If you’ve ever been close to a speed freak or meth addict, you may have witnessed some terrifying paranoia, fury and hatred that came right out of nowhere. Too much at once makes a user jump at his own shadow, and think every noise is the CIA breaking down the door. Too much in general permanently damages the centers of the brain that process aggression and other important emotions. The addict may forever feel followed or persecuted- a drug-induced paranoid schizophrenia. Sometimes he feels invincible at the same time, perceiving constant threats, yet feeling infinitely superior and godlike. The megalomaniac.
Sound familiar? Most people don’t know that Adolf Hitler was a methamphetamine addict, with numerous daily injections fuelling his rage, paranoia, hatred, and insomnia. Speed and superspeed do not always lead to such cataclysmic events in the macrocosm, of course, but families affected by them may recognize some of the above terrors in their microcosm. Too many are torn apart by the deleterious effects of speed, which can turn the gentlest of persons into unpredictable, tormented souls who believe they see demons everywhere they turn.
Most of you have heard of the Reverend Fred Phelps, the world’s most notorious hater- you know, the backwater Kansas hick of God Hates Fags fame. Not many people know that he was a speed addict. If too much speed or a very little bit of meth can turn a good man bad or dead in no time flat, what might it do to a man who is already unstable, angry, volatile, and paranoid?
This twisted old fuck who pickets funerals with his bitter blend of bible bile truly believes he is one of the only people ever born who will make it into heaven.
You all know the peripheral gist of the Fred Phelps story- some hick Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas filled with crackpots who really, really hate fags. The leader of this bastion of inbred lemmings is a crazy kook pastor named Fred, some idiot whose I.Q. borders on retardation.
You don’t pay him much mind, except for the occasional purpose of entertainment at how anyone can be such a pathetic loser. The spectacle entered your consciousness when gay teen Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence like a scarecrow and left to die, a decade or more past. The Phelps’s created a stink by picketing the funeral with their hostile signage and making the now famous website that marked count for each day poor Mattie was burning down under.
What you may not know is that the Westboro Baptist Church is an untaxed nonprofit protected by the First Amendment. You may not know that the bizarre believers also hate blacks, Jews, Muslims, Americans, soldiers, and even Sweden. They hate everybody.
You might not know that Fred is far from feeble-minded- he is a law graduate with a high IQ, and terrific fitness into his old age, ever since he gave up the drugs. Talk is cheap so few of us take this yokel seriously, but this monstrous man has established his reign the old fashioned way- by beating his subjects into submission. In his mind, it is his God-given right to batter his wife and thirteen children, who make up the population of the church- along with their children. Few of Fred’s offspring have gotten away. It has been ingrained from birth that if they leave, the pit of hell will open up and swallow them whole, for an eternity of burning torment.
“If you’re preaching the truth of God, people are going to hate you,” Fred said in Jon Michael Bell’s Addicted to Hate, several years before the death of Matthew Sheppard would make him a household name. Still, he and his kids had already been on talk shows, magazine covers, and radio spreading their feel-good brand of God. And that is this: nearly everyone is going to hell, everyone, that is, except Fred himself and hopefully the most loyal in his family.
The difference between Fred and most other evangelists is not the hate- many others hate. It’s that Fred doesn’t really care if you come to repentance. God either chose you to be saved or he didn’t. Nothing you can do about it now. It’s peculiar to preach without the ol’ soul solicit, the high emotion of devotion, the feeling of healing. But it’s nothing new in Christianity. The idea of predestination is as old as John Calvin, the father of Protestantism.
Later Wesley announced that it is by grace you are saved. Before Calvin, it was baptism, adherence to the Catholic church’s commandments, and confession. Calvin taught that God picked out in advance whom he wanted, and the rest he just made so he could torture them later through all of eternity. Rest assured that Calvin was on that heaven-bound list, funny that.
Predestination is still a cherished doctrine among many modern churches- if you’re not chosen, when the roll is called up yonder, your name won’t be on it.
But not even the New Calvinists have taken it to Phelps’s extreme, which sees anyone outside of his bloodline as the depraved “Adamic race.” Fewer still feel any need whatsoever to spend every spare moment of their life either beating their children or holding up signs that say Thank God for AIDS or Thank God For Dead Soldiers. Phelps and his cult of followers, mostly his family, vindictively picket sacred events like funerals, disrupting solemnity with their putrid spew. At the 9/11 for example, inexplicably they gathered to mock the victims, taunting them as they were pulled from the rubble, and shouting that those still living should be left to die. After all, this terrorist act was God’s punishment for homosexuals in America.
The cult distributed flyers after the Space Shuttle crash, explaining how the disaster was caused by the astronauts, because they had not taken it upon themselves to speak out against queers.
“Brethren, they can lock us up, but we’ll still do what the Bible tells us to do. Either our wives are going to obey, or we’re going to beat them!”
“Military funerals are pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool.”
“Mexicans worship a bloody fag rectum.”
“Catholic churches, seminaries and monasteries are nothing but sodomite whorehouses filled with unnatural brute beasts and devils. We warned that the very leprechauns of Ireland are likely to be fags!”
“The Catholic Church became the CHURCH OF THE HOLY PEDOPHILES and sodomite feces and semen replaced bread and wine.”
“Pray for more dead bodies floating on the fag-semen-rancid waters of New Orleans.”
“Shut up you Christ hating Jew, I wish Hitler had finished the job. You and your children had better watch your back when you get out of temple. This is not a threat but a promise.”
“Topeka is a city of whores.”
What in the world?
Where is all this hate coming from?
As reported by Joe Taschler and Steve Fry in The Transformation of Fred Phelps, it all began in 1929, in the deepest south, the Mississippi. That Phelps family was widely respected: his dad worked in security for the railroad. Fred was only five when his mom died of cancer, and her pallbearers were the town police and judges. His neighbours and classmates recall a respected and smart kid who spent all his time studying. He was involved in all kinds of youth leadership in church, school, sports, and Junior State Guard. He won umpteen awards. He was an Eagle Scout and he played the cornet and base horn.
Intriguingly, everyone the reporters talked to said Fred had a normal southern upbringing. His father did not beat him. He was loved and cared for, and though any child would face difficulty losing a mother, millions have, without turning into monsters. Relatives and neighbours and classmates all said that whatever it was, it came from Fred himself.
In college, Fred “had a profound religious experience,” he says in his site bio. That experience was the delusion that he was plucked by God to be a rare survivor of the lake of fire. He veered direction from college into a fundie Bible seminary. The first time he made it into the news for hate was there- in 1951, Time reported that he preached zealously against the sinners who studied with him. The next year he married poor Margie, and today has thirteen children and more than fifty grandkids. The whole damn tribe lives in a compound, right inside the Westboro Baptist Church.
Nate Phelps, one of the few escapees, said his dad’s drug abuse began when he decided to go to law school. (Nate’s first memory, he says, is watching Dad shoot the neighbour’s dog, in front of the child who loved it, for pooping in the yard.) The preacher already had work, a wife, and a bunch of kids, and yet he was insistent on reaching the top of his class. Soon he was taking speed, drinking himself into a stupor, and downing barbiturates so that he could get off the speed. Fred did graduate in the top tier of his class, but almost immediately, ethics skirmishes and suspensions began, and Fred believed “they” were trying to destroy his church. The battle against the enemies had begun full swing. His temper heated up and he became increasingly violent.
Margie tried to flee with the ten kids they had so far in the mid ‘60s. There wasn’t anywhere for eleven people without resources to go to, and so they returned home. Brutality increased exponentially as Fred began teaching his wife her proper place in submission. In 1968, Fred attempted to shoot himself, and failed, unfortunately. Later, he drugged himself into a coma, but upon his release from the hospital, Fred had another epiphany. He swore off drugs and alcohol and resumed his youthful interest in athletics. Later he ran triathlons, even in old age. But he did not swear off his violence. He was just getting started.
Margie couldn’t make it on her own financially, but with the cost of so many kids, legal school, and his recent expenditures on drugs and alcohol, Fred could barely feed them and sometimes didn’t. But he did send the kids out to sell candy, with kids as young as seven marching into seedy bars and strip clubs. The shifts often began at five in the morning, driving into nearby cities, and ended late at night. Many candy companies said they were scammed by the reverend who never paid for the orders. The man of God was also a con man.
Throughout his legal profession, he was constantly running into reprimands, until he was disbarred in 1977 for perjury. He lied to the courts about gathering witnesses on his behalf, when none of the names he listed had even been contacted. The whole brouhaha that initially landed him in hot water started when a court reporter dared to emasculate him by failing to complete a transcript at his whim. He called her a slut on the stand, cross-examined her for days, attempted to subpoena ex-boyfriends to testify to her wantonness, and accused her of any number of depraved sex acts. Incredibly, after this spectacle, he continued practicing law in federal courts! By 1989, he was permanently disbarred for further rabblerousing, for making false accusations against judges.
But it wasn’t all talk and no action- though his tongue was like a viper, his sword was sharp, too. He regularly beat his sons with a mattock (sort of like a pick axe.) Once, Nate and Mark showed up at school covered in welts and blisters and in shock. They refused to talk about it. Fred was investigated by social services, but nothing came of it. As adults, both boys said they had been threatened with death if they talked.
Fred also threatened the school staff, social services, and the individual police officers dealing with the case. He filed a lawsuit charging the school staff with beating his children! Some attendees of Westboro Baptist have reported Fred hitting babies who cry during his sermons. Though most of his kids, those who remain within the church, loyally claim they were only spanked, they freely admit to beating their own children or wives. One son Jonathan spoke about it in the Topeka paper. They have publicly taunted the police, challenging them to do anything about it, stating their God-given right to discipline their subjects.
Though Fred denies child abuse beyond his rightful role in discipline, his escapee son Nate was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and both he and Mark have medically diagnosed injuries such as damage to muscle and tissue in their thighs and butt, scarring, bone chips, and Nate has severe muscle damage to his knees. Wife Margie has bone chips and muscle damage that the sons say happened when she was thrown down the stairs. She suffered (suffers?) continual abuse, emotional and physical.
Nate recalled recently in a speech at an atheism convention that Fred cut off all of Margie’s hair. He taunted her soul in eternal damnation, for a bible verse that said women should have long hair. He told her the verse actually meant hair that had never been cut, so growing it back was to no avail. Nate also recounted how Fred would rip Margie’s arm out of its socket, refusing to allow her to seek medical treatment. When he was angry, he would re-injure that same bad arm.
The kids had to run marathons of fifteen to twenty miles even when they were very young. Sometimes they were barely fed a few scraps of cabbage. The children were whipped to no end. Fred would shout bible verses in justification for the beatings.
Few have made it out from the cult, and none have left unscathed. Nate became a methamphetamine addict, before becoming a devout Christian- not his father’s kind- before becoming an atheist. Another sister, Kathy, left before she turned eighteen, and Fred hunted her down, forced her home, beat her and broke her.
Mark recalled for Jon Bell in Addicted to Hate that Dad would push the kids, kick them regularly, yelling and swearing all the time. “He threw and broke anything he could get his hands on,” Mark said. He would destroy all the dishes and throw everything in the fridge against the wall in rage. His tirades of screaming and violent psychosis could last for hours on end, literal marathons of rage that should land anyone in the mental ward as dangerous.
“Goddam you, you worthless piece of shit of Goddam fucking shit… God Damn You! How dare you, you asshole bastard prick turd. You turd. You lying, mother fucking stinking piece of fucking shit. Fuck you, you lying sack of shit, you. Get the fuck out of my face. Go to hell. I hate you, you bastard. I hate you, you asshole. You Goddam prick asshole bastard, dick, piece of fucking rank stinking fucking garbage that’s as full of shit as anyone could ever be…Didn’t I tell you to not make a fucking sound? You think you’re so Goddam smart thinking for yourself, when I told you what the fuck I wanted. Keep those Goddam kids quiet or I’m going to beat the hell out of all of you, you bitch. You bastard. You bitch. Fuck you. Fuck you, God damn it…You no account little bastard. In the old testament they used to take kids like you out and stone them to death. That’s what you deserve. You ought to be taken out and stoned. At least parents in that time had some Goddam solution to a problem like you. That’s what would cure you. You’ve been nothing but Goddam grief to your mother and I since the fucking day you were born. I wish you were dead. I hate you. Jesus Christ, I hate you. I can’t stand you. I can’t stand the sight of you. You’re sniffing after some whore, for Christ’s sake. You got your dick wet and now you’ve just gone crazy sniffing after that fucking whore. You hot blooded little bastard. Keep your Goddam pants on and keep your fucking dick inside. Horse piss, bullshit, balderdash, crap, lying bastard, son of belial, reprobate. ballamite… Fuck you. Go to hell. You’re going to hell…I can see it with every hit of this Goddam mattock…”
The abuse grew even worse from here, during the amphetamine addiction. Speed can add extra fuel to rage that is already present, giving fury marathon superpowers where it might sooner run out on exhaustion. The neighbours were afraid to intervene. He intimidated them to silence.
The pharmacist later denied supplying Phelps with anything except some skin cream, and then conceded he had been filling prescriptions for “Margie.” But not speed. Downers, allergy stuff. This was the same doctor who delivered all of the Phelps kids, according to Mark. He was later arrested for trading illegal prescriptions to patients for sexual favours.
Prescriptions for speed.
Was Fred whoring his wife for amphetamines- or himself? We’ll never know. Fred won’t ever tell, and the doctor can’t. He later shot himself to death in a parking lot.
And then there is another story- the mysterious life and death of seventeen year old Debbie Valgos. Fred Sr. was enraged when Fred Jr. dated a girl named Debbie whom he had met on a candy drive. Fred preferred to arrange marriages for his kids, but Fred Jr. was smitten with the outsider. He brought Debbie to church, where Fred made bizarre accusations about the kind of sex acts she apparently enjoyed. The couple took off after attempting to have their relationship with his family’s blessing. But Fred Sr. spewed perversion talk nonstop. He also assaulted Debbie physically at a roller rink, causing her to have an epileptic seizure.
Fred Jr. reportedly eloped with Debbie, but whether they actually married or just ran away together is uncertain. Either way, Phelps tracked the pair down at gunpoint and kidnapped Fred Jr. back into the church against his will, threatening death to him and his new wife. Fred ran away again at the first opportunity.
Debbie was so traumatized by what she had lived through in those few months with the Phelps, and by losing Fred, that she began attempting suicide- a total of four times, twice by jumping out a window. She hung around a military base doing heroin and speed with soldiers, until she successfully overdosed on bad drugs.
Fred Jr. was never the same. He loved the girl, and they’d never had a chance. “I remember getting home from school the day it appeared in the papers,” says Mark in Addicted to Hate, “and my dad came dancing down the stairs, swaying from the knees and clapping his hands, singing: ‘The whore is dead! The whore is dead!’ He paraded around the house, singing and laughing with that maniacal giggle he has, ‘the whore is dead!’”
Years later, Debbie’s mother told the press she was certain Phelps played an active role in the death of her daughter. Then she mysteriously disappeared.
How is a delusional and violent psycho who thinks he is God, beats his children and wife, brainwashes them, and spews obscenities in the name of the lord, who disturbs funerals for soldiers and other church services, allowed to go free?
We let him get away with talking like a monster, yet condemn our teenagers for saying “shit.” Clearly, he runs an incestuous cult where members are subjected to mind control due to physical abuse, battery, emotional abuse, brainwashing, the Fred Phelps Religion programming, starvation, exhaustion, and other forms of submission. A psychopath disrupts our most solemn occasions, interferes with human rights, and spreads hate and violence through his minions, and we allow it? Who is going to step in and force these worker ants away from him, deprogram them until the whole story comes out, and free the children? Who is going to put this bastard in jail?
Fred has been arrested over and over again for assault, battery, threats, trespassing, contempt, disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer. But he has avoided prison every single time, often countersuing or winning through a technicality. For example, once he avoided charges because his right to a speedy trial was infringed upon, taking place more slowly than he defined “speedy.” And in 1996, the Topeka police chief had to resign after it was found that he held a “no arrest” policy for the Westboro church family. Phelps could even drive a seasoned cop into intimidation.
Note that most of Fred’s children are also trained as lawyers. One almost wonders if Fred studied law simply to verse himself in legal loopholes and procedure in order to “license” himself to carry out God’s savagery. I pray that he’ll spend his twilight years in prison, facing his puny worth. Let him in old age finally be punished with isolation, helplessness, and the violent sodomy he has so obsessively accused everyone else of. (Those will be the only hours in which I could ever utter, “praise God for AIDS.”)
What do you get when you mix a delusional man with a messiah complex with religion with power with amphetamine abuse with skillful understanding of laws and loopholes with a violent madman? A Molotov cocktail named Fred Phelps.
When will we stop finding this man’s tyranny entertaining? When will the law do their job and intervene? Is it because we don’t care much about “fags” either and think its funny? Or have we also fallen under the spell of an intelligent and dangerous man who plays the jester to elude our deepest suspicions? After all, he’s not killing anybody. After all, his absurd name-calling makes his family into a laughing stock, and we turn up the news when they are on it, shaking our head at the antics of this Kansas kook.
And then we turn away.
Lorette C. Luzajic