Louis Theroux is a British journalist who specializes in documentaries of deeply weird people, none of which have been released on American television, sad to say, because they look pretty funny. If your focus is on the weird, the creepy, the borderline insane, you are naturally drawn to the odious Phelps family and their despicable Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, which Theroux covered in this 2007 documentary for BBC 2, called "The Most Hated Family in America,"an apt title.
Theroux said of Fred Phelps, the head of the family and church, "I think that the pastor is not a very nice person. I think he's an angry person who's twisted the Bible and picked and chosen verses that support his anger, that sort of justify his anger, and he's instilled that in his children and they've passed it on to their children. Although the second and third generation are by and large quite nice people from what I saw, they still live under the influence of their Gramps."
Away from their heinous protests, Theroux found the Phelps family to be nice folks, "It shows you what strange avenues the religious impulse can take you down. I think another part of the answer is that parts of the Christian Bible are pretty weird. There's a lot of weird stuff in there and when you take that and you add this angry, domineering kind of a father figure, which is Gramps, and you add that he has sort of separated them off from other people, other families and driven them to achieve a lot, and he was kind of a charismatic guy, and still is up to a point. He was a very verbal, very persuasive, an extremely compelling speaker. All these things added together combined to make a powerful influence."
"The Most Hated Family In America" is not on Netflix. You can buy it in a boxed set of Theroux documentaries, which looks like a good buy, but it's not in a US format so it won't play on an American DVD player. However, it is out there on the net and I serve it up here for you now. Why? Know your enemy, that's why. Get inside their fetid heads and see what makes them tick. It's an hour long.
You can watch it whole here on Google video, though it's a bit fuzzy, or in sections below on YouTube:
Part 1, embedded above, gets right to the America hating. If you felt contempt for the Phelps before, be prepared to put it in afterburner, pal, cuz you ain't seen the Phelps family nose to nose like this. It is amusing to see Real Americans react to the Phelps protest by spontaneously flying the American eagle. Not that eagle, the other one.
Part 2: Shirley Phelps-Roper, the loudest Phelps, lawyer, mother of eleven children (the first born out of wedlock, by the way), gives a tour of the Phelps compound and church. Her daughters explain they have no friends at school because they tell them that they're going to hell and, oddly enough, they hate that. The good news is that none of the true believing Phelps girls seems to have plans to get married since God is about to suck them up into heaven when the end times come next Tuesday. The even better news is that some of Phelps family have defected. I suspect the ban on dating and the squashing of marriage plans may be related to the defections. You can't erect an Iron Curtain against nookie because it is the most powerful force on Earth. Nookie always wins in the end. Always. Never bet against it.
Part 3: Steve Drain, the only Westboro church member born outside the Phelps family and the media master of the church. Drain explains how Princess Diana was a "fag enabler" who split hell wide open. Then he pickets a "Jew church." They're headed for hell, of course. So is Billy Graham. Pretty much everyone alive has some hate hurled at them by the Phelps.
Part 4: Shirley explains her kids don't date because it leads to fornication. Like that's a bad thing. The Phelps picket a hardware store that sells Swedish vacuum cleaners because somebody in Sweden pissed them off. No, it doesn't make any sense but lets keep that hate moving along. Suddenly, a logging truck barrels through the protest, smashing the whole Phelps clain into mush. OK, that didn't really happen but I was hoping it would. The whole Phelps clan works regular jobs and tithes ten percent to the church. A cluster of them work for the state in Corrections.
Part 5: Welcome to a church service with Fred Phelps, or "Gramps" as he's called. Looks like there are at least fifty worshippers. "God is America's terrorist."
Part 6: An interview with Fred Phelps after the church service. I was shocked, shocked to discover he's an arrogant dick. Whodathunkit?
Part 7a: The Phelps spend about $200,000 on flights to picket funerals. Being hated validates them and their message. They seek it out.
Part 7b: A mother grieves her lost soldier son while the Phelps picket outside. The Phelps are cheered by a fire in an enemy church, which proves, PROVES, God is on their side.
Part 8: Part 8 was removed by YouTube but you can watch the last segment here by advancing to 52:11 on the video. The daughter claims their protests are "courteous, loving things" and in return people are just "downright mean to us. ... What did we do to them? Nothing but a courtesy!"
Theroux went back four years later for a follow up in 2011 and made a second documentary: "America's Most Hated Family In Crisis," an hour long. The years had not been kind to the band of some eighty Westboroinians. Some of their family had defected. The Supreme Court had smacked the clan down hard. Their response was to come back crazier than ever.
Part 1: Shirley explains how Obama is the Antichrist bringing on the apocalypse. Hmmm. These Phelps are finally making sense. Oh, wait a minute, they also explain that cancer and the Nazis are on their side, so forget about making sense. And they're branching out into anti-semitism because, well, where ever there's hate, there are Phelps saddling up on it for a couple laps around the track. Inexplicably, one daughter ditches the church for a life of fornication on the outside. Yeeeehaww!
Part 2: Lauren, one of the rebels, is kicked out of the family for having a boyfriend, so she flees a thousand miles to Connecticut to be clear of the Phelps and their wacky ass church. Meanwhile, the vile protests of the Westboro Baptist Church have attracted counter-protestors, lots of them. And that lovable old Pastor Fred breaks out in an anti-semitic rant at church. Jael Phelps rejoices in the tsunamis killing people by the thousands because it's God's judgement on them. After all, no tsunami has hit Topeka, proving God favors them. Jael: "All human beings deserve death because they are born sinners."
Part 3: The Supreme Court punches the Phelps family right in the shorts. A depressing interview with 11 year old Noah Phelps, a brainwashed kid raised on a diet of hate. The Phelps girls reminisce about the time they burned a Koran at a Muslim's funeral. Libby Phelps describes how wearing a bikini forced her to leave the clan and set her on a path to the hottest part of hell.
Part 4: Fred & Betty Phelps dodge talk about why their daughter Libby fled them. The young Phelps girls talk about a Dutch film crew who they liked but are sure they're going to hell. Still, you can't help thinking these isolated Phelps chicks are horny as hell and dreaming hot and sticky dreams about the Dutchmen.
Maybe we should publish video of the Phelps family burning Korans and send it to Pakistan along with their names, addresses, and directions, then let nature take its course.
Michael Moore drives Team Gay, the gayest blades this side of San Francisco, in the Sodomobile straight into a Westboro Baptist protest in Topeka in this episode of The Awful Truth. It's hard to know who to root for in this fight, Moore or Phelps. It's kinda like Alien vs Predator, Nazi Germany vs Soviet Union, Iran vs Iraq. To my astonishment, the Phelps clan packs up and leaves soon after the Sodomobile hits the beach.
It looks like Michael Moore has discovered what we've all been looking for: Westboro Baptist Repellent. The answer is to smother them with the Love Which Dare Not Speak Its Name.