Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, and the “Gods Hate Fags” fundamentalist movement, has died, according to his son, Timothy Phelps. He was 84.
The highly controversial anti-gay extremist had in recent years been excommunicated from the church that he founded.
Phelps gained notoriety though protesting at the funerals of gay people and American soldiers by holding signs saying "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for 9/11."
Just last week one of his sons Nathan Phelps, who left the church almost 40 years ago and as such lost contact with the core of his family, wrote a message on Facebook saying he had received the news that his father was on his death-bed and that he was “bitterly angry” that family-members were being blocked from saying goodbye.
He wrote: “I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the ‘God Hates Fags’ Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the ‘church’ back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.
“I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.
“I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.”
Fred Phelps came to prominence in the UK following a Louis Theroux documentary about his family entitled The Most Hated Family in America.
As a consequence of the protests at military funerals President George W. Bush signed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act into law in May 2006. In 2011, however, the US Supreme Court held that the church and its members couldn’t be sued for monetary damages for inflicting pain on grieving families.
Based in Topeka, Kansas, the church had also been criticised for broadcasting antisemitic and xenophobic views, and has picketed Ground Zero in the past.
Last year the church vowed to protest at a One Direction gig on the grounds that they were “crotch-grabbing little perverts”, and in 2009 Phelps, who was 84, and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper were banned from entering the UK to picket a school play.
Despite the prominent media profile of the Westboro Baptist Church over the past decade, more than 20 members have followed Nathan Phelps by leaving the church.