It was humorous to read Nate’s thoughts as the first person to ask a question approached the microphone:
…as I notice Dr. Dawkins striding purposefully to the Q&A microphone. O!! M!! G!!
Watching Nate deliver the speech and sitting a few rows behind Dawkins, I had the same reaction. The overused “deer in the headlights” metaphor describes the look on Nate’s face perfectly. Dawkins was observably empathetic yet outraged. He asked the questions on many people’s mind. Why was Fred Phelps not in prison for abusing his family? And, why had Nate waited until his 18th birthday to runaway?
Nate’s apprehensive answers were obviously unsatisfactory to Dawkins, and his justifiable indignation continued long after the conference session. Angela (Nate’s fiancée and bulldog) spoke with Dawkins and tried to explain Nate’s position.
I heard Nate Phelps give this talk and was deeply moved by sympathy for Nate and a passionate desire to see Fred Phelps put behind bars for the rest of his nasty life. I asked various people why he has not been arrested for violent abuse of his family. The answers I got were rather unsatisfactory: a combination of “If you are sufficiently adept at manipulating the letter of the law, you can get out of anything” and “Anybody who calls himself ‘Reverend’ can get out of anything.” I am reluctant to believe either of these explanations.
By email Nate told me he had repeatedly been asked various forms of this question. Yesterday, Nate responded on his personal blog. It is well worth the read and reveals even more of his tumultuous childhood and opprobrious father.
Often in difficult times, I gain solace and perspective from the idea that there is always someone worse off then me. Actually meeting and becoming friends with this “someone” makes me feel guilty for this vicarious comfort. I can only hope Nate is able to find peace from sharing his experiences with us all. I will be forever changed, and a better human, for knowing and experiencing this great man.