More Than You Wanted To Know About Fred Phelps

by VorJack

Fred PhelpsOver at the blog Making Light, a short post on how to counteract a protest from the Phelps clan morphed into a clearing house of information about the patriarch himself, Fred Phelps.

You can start with the About Fred Phelps page of the website “God Hates Fred Phelps.” It includes the shocking fact that Phelps began his career as a civil rights lawyer:

Phelps earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, and founded the Phelps Chartered law firm in 1964. The first notable cases were of a civil rights nature. “I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town,” he says. Phelps’ daughter was quoted as saying, “We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down. They used to shoot our car windows out, screaming we were nigger lovers,” and that the Phelps law firm made up one-third of the state’s federal docket of civil-rights cases.

Things went south in 1977 when Phelps developed a vendetta against the court reporter Carolene Brady. He took her to court for failing to produce a transcript when he needed it. The resulting case shows Phelps as more of the man we’ve come to know:

Phelps called Brady to the stand, declared her a hostile witness, and then cross-examined her for nearly a week, during which he accused her of being a “slut,” tried to introduce testimony from former boyfriends whom Phelps wanted to subpoena, and accused her of a variety of perverse sexual acts, ultimately reducing her to tears on the stand.

This must have whet Phelp’s appetite, because from here on out we only see disciplinary actions against Phelps. He loses his license to practice law in Kansas in 1979, then is forced to quit practicing in Federal court in 1989. Later, some of Phelp’s children remarked on their father’s taste for outrage:

During 1993–94 interviews with the Topeka Capital-Journal, the four Phelps children (out of thirteen, Mark, Nate, Katherine and Dotty) who had left the church asserted that their father’s religious beliefs were either nonexistent to begin with or have dwindled down to nearly nothing. They insist that Westboro actually serves to enable a paraphilia of Phelps, wherein he is literally addicted to hatred.

These last words served as the title for a biography of Phelps: Addicted to Hate: The Fred Phelps Story. Phelps managed to block publication, but the text somehow slipped out and is now available on-line.

One of the most interesting bits is a piece entitled Fred Phelps is a Con-Man. The article alleges that:

Fred Phelps does not believe what he is doing. This is a scam. It’s a business. They travel the country, set up websites telling you exactly when they’ll be there, and using the most inflammatory statements all over the place, just to get someone to violate their rights for profit. Then they sue the military, the police force that was to protect them, and everyone that is around them for money. This is a sham, and it is a trap to get people sued. Every member of his family is an attorney. Phelps does not break the law. What he does is try to make you break the law by trying to punch your sensibilities about everything you hold dear, and then sue you and everyone municipality around him to the max.

Unfortunately, the claims are not sourced, and the piece itself is anonymous (not that I can complain). But another commentator chimes in with a link to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Phelps Timeline from 2001, which definitely shows a pattern, “Before the end of his legal career in 1989, Phelps will file some 400 suits, mostly in federal court. Estranged son Nathan Phelps will claim later that part of his father’s strategy is to file frivolous lawsuits in the hope that his targets will settle to avoid the costs of defense.”

The claim is strengthened by another commentator, under the handle “SuedByAWBCMoppet,” who explains that he/she was sued for “verbally abusing a minor” after getting into an altercation with the family on the sidewalk in front of his/her home. “And [I] have NO doubt and plenty of personal experience that they WILL sue you in civil court if they possibly can. I recommend not engaging them, at all…. I caution you not to engage them, not to confront them. That’s exactly what they want.”

On the whole, we get a more in-depth picture of the WBC crowd. More than just an extreme form of Fundamentalist, Phelps seems to be a lunatic, a cynical con-man, or some combination thereof.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town,” he says. Phelps’ daughter was quoted as saying, “We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down. They used to shoot our car windows out, screaming we were nigger lovers,” and that the Phelps law firm made up one-third of the state’s federal docket of civil-rights cases.

    These are two very unreliable sources. Is there any independent verification of this?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Phelps called Brady to the stand, declared her a hostile witness, and then cross-examined her for nearly a week, during which he accused her of being a “slut,” tried to introduce testimony from former boyfriends whom Phelps wanted to subpoena, and accused her of a variety of perverse sexual acts, ultimately reducing her to tears on the stand.

    Some judge allowed this to happen?

    • Elemenope

      Some judge allowed this to happen?

      Yeah, well…some judges are asses.

      • faithnomore

        As a law enforcement officer, I have to agree. Some judges, that I have met, are asses.

  • Mark D

    1. This is why America needs tort reform. America is full of organizations that exist just to file frivolous lawsuits, hoping the parties they sue will just settle out of court.

    2. Someone should make a movie about Fred Phelps. Who should play Fred.?

    • David

      Someone already is. Kevin Smith is making a movie called Red State which is a horror film based off the Phelps family.

    • Fentwin

      Who should play Fred?

      I would gladly scrape a festering roadkill o’possum off the highway so it could at least audition. (oh noes…will I bee zued nhow?)

    • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

      In answer to #1, at least nominally the courts are aware that they can allow themselves to be abused. Lawsuits can be, and have been, labeled “frivolous” or “abuse of process.” There is also, for example, the legal principle known as SLAPP (although Phelps’s cons do not appear to be SLAPPs, per se).

      At any rate, the courts do in fact recognize this possibility. Unfortunately, they don’t recognize it frequently enough to actually discourage it. That’s because every lawsuit that’s ever filed, means “work” for someone in the legal system … even if only the clerks that have to record it and a judge to accept the case or not. The last thing they’re about it do is actually reduce business and jeopardize their jobs.

    • http://www.nonsensitivity.blogspot.com Lessica

      In response to 2), there’s a documentary called ‘The Most Hated Family in America’, which is about – you guessed it – the Phelpses.

      • http://www.atheist-pig.com The Atheist Pig

        I just finished watching Fall From Grace, a documentary about the Phelps church and family. I highly recommend it. It’s so sad, though, to see the children being indoctrinated and being taught to hate at such a young age.

  • GeekGirl

    Oh joy! He’s coming to my state (MO). Can’t wait……*gack*

    http://www.godhatesfags.com/schedule.html

    • arrakis

      At least he’s not coming far enough east to be near me in St. Louis. Coming to Columbia, he might be able to pick up a few followers. Other than Kansas City and StL, Missouri is basically fundie heaven.

      • GeekGirl

        Actually, he is going to be in Creve Coeur on Novemeber 1st. Anti-protest anyone?

        • arrakis

          I guess that’s what I get for skimming the list. Wow…protesting the Jewish Book Fair and Helen Hunt. I buy books there almost every year…I guess I’m going to hell for that. Never mind the rest of my blaspheming ways.

          I wonder how well my fellow St. Louisans are going to handle this. The crowd at the book fair is usually rather diverse.

          A counter-protest might be in order…I’m 20 minutes away from there. And it’s not like I’m busy most Sundays. Someone ought to go down to the U-City Loop and round up some folks who could make Fred and the WBC really uncomfortable.

          Or we could just make posters that say MATTHEW 6:5-15 on them and do a little acting. I know I could fake it.

          • GeekGirl

            I have a call into the county to find out about permits, regulations etc. I will be posting on Facebook with an open event once I know more :) I live in South City btw.

  • http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

    Y’see, this is why I love Canadian hate speech laws. The first time Phelch and Phriends headed northwards, the border guards sent him packing because they determined that the placards in his car violated said laws.

    Our current government, on past experience, probably has a standing invitation out to him, alas.

    • bondgrrl

      Not so, I am happy to report. He had planned to come up to Alberta to protest a theatrical production of “The Laramie Project”, which tells the story of the murder of Matthew Shepard. He later stated that they had “scheduling conflicts” but the rumour around here was that they couldn’t get into the country. I believe that’s the case, but don’t know for sure. In any event, they didn’t show, but the cops and counter-protesters turned out in droves. I was of two minds about it and in the end decided not to attend (though we did see the show later in the week), as I really do believe that giving these whackjobs any attention at all validates them in some way. A lot of us stayed away, not because we didn’t care, but because we think they’re a waste of skin and deserve none of our attention.

      • http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

        Interesting … I note that in fact Stockwell Day (our Public Safety Minister at the time and homo-hater himself) actually issued an order to keep them away from Tim McLean’s funeral.

        No apparent reason for why they never showed up to The Laramie Project in Vancouver, however this is interesting:
        http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2007/11/01/church-ruling.html

        Anyone out there knew they got fined $11 MILLION for cheering at a Marine’s funeral? I hope that puts them into bankruptcy.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

    VorJack,

    Thanks for this. If all of this is true … wow, just wow.

  • Ty

    I know just cement Phranky’s opinion that I am a violent psychopath, but. . .

    Man, would it be fun to stomp a mudhole in Fred Phelps. I actually get a tingly sensation in my arms just thinking about it.

    If I were offered five no holds barred minutes in the ring with anyone of my choosing, I honestly can’t think of someone I’d rather pick. He’s like everything I hate condensed into solid form.

    • Offred

      I would help if I was’t such a chicken but I could try and cheerlead=)

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    I will never forget the time I saw some footage of Sean Hannity interviewing one of Phelp’s daughters. They were talking about the Phelpses protesting at military funerals. It was, of course, yet another of those times when the veins stood out on the neck of an indignant and outraged Hannity. He could, as usual when dealing with someone he disagreed with, hardly control himself.

    But at that moment, I thought, “Why is he so angry? If it weren’t for the fact that the Phelpses were picking on military survivors’ families, he’d have been on their side!” Ferocious and undaunted proponents of hyperreligiosity … which is what Phelps and his family are, or at least they certainly appear that way … are usually the sort of folks Hannity praises and slobbers all over (metaphorically, of course). But here he is, venting sanctimoniously at them, on television.

    That’s when I realized there was a fundamental disconnect between the Phelps clan and the rest of the Religiosity movement in the US. They are not all on the same page. They can’t be. And it’s not just because Phelps is so outrageous in what he does. It can only be because Phelps and his clan are not actually part of their movement, and the rest of them … Hannity included … all know it.

    From then on I consistently doubted the sincerity of Phelps and the rest of his clan. I couldn’t really put my finger on exactly what they were up to … I was simply sure they were not an integral part of the Religious Right machine.

    Thus, I find it highly credible that Phelps is not, after all, motivated by religion, but by an effort to instigate lawsuits and wrangle money out of people. That makes him essentially the legal-world equivalent of a con-artist. Not that this makes him any better than a hyperreligious wing-nut with gay-paranoid fanatasies … but it is a very different motivation.

  • http://www.nonsensitivity.blogspot.com Lessica

    Just in case y’all need another reason to hate Fred Phelps, here’s a link to a speech made by Nate Phelps, one of his sons, at an American Atheists Convention: http://www.atheistnexus.org/page/nate-phelps-2009-aa-speech
    Just reading about the abuse that Fred’s family has been forced to endure sickened me to the point of tears. I don’t know what to think about this guy’s motives. Does he believe what he preaches? Is he just in it for the money? Does he, in some bizarre, twisted way, manage to do both? Either way, I think it’s clear that he has some serious mental health issues; I can’t imagine why he hasn’t been arrested and/or institutionalized yet.

  • http://tinyfrog.wordpress.com tinyfrog

    I make a point of never linking to Nielsen Hayden’s blog. Theresa Nielsen Hayden and BoingBoing (where she moderates) have a history of censoring anyone who disagrees with their point of view. Censorship of this type – suppressing other points of view simply because they aren’t cheerleaders for the “inspired” views of the blog author – should not be tolerated on the internet.


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