Just days after his estranged son revealed he was "on the edge of death," Fred Phelps has died. The death of the 84-year-old founder of the Westboro Baptist Church occurred shortly before midnight, son Timothy Phelps tells WIBW. Daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper confirmed that Phelps died yesterday at Midland Care Hospice. WIBW takes a look at the life of Phelps, a man "bent on delivering a message," who, after being disbarred in 1979, made bids for senator and governor in Kansas and ultimately achieved notoriety at the helm of Westboro, whose anti-gay demonstrations began in 1991 and gained infamy in the late '90s with the picketing of Matthew Shepherd's funeral.
WIBW notes that, as a "master litigator," Phelps effectively fought efforts from the city of Topeka in the 1990s to prevent picketing outside homes and churches (though Westboro certainly didn't win all of its court battles), but recent years saw his children and grandchildren (as young as seven) take the helm of the picketing efforts, which targeted military funerals along with those of Frank Sinatra, Coretta Scott King, and many, many more. The Washington Post notes that even the Ku Klux Klan found Phelps' "bigotry" distasteful, and adds that the Southern Poverty Law Center called Westboro "arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America." Among their slew of offensive signs: "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates [Expletive]." Phelps was ultimately booted from his own church; it's unclear who will take the lead.