The Most Hateful Man In America Started As A Good Guy

“Hatred is a vice of narrow souls; they feed it with all their meanness, and make it a pretext for sordid tyranny.” —Honore de Balzac, The Muse of the Department

In A Nutshell

One of the worst bigots in modern history, Fred Phelps was well known for his homophobia and overall hatred of humanity in general. However, there was a time when this repugnant pastor was actually a force for good. Believe it or not, during the ’60s and ’70s, Fred Phelps was a civil rights attorney.

The Whole Bushel

The late Fred Phelps was not a pleasant man. It’s no secret the Westboro Baptist pastor hated gays, despised Jews, and regularly thanked God for dead soldiers. Whenever there was a military funeral or a national tragedy, Phelps and his crazy cult were always on hand with sickening signs and disgusting sound bites. However, for all his vitriol, Phelps has a very surprising past. Despite his loathing for just about everyone and everything, there was a time when Fred Phelps, leader of “America’s most hated family,” was a civil rights attorney.

Before starting his infamous church, Fred Phelps worked as a lawyer in Topeka, Kansas. After he graduated from Washburn University in 1964, he opened the Phelps Chartered Law Firm and made a very risky move for a young lawyer. He started defending the rights of persecuted African Americans. In fact, Phelps often helped clients that no other attorneys, white or black, would even think about representing. Anti-discrimination cases weren’t exactly profitable in the 1960s, and there was a real chance that Phelps wouldn’t make any money for all his work. Nevertheless, he became a champion of civil rights, and when black Kansans felt discriminated against, they went to see Phelps.

On several occasions, Fred took on the Topeka School District, claiming it discriminated against non-white students. And when police officers raided a predominantly black American Legion, threatening everyone inside and strip-searching the women, Phelps agreed to defend the victims in court. Once he even showed up on a local TV station to lecture citizens on the evils of racism.

For his work, Phelps received a mixture of admiration and death threats. Some people insulted his family over the phone and even shot up the windows of his house. On the other hand, Phelps won multiple awards for his civil rights work, including one in 1987 from the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP. However, his law career came to a crashing halt long before he started winning awards. In 1979, he perjured himself in a non–civil rights case and was disbarred from practicing law in Kansas.

So what exactly happened to Fred Phelps? When he did go from a champion of freedom to a hatemongering homophobe? Well, there are some who argue that Phelps was never as tolerant of African Americans as he pretended to be. Nate Phelps, his son who famously renounced the Westboro cult, claims his dad was secretly a racist and used derogatory terms for black people when they weren’t around. And troubling faxes from the Kansas church contained phrases like “black trash,” “black thug,” and “black bullies beat white kids and women.” On the other hand, Westboro’s website denounces groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nation. Phelps himself even once declared, “God Almighty, you understand, never said it’s an abomination to be black.” So while his message of hate was undoubtedly evil, perhaps there was a time when the controversial pastor really did care about racial equality. Perhaps.

Show Me The Proof

Featured image credit: JC Wilmore
PolicyMic: The Creator Of Westboro Baptist Used to Be a Die-Hard Civil Rights Fighter—What Happened?
CNN: ‘Most-hated,’ anti-gay preacher once fought for civil rights
The Topeka Capital-Journal: As a lawyer, Phelps was good in court
Brainwashed by the Westboro Baptist Church (video)

  • Asian007

    Thought this was gonna be an article about Mel Gibson. Racist ass Melly Gibson is my shit.

  • Doone00

    You didn’t address why he became a homophobic pig, so I will: There was allegedly a lot of gay sex going on in a park nearby the church and after one of his grandsons was propositioned at the park, Fred Phelps flew off the handle.

  • Nathaniel A.

    The phrase “If you can’t beat them join them” seems to apply here.

  • TheMadHatter

    If one person makes a comment about hateful Christians… One guy and everyone gets labeled. Sigh.

    • Mindy McIndy

      I’m gay, as is my aunt. Most of my family, all of whom are Catholic, are totally accepting of us and our wives. I know there are plenty of very kind, loving, accepting Christians out there. It’s just that the Fred Phelpses and Pat Robertsons of the world tend to scream louder than the loving and inclusive ones.

      • TheMadHatter

        I’ve always been taught not to hate anyone period. What is hate gonna do?! I’m baptist btw. Now I’m not saying I’d go to a pride parade or whatever it’s called or start standing up for gay marriage, which I disagree with, but I don’t hate anyone for it. That’s the point

  • Clyde Barrow

    “Live life so fully that the Westboro Baptist Church will picket your funeral.”

    Enough said.

  • oouchan

    Hateful man and now he’s gone. Can’t say I’ll shed a tear for his worthless ass. He and his ilk brought pain to so many people. However…one good thing it did. That was to unite so many people against him and his teachings. Apart from Stonewall, the WBC did more for the gay rights movement than anything else….and for that, I thank Fred.

    Cool.

    • lbatfish

      Wouldn’t be cool if there were actually a MULTIPLICITY of heavens, with each new entry being assigned to a heaven most fitting for how they conducted their lives while here on earth?

      Fred’s section will be occuppied solely by burly one-toothed fellow inmates named Bubba, who perpetually chant “Sooooey!” while Fred scampers from correr to corner of his Celestial paddock, frantically trying in vain to remove the pig mask which has been affixed to his face for all of eternity.

      There are also a number of very nice other heavens, of course, but only for those who have made much better life-choices than Fred.

      • Asian007

        Really thought that one through huh? It would be better if he was an actual pig, than the corner scurrying would be funnier, hims little legs running round.

  • lbatfish

    After his death, I’d read elsewhere about Fred Phelp’s less-ugly past. However, this was first time that I’d read that perhaps his “civil rights” rep was more for appearance than because of any deeply-felt need to “do good”.

    If true, that would put him into a category that the Rev. Jim Jones (of “People’s Temple / Guyana” fame) also occupied — a person who exploited a good cause for the purpose of achieving power and personal recognition.

    • Clyde Barrow

      I’m no psychologist, but I believe that falls under “Malignant narcissism”.

      • lbatfish

        I’m not one, either, but would agree that it certainy smells about right..

  • GerbilActs17

    Anakin Skywalker, anyone?