Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, the "God Hates Fags" guys, have a secure role in our culture—they're the geeks in the dunk tank. Phelps' goofy, cultish church slithered onto the national scene in the late 1990s when they picketed the funeral of Matthew Shephard, the gay college student murdered in Wyoming.* That brought them so much attention that the church started to picket any event with big media buzz and a tenuous link to the church doctrine that America was doomed by God for tolerating non-marital sex—especially gay sex.
The group's Q-rating was fading badly by 2001. But like the kids say, 9/11 changed everything. Phelps' church was quicker than Jerry Falwell in blaming the terrorist attacks on America's refusal to ban buttsex and execute fornicators. So they picketed memorial events and when the first casualties followed the Afghan war, they started picketing soldiers' funerals. And that's what turned them into rent-a-geeks. If you're a radio or cable host who needs to beat up on a group of kooks, who better than 1) religious freaks who 2) literally hate the troops? It was all good fun until states, followed by the U.S. Congress, passed wide-ranging bans on funeral picketing with the express purpose of shutting down Phelps. (Note that Ron Paul voted against it.)
Last year the comic-documentarian Louis Theroux spent some time living with the church, trying to pick their brains and watching the volcanic anger that comes their way at their protests. Theroux used it all for the BBC documentary The Most Hated Family in America, now available for free on Google Video. For some reason the HTML embedding is evaporating whenever I put it into a blog post, but the direct link is here.
Tangentially related: Last year's Donnie Davies prank was one long, extended goof on Phelps. Here's his "God Hates Fags" music video, which I really want to see the WBC's reaction to—they'd probably get the joke, after a while.
*fixed this sentence; I'd misremembered some facts about Shepard.