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Westboro Baptist Church's Phelps infamous for depth of hatred of homosexuals

| Friday, March 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Can you say “poetic justice”?

I knew you could.

Fred Phelps, the man who proved that a fame-filled career can be constructed solely from hate-filled pronouncements, died on Thursday at 84. Survivors include most of society mortified by his every word.

Phelps was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based congregation made up almost exclusively of his extended family, but that was not his vocation. He was a professional intolerant, an instigator best known for sending his followers to picket military funerals and celebrity services because he was convinced America was overly sympathetic to homosexuals.

Among the famous that Westboro helped usher off to eternity were Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio and Pittsburgh's Mr. Rogers.

My lone interview with Phelps occurred in May 2003. I called him for a column on his threats to appear at a Heinz Hall memorial service for Fred Rogers, who a few months earlier had permanently departed from the neighborhood.

“We're going to do a little picketing against that little wussy,” Phelps told me. “The people inside (the service) can say all their meaningless platitudes and claim he's in heaven. We'll be outside delivering the message that he's in hell.”

Phelps contended Rogers had earned eternal damnation for failing to rail against the supposed sins of homosexuality in between his dialogues with puppet buds such as King Friday XIII and Daniel Striped Tiger.

Phelps was so caustic toward Rogers that it bordered on the comedic. He was a vile, vitriolic man, but no dummy. He realized the best way to ensure coverage for his contemptible cause was to make himself as contemptible and cartoonish as possible.

Phelps noted that the Westboro faithful had been meaning to demonstrate against Rogers for some time.

“We hadn't gotten around to it,” he explained, adding with a chuckle: “Then he hauled off and died on us.”

The Westboro protest was a dud, of course.

About a half-dozen of Phelps' flock showed up outside Rogers' memorial service. They were met by about 150 counter-demonstrators who had no trouble drowning them out.

Phelps wasn't among the Westboro faithful on the front lines that day. Lacking the courage of convictions, he preferred to lob his grenades via phone.

Some news reports said that Phelps died on Wednesday night, but his daughter Margie told The Associated Press that he expired early Thursday.

She did not provide a cause of death. Pity. Medical science could have benefited greatly by learning what finally did in a man strong enough to live his adult life without a heart.

The poetic justice of Phelps' passing is that it occurred on a date with which he would hate to be associated. It doesn't quite prove that the cosmos have a delicious sense of humor, but it does provide considerable circumstantial evidence.

Thursday was Rogers' birthday.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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