Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church group, died on March 19 at the age of 84.
Phelps had been ill for some time and passed away at a hospice, his daughter confirmed, but no cause of death has been released. The family has been mostly uncooperative with the media regarding his health in recent weeks, with a spokesperson saying on Sunday, "He has a couple things going on. The source that says he's near death is not well informed."
Phelps was an ordained Baptist minister but his Westboro group did not actually have ties to an official Baptist church, according to the Washington Post. The extended Phelps family has drawn media attention and much ire over the years for their views on everything from gay marriage to celebrity worship, and have planted themselves at funerals, concerts, and other events that they deem worthy of God's wrath.
The group recently picketed a concert by Vince Gill because of their views on his remarriage, saying he was an "adulterer". Gill came out to confront them, and the entire thing was caught on video.
“What are you doing with another man’s wife? Don’t you know that divorce plus remarriage equals adultery?” one protester asked.
“Don’t you know you f**kers are lucky that you don’t have a sign that says something about my wife?” Gill shot back.
Phelps reportedly chose to picket the funerals of soldiers--which were sometimes very public events--because he knew he would have a wider audience to preach to. The family patriarch has said that God chooses to kill American soldiers as a punishment for the country's tolerance of the gay community, an idea which has garnered disbelief and hatred against the Phelps family for years.
“If I had nobody mad at me,” he said, “what right would I have to claim that I was preaching the gospel?”
Image via Wikimedia Commons