What Ever Happened to Atticus Finch?

The secret origins of Fred Phelps:

Not a Phelps follower. But it's funny, so I posted it anyway.He is the leader of "America's most hated family," a gaunt, craggy-faced preacher who displays "God Hates Fags" signs at the funerals of American troops, gay men and AIDS victims.

For at least 12 years, the Rev. Fred Phelps has led his Topeka, Kansas, church on a cross-country crusade against gays and lesbians. That crusade ignited a legal battle that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

But there is another Phelps that few know. He was a "brilliant" civil rights attorney in the 1960s who would take on racial discrimination cases that no other lawyers would touch, say longtime African-American civic leaders in Topeka.

He fought for the rights of blacks, they say, with the same passion he now reserves for the condemnation of gays.

I suppose you have to do something before you devote your life to harassing funeralgoers. And it's not as though the '60s civil rights movement was overflowing with sympathy for gay lib, which wasn't exactly a popular cause in those days. It's still a remarkable career change.

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  • ||

    Huh, now we know what Captain Obvious looks like.

  • Untermensch||

    I wonder why this is big news now. I recall someone on H&R commenting on his past career a few years ago. It's not exactly been a secret...

  • wingnutx||

    He was a fundraiser and delegate for Al Gore in 1988.

  • ||

    Which you mentioned four years, three months ago.

    As you said then, life is strange.

  • Brian Sorgatz||

    Next, we'll find out that Jack T. Chick was a brilliant evolutionary biologist before he started publishing those fundamentalist comic books.

  • ||

    who would take on racial discrimination cases that no other lawyers would touch

    Well, we already knew he has zero fear of controversy, so this isn't really surprising.

  • IceTrey||

    Is that sign supposed to be insulting?

  • PIRS||

    African-Americans are black!

  • ||

    What about Afrikaner immigrants to America?

  • PIRS||

    "What about Afrikaner immigrants to America?"

    The Census does not think they exist. All truth comes from the Census. The Census is the one, true arbiter of all facts. Just ask them, they will tell you.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    White South Africans and Namibians call themselves "Africans", especially those of Dutch or German origin.

    So, technically, yes they could self-identify as "African-Americans", though given what the term means here I doubt that most would. ;)

    Likewise, AFAIK, some Egyptian immigrants have no trouble at all checking the African-American box and some have had no qualms of conscience using it to get Affirmative Action goodies.

    I've never heard of an Afrikaner immigrant doing so, but I think it would be HIGHlarious if one did (got Affirmative Action goodies meant for blacks, that is).

  • PIRS||

    "I've never heard of an Afrikaner immigrant doing so, but I think it would be HIGHlarious if one did (got Affirmative Action goodies meant for blacks, that is)."

    I would LOVE to see such a case go before the USSC. The verbal gymnastics would be worthy of a Monty Python skit.

  • Lawyer for Afrikaner immigrant||

    My client is clearly of African origin.

  • IceTrey||

    Don't forget about Egyptians, who are more brownish than black.

  • ||

    Harley riders are fags!

  • The Gobbler||

    I gotta agree with this.

  • Anomalous||

    My Harley is kinda gay, but I'm not a fag.

  • ||

    I saw some cute pro gay marriage t-shirts 'round about the Prop. 8 uproar that said "Marriage is So Gay." True on every level you want it to be.

  • ||

    I guess one of the problems with being absolutely convinced you're right is that it's hard to compartmentalize.

    It's hard to be absolutely right about just one thing--it tends to affect all your thinking.

  • The Gobbler||

    Just ask The One.

  • PIRS||

    I thought he new church hated black people as well as gays? was I wrong? Or did he change his views on black people as well?

  • ||

    I don't think it does. I think they just hate gays

  • American||

    The secret origins of Fred Phelps


  • ||

    It makes sense that he was in the civil rights movement in a wierd way. The civil rights movement back then was a way to fight greater society. It makes sense that it would attract at least a few people like Phelps who were very alienated and angry about society. Not everyone who works for a good cause does so because they have a good heart.

  • lunchstealer||

    Could be. Could also be that he had a stroke or some other brain injury. That can cause a pretty serious change in personality, and that could manifest in Phelps' crazy jihad.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Yeah, Phelps does remind me of Phineas Gage, oddly enough.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Except, reading up more, Gage seemed to recover emotionally and psychologically.

  • marlok||

    Yeah, it sounds like his orbitofrontal lobe took a hit sometime in the 70's.

    Either that, or he had his first manic episode which has persisted to the present day.

  • ¢||

    People don't change. There are a couple ways he could consistently do all he's done. The one I like: Defending blacks in the '60s and yelling at fags now are equally and similarly transgressive, in a way that matches his temper.

    His son's always-an-asshole explanation is way more likely, though.

    He was a fundraiser and delegate for Al Gore in 1988.

    Gore has always been a fire-and-brimstone prophetic figure, so that makes sense. Reverend Al changed his end-times prophecies from standard conservative cultural-hellfire shit to environmental apocalypticism around 1990, because lefties are dumber than Jesus nuts and they have more money to steal. Smart guy.

  • ||

    "The one I like: Defending blacks in the '60s and yelling at fags now are equally and similarly transgressive, in a way that matches his temper."

    Exactly. He likes being a hell raiser and getting attention. Saying black people should be equal was a good way of doing that back in the early 1960s. Yelling God hates fags is the way to do it now.

  • The Gobbler||

    Dear Mr. Phelps,

    Jesus is comming.

    And boy is he pissed.

  • Some Guy||

    Phelps believes that being gay is a choice. Being black is not. While Phelps is a contemptible whackaloon, the two ideas are not necessarily inconsistent.

  • Les||

    People don't change.

    This is obviously false if you think of people as individuals. There are individuals all over the world who won't change. There are individuals all over the world who will change. There are individuals all over the world who have changed.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    That would be around the time he and Tipper abandoned the PMRC record-labeling jihad against the eeevul drug-laced lyrics of John Denver.

    Yep, makes sense now.

  • Tony||

    I've encountered the Phelpses on several occasions. While it seems clear they're sincere in their antigay beliefs, it's hard not to wonder if it's not an elaborate bit of performance art. At any rate I'm supportive of them in a way: they push the envelope in free speech litigation and tend to win.

  • The Gobbler||

    "At any rate I'm supportive of them in a way"

    So how are those internalized homophobia treatments working out?

  • Tony||

    By encountered the Phelpses I mean I've stuck my tongue down the throat of my boyfriend in full view of them on several occasions. But I still support their right to protest.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Wow, Tony, you have a lot more tolerance for Phelps than I do. Just because he has the right to say his twisted shit, doesn't mean he gets to abuse the legal system via his family of inbred attorneys.

    I'd love to see one of his crew start a fight with the Patriot Guard, give 'em an excuse to cut loose on the fag-haters. "What? Fred wants to sue US now? But his side threw the first punch, Your Honor... and we have it on video." That would be beyond sweet.

  • Tony||

    But they would never throw the first punch. They are rigorous about following the law and having a good case. You can't help but admire them for their work for the first amendment, the libertarian guy.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    I can't admire them for anything, Tony. IMO, they have done nothing positive.

  • ||

    Hey. I'm gay and I agree with him. I'm not a fan of what they say but it's not my or anybody else's place to say they can't continue.

  • Jaime Kelly||

    Phelps, whom I've interviewed, has zero animosity toward black people.
    Unless they're gay, in which case he would delight in seeing them murdered.
    He is one twisted fuck whose only punishment unfortunately will be that he knows he used to matter

  • ||

    And it's not as though the '60s civil rights movement was overflowing with sympathy for gay lib,...
    ...which wasn't exactly a popular cause in those days.

    Yep, it was considered a mental disorder. "Enlightened" people felt sorry for and wanted to help cure them*. Everyone else did what they could to harass and punish them.

    And Bill Moyers was the point man in the LBJ campaign organizing a witch hunt for gay staffers in the Goldwater campaign.

    My, my, how things change.

    *I'm kind of joking, there were a good number of people who didn't give a damn and wanted to leave them alone. But then, as now, there were the self-righteous busybodies who couldn't mind their own fucking business.

  • ||

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that it was black voters who put the California and Florida anti-gay marriage amendments over the top too, IIANM.

  • The 1960's||

    But we loved Charles Nelson Rieley, Paul Lind and Liberace.

  • ||

    But they weren't really "gay". They just dressed and talked funny.

  • BeavisAndButthead||

    For those who are too young to remember, John is right about this. Gay didn't exist back then. Even into the 70's, nobody was gay. Not Elton John, not Freddie Mercury - even though he wore tights and was lead singer for a group called Queen. There were some rumblings about David Bowie, but that was just his character Ziggy Stardust. On toward the late 70's they began to be rumored as bisexual... then we finally began to acknowledge the existence of gay people. Heck, even the Village People were wholesome family entertainment. With songs like YMCA and In The Navy which are all about the west coast gay lifestyle, nobody in middle America even suspected. We had a "don't ask, don't tell" truce where everyone who didn't want to know could just pretend that they didn't know. It actually had more success than you might guess. The real moment of friction was during the changeover. Prior to 'gay rights' becoming a watchword, calling someone gay was more often interpreted as 'acting effeminate', not necessarily having anything in particular to do with sexuality. People mentally divorced the two. Liberace was 'gay' in that he was effeminate and tacky... he obviously didn't have sex with men - look at all the beautiful women around him!

    My school had openly gay women as teachers ... where "openly gay" is defined as "room mates for 20 years that go to dinner and the movies together all the time and were never married and don't date." Everyone who cared to know understood. And everyone who might have had a problem had a social patina of politeness that allowed them to pretend they didn't know.

    The current system is obviously immeasurably better, but the old doublethink method is actually very instructive as to the nature of the human psyche.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Your timeline almost makes it sound like the gay got acknowledged more openly by society alongside the discovery of AIDS.

  • ||

    GRD was the first terminology applied to HIV/ARC/AIDS when the phenomenon was first identified in the US, and by proxy of fear, outed a lot of people by proxy of having the disease unknowingly until S/S appeared in either themselves or their (straight) partners. Or both.

  • Jaime Kelly||

    Like the Negroes, gay people have taken their "civil rights" way too far.
    Certainly our water hoses still work.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||


  • cynical||


  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Jaime has fallen off the wagon again. He doesn't really mean it.

  • ||

    Moby. F!@$! OFF MOBY!

  • Shannon Love||

    Phelps is just a textbook charismatic sociopath who leads a wacky little cult. Despite the attention he receives, his entire congregation numbers fewer than 60 people almost all of whom are his relatives by birth or marriage.

    Sociopaths don't believe in causes. You have to care about people to believe in a cause (even a wacky one.) Sociopaths lack the biological mechanism that allow them to feel empathy for other human beings and animals.

    It's very common to find these kinds of sociopaths weaving all over the ideological, philosophical and even theological map over the course of their lifetimes. They pick whatever belief gets them what they want.

    If Phelps was a civil rights activists, it was because he thought being one would help him. He never cared. Later he found out that he could get more traction as a minister so he went with that scam.

    This is why domestic terrorist always follow an extreme version of the dominant political movement of their day. The left was dominant in the 60s so Bill Ayers was Maoist revolutionary terrorist seeking to see America occupied by communist powers. In the 90's, rightwing ideas where dominant so Timothy McVeigh excused his murders with extreme rightwing populist ideas. Had either sociopath been active in the other's era, they would have easily swapped ideologies.

  • Jamie Kelly||

    Read "The True Believer." Eric Hoffer.
    Shannon Love is right about Howard Johnson's being right.


    Holy christ, after saying one of the dumbest things ever (see above) you had to shout out the most awesome book of all time??

    The True Believer is great. you, however, are kind of a douchehat. I wish better people were out there recommending it.

  • marlok||

    This makes sense. You think he saw his work as a civil rights attorney as a way to make it into congress?

  • Adonisus||

    According to his estranged son, Nate Phelps, Fred regularly showed personal and theological disdain for the black community even while he was winning the numerous civil rights cases. He even managed to convince the NAACP to give him serveral awards.

  • PIRS||

    Does anyone else see a Google advert for "Gay Ebony Dating"?

  • Spartacus||

    You mean the one on the left side of the screen? Nope, don't see it. It's just you.

  • ||

    Near the bottom of the article, there is some evidence that perhaps Phelps wasn't that committed to civil rights for blacks:

    He says his father didn't believe blacks were equal to whites, and often insulted blacks out of earshot.
    "They would come into his office and after they left, he would talk about how stupid they were and call them dumb niggers," Phelps says.

  • ||

    Oops, I meant to preface the quote with one more quoted line. Sorry!

    Nate Phelps, the estranged son, says his father held racist attitudes even during his work as a civil rights attorney.

  • Lumpy||

    Isn't that kind of racism common among white "liberals" in general?

  • Scotticus Finch||

    What Ever Happened to Atticus Finch?



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