried into a police van before someone shattered a window.
And Phelps noted that Westboro has over a dozen lawyer-congregants who only request cops follow their sworn oath. “We’re not looking for trouble,” he claimed, “But we’re not going to walk into a situation where our eyes are shut.”
That said, from the FBI dossier, Topeka seems to have served as a primer for taking his Westboro Baptist Church picketing on the road to other places around the country to preach their poison.
“They got worse later on,” Beavers tells us.
The church members took their pitchforks to Laramie, Wyoming in 2001 where homosexual Matthew Shepard’s funeral was taking place. They went on to hundreds of cities, including in Sweden, and then doubled down on funeral crashing years later by going to various fallen soldiers’ funerals.
Phelps Jr. said after his dad died of old age on March 19, 2014, he was buried but there wasn’t a funeral. “As a church we don’t worship the dead.”