If Fred Phelps didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
He was the living embodiment of hatred: mean-spirited and vicious, he and his extended family (many of whom he brutally abused) came to fame picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard. They practically trademarked the phrase “God Hates Fags.” And when targeting gays wasn’t enough, they expanded their targets to include women, Jews, Barack Obama, and eventually, anyone associated with the United States itself—including dead soldiers, whose distraught relatives were mystified to find fire-breathing fundamentalists shouting at funerals.
The whole enterprise was, in many ways, a fraud. Phelps’ gang called themselves the “Westboro Baptist Church,” but they but they haven’t been a real church in years—they were a family business, with more lawyers on staff than ministers, and no congregants.
And yet in other ways, Phelps’s enterprise was dead serious. They took their Bible seriously, and when God said He hated something (or intimated it by making it punishable by death), Phelps hated it too. Their slickly-produced, 25-minute YouTube video explaining this is difficult viewing, but admirably rigorous theology.
No one, though, did more harm to his own causes than Fred Phelps.