The Westboro Baptist Church issued a statement on its website, critizing the media for “gleefully anticipating” Phelps’s death. “It has been an unprecedented, hypocritical, vitriolic explosion of words,” the commentary read.
Phelps, along with other members of the Kansas-based church, drew widespread anger for holding protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in action, where they held signs with messages including “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.” Phelps claimed that American deaths were God’s punishment for the nation’s acceptance of homosexuality.
Most of the church’s other members were said to be Phelps’s extended family.
In 2011, in an important First Amendment case, the Supreme Court ruled on freedom of speech grounds that the church couldn’t be sued for monetary damages for inflicting pain on soldiers’ grieving families.
The Topeka-Capitol Journal reported this week that Phelps had been ousted last year as leader of the church, after advocating for a “kinder approach between church members.”
Nate Phelps, one of Fred Phelps’s estranged children, appeared to refer to the ouster in a Facebook post written over the weekend shortly before his father’s death.
“Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way,” Nate Phelps wrote. “Destroyed by the monster he made.”