Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Fred Phelps to Protest Amish Girls' Funeral.
what can I say?
what can anyone say?
BUT so far as I understand it, that would run directly counter to the preferences of the Amish community.
But it's so galling, and I'm not one who believes it's better to ignore Phelps.
the unauthorized biography. If even a tenth of it is true, it explains, well, a lot.
Warning: extremely graphic and upsetting descriptions of heavy physical and emotional abuse; likely to be triggering.
As for how to deal with him: the best i think have been things like "angels" blocking the funeral-goers' view of the Phelps clan, or fundraisers going toward AIDS research or some other worthy cause, like people pledging x amount of money per every minute the Phelpses stand out there. and let them know that's what's being done, of course.
the other wonderful thing was that (male) newscaster who basically came onto one of the younger (male) Phelpses; pretty fucking hilarious video, i can't seem to find the link, alas. if i do.
So, when Jonathon left, my father had lost three sons," says Marks. "At that point," he adds, referring to his and Luava's long conversations with Paulette at the time, "my dad decided it might be better to relax his rules and keep his family than end with an empty church." Jonathon and Paulette were allowed to return to the congregation with their illegitimate child in 1988.
Unable since then to either beat and browbeat his family, the Pastor Phelps seems to have focused instead on his therapeutically malicious law practice. This is the period, 1983-1989, when he is reprimanded for this unchecked spate of extortional demand letters, when he eventually federally disbarred for his wild and vitriolic attacks on three judges, and when he sues Ronald Reagan over appointing an ambassador to the Vatican.
Fred's swan song in the federal courts in February, 1989 left him unable to express his most persistent of urges: to hurt and humiliate other human beings. Already prevented from punching up his grandchildren, and now banned from the barrister's ring, the old pugilist took stock and realized he still had his fists and his faithful urge to abuse.
Buffalo Fred took his wild ego show out of his house, out of the courtroom, and into the streets. Within months, he was running for governor, tramping importantly about the state and churning out position papers on the general corruption of the Adamic race. The spotlight, so comforting and necessary to prankster pastor, had returned.
He only garnered six percent of the vote. No matter. Nine months after losing the election, Fred Phelps unveiled his next therapeutic crusade: his left hooks rained on same comparatively helpless and unsuspecting heads when he opened the "Great Gage Park Decency Drive"-which quickly escalated into his current death-to-fags campaign.
To hear the pastor describe his new venture, one feels in the presence of a Napoleon crossing the river Neiman to invade Russia-two great empires, the one good, the other evil, about to clash, finally, and to the death. To read his crusading literature, however, leaves a different impression: The "Great Gage Park Decency Drive" hovers between vaudeville and the bizarre. One campaign fax churned out during November of 1993 would seem to cover both choices.
...In the midst of his anti-gay campaign, the pastor also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992 for Topeka mayor in 1993. He lost both races. Of the two, his Senate bid will likely be the better-remembered: Phelps, in a great plains parody of the late senator from Wisconsin, warned the voters darkly that homosexuals were taking over America, and accused Gloria O'Dell, his opponent for the Democratic, of being a lesbian. Unelected after three races, the angry pastor maneuvered to advance his hate-gays crusade from local TV spots and neighborhood pickets to the national media. The Westboro congregation traveled to Washington, D.C. to taunt the Gay Pride March in the spring of 1993. It was red meat for a sensation-hungry press. Fred and found his rhythm. Even before then, however, the nine children still loyal to him had campaigned enthusiastically alongside, picketing in rain, snow, or sun. Why?
Says Nate: "You known that Lite beer commercial where the guy goes up to the two other guys and gets them to fight over his comparison of two incomparable issues ('Tastes great!/Nope, less Filling!)? My dad does that. "Deep down, my brothers and sisters know they've been denied the right to be themselves-free adults-and that combines with all of his abuse and anger toward them until their rage is uncontrollable inside. He helps them find a focus to vent that out. And then he steps aside." Mark agrees: "Everyone is very angry there. That's why they overeat. It's a very charged atmosphere. All that frustrated energy needs to be discharged in some form of conflict." Though this latter observation is almost 13 years old, it still provides an accurate summation of one reporter's experience who spent six weeks in daily contact with the family Phelps in the fall of 1993. Fred has a captive family congregation: their fear of hell and fear of him still control them, like the elephant's rope. His loyal children have fulfilled his ambitions rather than their own. They live at his side and do his work. And since his rage has become their outrage, a wrath they dare not turn back on him, Fred's kids have eagerly joined in whenever he has sallied forth from Westboro to smite the Adamic race. Margie Phelps admits many in her family have become emotionally dependent on the death-to- gays crusade: "A lot of us have been able to work through emotional problems because of the picketing," she says. She explains the bonding and the sense of goals have brought them closer and taken each person's focus off their own personal difficulties. "It would be very hard for them to give up the picketing now," she observes, and quotes with some apparent relief the circumstances outlined by her father for an end to his grim campaign: the return of Jesus; the capitulation of all homosexuals; "or they kill us. Otherwise it will go on."
What's important here is the Phelps family has found something they can all enjoy doing together. And it's helping them to grow and realize more about themselves.
Kind of sweet, really...
no, sorry, it's really a rather fascinating if extremely difficult-to-read in-depth study of how evil develops.
yeah, i'd call that evil if anything is. if he'd had more charisma and opportunity he'd be Hitler; there's absolutely no question at all.
even before rereading that, i was saying over at Feministe that I cannot understand why none of them have been killed or at least severely beaten; it sure seems like at the end of the day that is in fact the goal.
what's that phrase? "suicide by cop?"
there are those who speculate that this was in fact true of Hitler as well, p.s.: that his nihilism meant that at some level he wanted to destroy himself; it's just unlike most suicidal folk, his malignant narcissism meant he had to take the world along with him.
This is so hearbreaking and infuriating at the same time. I just can't wrap my head around it.
Yes! It's like, "Do I want to hit something or curl up in fetal position? I just can't decide!"
> Of Fred's 13 children, nine remain in the community. Five of them are married and raising 24 grandchildren. All of the members of Westboro Baptist-children, in-laws, and grandchildren- participate in the pastor's anti-gay campaign. Despite their image from the pickets, most of the adults are friendly and socially accomplished. Each of them has a law degree, and some have additional postgraduate degrees in business or public administration. The adults pay taxes, meet bills, and obey the laws. The grandchildren are perhaps less demonstrative than most children, but in an earlier day that was called well-behaved. Many of their parents hold or have held important jobs in local and state agencies. The pastor's first-born, Fred, Jr., and his wife, Betty, were guests at the Clinton inauguration. The former northeast Kansas campaign manager for Al Gore in 1988 has a stack of VIP photos, such as the one of him, Betty, Al and Tipper, and even soon-to- be Kansas governor Joan Finney smiling and yucking it up at the Phelps' place just a few years ago. Clearly these are not streetcorner flakes taken to carrying signs. The only discordant note here is the Pastor Phelps, pacing about in his lycra shorts and windbreaker, looking like a triathlon competitor who made a wrong turn, ended in a bad neighborhood, and had his bike stolen. But he can easily be discounted while listening to his wife reveal just exactly how she managed to raise those thirteen kids. How? Well, for starters, the woman born Margie Simms of Carrollton, Missouri, had nine brothers and sisters herself. Her own tribe she raised by the same five rules she grew up under: keep their faces clean, their hands clean, and their clothes clean; keep the house clean and keep 'em fed. No Game Boys, college funds, and cars on sixteenth birthdays. She did most of the cooking at first, and her grocery bill, she estimates, would be over two thousand a month today. Many of the 24 grandchildren still spend time at Gramp's house, she said, and their food costs are over a thousand a month, even now...
If they're not holding harassing signs saying, 'God Hates Fags', calling deaf old dowagers 'sodomite whores', or bristling at startled churchgoers, Fred's kids are back at home being model parents and neighbors, attending PTOs and Clinton coronations. The stark contrast of the two masks-decent and repulsive, hateful and considerate, forthright and devious, stupid and clever-creates a polarity that begins to weigh on the observer. Contrasts frequently are the visible edge of contradiction. And contradictions sometimes arise from very deep and secret undercurrents. Currents of pain. One day in the pickup with the pastor and his wife, driving the signs to the picket line, Fred suddenly jams on the brakes and pulls over.
"Why'd you do that?" asks the mother of 13. "We're gonna make sure those kids are safe," the pastor replies. The objects of his concern are in the yard across the street. There is absolutely no chance he could have hit them. It's odd and unnecessary and exaggerated behavior.
His wife knows it; even the children know it-they've pulled back and are watching the truck suspiciously. Mrs. Phelps gives her husband a strange look. As if she had some secret knowledge. It's obvious Fred intended this as an awkward display of altruism for the press. The message is: "The pastor loves kids".
...It turns out Mrs. Phelps was herself an abused child, according to her sons. "The only thing she ever told us about her dad was that he was a drunkard who beat them. She said she'd always run and hide in the watermelon patch when he was raging." Though most of her nine brothers and sisters either settled in Kansas City or remained in rural Missouri, Mrs. Phelps has had virtually no contact with them during the last 40 years. Not since she married Fred. "My father was very effective at jamming Bible verses down her throat about wives being in subjection to their husbands," Nate says. "She was a small woman and very gentle. She felt God had put her with Fred and she had to endure..."
>When contacted in retirement, Dittemore confirmed he'd written the letter and acknowledged its contents. The family now accuses Nate of fabricating his stories of child abuse. They claim he is spinning these lies out of the malice he has over their opposition to his marriage (Nate's wife is divorced). But Nate was married in 1986. The described case of abuse was a matter of record 14 years earlier-and 21 years prior to Pastor Phelps' controversial debut on national television. The Phelps family has since maintained that, while the case did exist, the charges were invented by the school to harass their family. They say they were raised under loving but strict discipline, and that is how they're raising their children. Jonathon Phelps, who admits he beats his wife and four children, for emphasis reads from Proverbs, 13:24: "He that spareth his rod, hateth his son. But he that loveth him, chasteneth him betimes." Yes...but...where does it say the purple child is a child much-loved? Betty Phelps, wife of Fred, Jr., glowers at the questions. Anytime you spank a child, you're going to cause bruising, she explains. And sneers: "I'll bet your parents put a pillow in your pants." Jonathon, staring straight ahead and not looking at the reporter, states in a barely controlled voice of malevolent threat that, should the reporter tell it differently than just heard, said scribbler is evil and going to hell....
>Fred's mother used to open all the windows in the house and play the piano, according to Thetis Grace Hudson, former librarian in Meridian and a neighbor of the Phelps family during the Depression. The other households on her street were too poor to afford any entertainment, she says, so everyone remembered Catherine Phelps for her kindness.
Apparently she played well. Whenever she was at their house, Hudson remembers she used to ask Mrs. Phelps to play the hymn "Love Lifted Me" on the piano. Fred's mother always obliged, even if she was busy. But, after an illness of several months-those who still remember the family say it was throat cancer-Catherine Phelps died on September 3, 1935. Fred was only five years old. Since the little boy's uncle was the mayor of nearby Pascagoula, and his father was prominent in Meridian, the honorary pallbearers at her funeral included the local mayor, a city councilman, two judges, and every member of the police department. Ms. Hudson says young Fred was bewildered at the loss. After his mother's death, a maternal great aunt, Irene Jordan, helped care for Fred and his younger sister, Martha Jean. "She kept house for the daddy," adds a distant relative who declined to be identified. At times, work caused the boy's father to be away from home and Jordan raised the children. The woman Fred Phelps has referred to as 'his dear old aunt' died in a head-on collision in 1951 as she was driving back to Meridian from a nearby town. The boy had lost two mothers before he'd turned 21.
Family friends remember Fred's father was a tall, stately man. A true Southern gentlemen, they say. And a fine Christian. But the elder Phelps also had a hot temper, according to Jack Webb, 81, of Porterville, Miss. Webb owns a general store, the only business in Porterville, a town of about 45 elderly people. "If he got mad, he was mad all over," said Webb. He was ready to fight right quick. He was mad, mad, mad." Webb is a frail man, slightly hard of hearing. Walking into his general store is like stepping back into the 19th century. The shelves, all located behind a 100-foot wooden counter, are stocked with weary tins of Vienna sausage and dusty bottles of aspirin. Coke goes for 30 cents. Glass. No twist-off.
Despite the temper, Webb adds, the elder Phelps was an honorable man. In Meridian, he had been an object of great respect. Fred's father was a veteran of World War One, and throughout his life suffered from the effects of a mustard gassing he'd taken in France. He found work as a detective for the Southern Railroad to support his family. The railroad security force or "bulls", as they were called, had a reputation for brutality when they patrolled the yards to prevent the itinerant laborers, washed out of their hometowns by the Depression, from riding the freights. "My father," says Pastor Phelps, "oft-times came home with blood all over him." Suddenly he stands up, turning his face away, and exits. Several minutes later he returns, smiling, apologizing: "You got me thinking about those days," he offers, then bravely charges into a round of the town's official song: "Meridian, Meridian... a city set upon a hill; Meridian, Meridian... that radiates the South's good will."
The elder Phelps was a "bull" throughout the Depression, says Thetis Hudson, and the pay was good. The family lived comfortably at a time when the other families in town were being ravaged by hardship. What was the son like? "Fred Phelps had as normal and beautiful a home life as anyone ever wanted," commented a relative who didn't want their name used. "His childhood was very good," says Hudson. "There was nothing in his family out of the ordinary." "All I know is it's a tragedy, and it stems from within Fred Phelps," adds the anonymous relative, referring to the homosexual picketing. "It has nothing to do with his upbringing."
...Fred Phelps, by his own description, "went to a little Methodist revival meeting and had what I think was an experience of grace, they call it down there. I felt the call, as they say, and it was powerful. The God of glory appeared. It doesn't mean a vision or anything, but it means an impulse on the heart, as the old preachers say." The revival had a profound effect on both Phelps and Capron. "The two of them 'got religion'," said Joe Hamilton. Friends and relatives claim the two boys became so excited, they were unable to distinguish reality from idealism-they were going off to conquer the world. One relative still in Meridian described it this way: "Fred, bless his heart, just went overboard. If you didn't accept it, he was going to cram it down your throat."
Was this radical change in behavior a characteristic of the conversion experience? Or was there something hidden in the young man's character that drew him to the experience and its consequent license for loud and abusive behavior? If the latter, then some heart should be heard pounding beneath the floorboards in the old Phelps' house. Yet, there is little to be heard.
...Fletcher Rosenbaum, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force who lives in Meridian, went to high school with Phelps. "He was good at whatever he tried," Rosenbaum says. "He was a first-class individual. I would be surprised if he wasn't a top-notch citizen in Topeka." Picketing AIDS funerals and the fax attacks on members of his community by Phelps surprised Rosenbaum: "He was very reserved in high school. Very quiet. I'm surprised he would be involved in aggressive activities. To me, it would be out of character for him." This observation may not be entirely accurate. One woman, a librarian at the Meridian Public Library, said she remembers Phelps and went to school and church with him. "He doesn't bend," she observed. "He never did." She also described him as "spooky", "different", and "a preacher prodigy." "You tell him not to do it, and he'll do it," said another Meridian woman. "He was a very determined person. That's to be admired, but it can be taken too far." Even Fred himself remembers differently. He was a boxer throughout high school and, reminiscing briefly about his days in Meridian, he chuckles to himself. If any of the other boys came to class with a puffy face or shiner, their friends would ask if they'd been sparring with Phelps. He always left his mark on them, he tells me proudly.
Sid Curtis, a grade-school classmate of Fred's, remembers the future pastor drew well, even then. What did he draw? Boxers.
A golden glove contender in high school, Fred fought twice in state meets, winning matches which, according to him, were head-on slugfests. Not aggressive? Not the Bull of Topeka yet, but clearly it was in his character. A story in the high-school paper, predicting the futures of Phelps and his classmates, reads: "Fred Phelps will box in Madison Square Garden next June, 1954. Young Phelps will fight for the world championship." One can only wonder what deep currents rose in the teenager whenever he climbed into the ring. Recalling the earlier testimony of his sons, Nate and Mark, and remembering that research has proven abusive behavior is passed with high probability from one generation to the next, the question must be raised: Was the Pastor Phelps equally abused as a child? In the South, there is an unwritten code you don't bad-mouth one of your own. Strangers are welcome unless they ask too many questions, or speak ill of Southern folks and ways. In fact, if ET had come down in Meridian instead of Southern California, and a yankee inquired about that today, folks would probably scratch their chins, figure the carpet-baggers with a knowing eye, and say he was a quiet boy, little short for his age...but had good hands for the piano... If the stories his sons have told are true, the outside observer has two choices in understanding Fred Phelps: either there's a pounding heart under the floor in that old house or the teenager's Saul- into-Paul experience produced the character change. However, many Christians might find it difficult to believe that discovering Jesus would render a good-natured, quiet lad into the bullying hostile whose trail we will shortly follow from Vernal, Utah to Topeka, Kansas. If something did happen to throw Fred Waldron Phelps off track, something that mangled him for life, no one in Meridian wanted to say. Doing that no doubt would be to speak ill of the dead-something Pastor Phelps also was taught to avoid.
Yet, suddenly at 16, the child has become the man: fanatic, unempathic, combative, and vindictive. If there is an answer to the question, 'why does Fred hate us all so much?', perhaps it lies in those years, age five to 15, when his father was largely absent and Fred and his sister were cared for by Irene Jordan.
"If he were dead, I'd talk," says Fred's sister, Martha Jean Capron, now residing in Pennsylvania. "But as long as he's alive...that's up to him..."
Ever read Alice Miller? "Thou Shalt Not Be Aware?"
The rest of Phelps' early bio reads eerily parallel to young Hitler's: had one good male friend who shared his passion (for religion in this case); they later parted ways; had had a dream (in this case, West Point, not art school) which was thwarted when he didn't get in. Went to Bob Jones U. instead (surprise); didn't even finish that; there are many hallmarks of what's classically called "antisocial personality"--lots of confrontation with authority, lots and lots of ambition and smarts and drive but apparently unable or unwilling to channel it into any one thing...until he found his calling. Which, and the rest is history.
There's also a hint of something nasty under the floorboards in the part where they recount one of his insane rage rants; won't repost as it's likely to be triggering; but mixed in throughout the appallingly violent and abusive language, I caught:
"how dare you...I hate you...how could you do this to me? Why did you do this to me?...Are you crazy?...God damn you God, letting them do this to me!..."
All directed at the wife and kids, of course. And later, the world. Notice: anyone and everyone in the entire world is subject to terrific, violent, abuse...except dear old Dad. The memory of whom just makes him...walk away for a minute. And then start singing about the "good old days."
Classic, really. and appallingly sad.
I could be wrong, but I am guessing that the sexual obsession isn't -completely- out of the blue here, although the "persecute the gay folks" is also clearly him going after a scapegoat that was just acceptable enough to target (like oh say Jews in 1930's Germany). Apparently what we're seeing now is what happens when even that ugly dream of genocide is deferred: spin-out, more and more desperate attempts to connect with the world in the only way possible: by either destroying it or begging it to destroy him. And by extension, because they -are- his extension, quite literally, the whole cult-church-family.
apparently the actual protest has been canceled, contingent upon the Westboro Baptist Church getting some radio/tv time.
h/t and kisses to Rootytoot