Fred Phelps: Westboro Baptist Church leader had a 250-page FBI file, including records of hate mail sent to the group

The Christian extremist was well known to the authorities

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The Independent Online

Fred Phelps, founder of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, had an FBI file 250 pages thick, it has been revealed.

The newly released bureau file shows that Phelps, who started the group who often carry placards saying "God Hates Fags" and "God Hates America" outside funerals of gay people and soldiers, had a long history with the authorities.

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Fred Phelps preaching at his Westboro Baptist Church in March 2006

Phelps died in 2014 at the age of 84, and the extensive file classified him as a "radical extremist". Some of the complaints were directed to the Civil Rights Unit of the bureau.

The file refers to Phelps as a "zealot" and describes him as "almost militant". No prosecutions ever arose from the complaints against Phelps, although the bureau did interview him during "several investigations". The file also includes provocative leaflets published by the group.

The file, first published by blog The Hill, dates back to 1967. Some of the entries were included after Phelps himself or other Westboro Baptist Church members contacted the bureau after receiving death threats.

In 1996, for instance, the group wrote to the bureau complaining that a "Hispanic male made terroristic threats against our church members by telephone". It goes on to allege that members of the church had been beaten by "Hispanic males" and asks what the bureau is going to do about it. "It appears, even now, you are failing, refusing and  neglecting to investigate and prosecute," the letter adds.

Read the full file here.

The church is based in Topeka, Kansas, and Phelps ran in no fewer than five Democratic Party elections. He won 31 per cent of the vote in the 1992 Kansas democratic primary.

“It would appear that Mr. Phelps is intentionally provoking these types of responses,” the FBI wrote in 1993. “Large amounts of money and investigative time can potentially be wasted investigating these threat letters. Historically, very few, if any, of these types of cases have been prosecuted in the District of Kansas.”

 

Phelps trained as a lawyer and the FBI said that he was scrupulously aware of his legal rights.

“Phelps is a disbarred attorney himself and keenly aware of what his rights and limitations are from a legal standpoint,” the FBI wrote in one document. “He and his followers carry a video camera with them to film those who attempt to stop them from demonstrating."

More recently, the group reacted strongly to the Oscars and the death of Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels. They picketed the Oscars saying: "The media misuses their platform in the worst ways, and God hates them for that" and picketed gay producer Wittels' funeral.

Wittels died last week of a possible drugs overdose. He was 30 years old. Westboro Baptist Church members held up signs saying "Harris in Hell" outside his funeral.

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