According to Nathan Phelps, one of his estranged and excommunicated sons, Fred Phelps is in hospice care somewhere in Topeka. He also says that Fred was "excommunicated" from the Phelps family church in August of last year. I have no idea what this could mean. It could be a factional fight over some small arcane point of doctrine; extreme fundamentalist sects are usually quick to split into factions and to anathematize each other over the smallest disagreements. I hope that Fred is having some kind of deathbed repentance, regrets over all the harm he caused to so many people. We may never know.
I've always said that Fred Phelps was the best friend LGBT liberation movements ever had. He infuriated people enough to come out of their closets. He enraged our hetero families and friends into fighting the 'phobes with us and for us. His repulsive antics made other hetero folk take a good hard look at themselves. Fred and his Westboro Baptist Church were a big dead skunk around the necks of our enemies; Fred smeared shit all over their finely crafted focus-group tested arguments and well financed publicity campaigns. Fred was always their problem, not ours.
Fred Phelps carried his obsessive hatreds all the way into sedition. A phone call from one of his kindred spirits in the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Iran, or Russia might have taken him all the way to high treason, except that he was too marginal and too crazy to be of any use to them.
I am going to repeal Godwin's law here and say that Fred could indeed have been as bad as Hitler. Imagine what he would have done with the power and resources of a modern industrialized state at his disposal. He would have happily murdered us all along with all of our friends and acquaintances. Imagine if Hitler had been admitted to art school in Vienna, he might have been an outrageously offensive crank just like Fred, but no more than that.
Penitent or not, Fred Phelps is dying. I don't think the Westboro group will last much longer beyond his death. I predict it will fall apart in defections and factional in-fighting made all the more bitter because they are family. He leaves behind a legacy of toxic waste, but no more than that.
Fred Phelps was ultimately a side show. Our really dangerous enemies are those with a lot more organizational skill and unlimited funds from right wing billionaires; the ones who can get legislation passed in Africa and Eastern Europe, and who can still influence legislation in the USA. Gays and lesbians now play the role once assigned to Jews a century ago, as living embodiments of modernity and liberalism feared and hated in some parts of the world. Homophobia is easily grafted onto the populist antisemitism that still pervades Eastern Europe and much of the Middle East.
I think nothing should be done to mark Fred's passing; no pickets, no demonstrations, nothing.
Feel free to vent in the comments thread.