There’s a profile of Nate Phelps in the Telegraph, much of which is probably familiar to many of you. But there are a few things in there I didn’t know. I knew that his father Fred had done some civil rights work in the 50s and 60s, and I assumed he’d just become a terrible person since then. Turns out he was a terrible person all along:
Twelve years later he graduated with a law degree from a university in Kansas and fought various civil rights suits in the Sixties. According to local reports, he gained a reputation as a sharp, competent attorney “whose eloquent and fiery orations mesmerised juries”. Two decades later, he received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and a local branch of the human rights group the NAACP.
But Nate Phelps says the perception in some circles that his father was once this champion of civil rights, railing against discrimination, is laughable. “We would all call black people ‘DNs’ at home. It stood for Dumb N—— and was our private language,” he says. “We thought it was clever to call them that in front of them. He was deeply prejudiced, and he believed the Bible said they were cursed.”
Nate says Fred Phelps saw an opportunity with the passing of the Civil Rights Act to cash in. “There was a lot of money, and a lot of opportunity,” he says. “And suddenly my father was the man to go to.”
Most of the members of the family are lawyers, which is how they survive financially. The whole thing should be read, but it’s got some pretty horrifying descriptions of the abuse Nate suffered. Which leads to this question:
Does Nate still harbour any affection at all for his father or the family he left behind? “That’s a tough one,” he says. “It’s hard to have any affection for a guy who screams at you with all that vitriol and hatred. I still have a deep animosity toward my father and I don’t know if it ever will – or should – go away.”
I don’t think it should.