Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fred Phelps: Child Abuser, Spouse Abuser, Drug Abuser

Wow. I suddenly see the crazies over at Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in completely different light.

Check out the report "Addicted to Hate: the Fred Phelps Story" written several years ago by reporters for the Topeka Capital-Journal, the newspaper in the Phelps' hometown. The report reveals Fred Phelps to be something of a monster who brutally beat his wife and 13 children until some of kids began fleeing the family once they turned eighteen.

Two of his sons, Mark and Nate, now both businessmen in California, have spoken to the press about the unbelievable atrocities committed in the Phelps household during their childhood. These stories illustrate the insanely hateful mind of Fred Phelps and offer an explanation for the bizarre "God hates America," "God loves dead soldiers," "God hates fags," etc. messages that Phelps spreads across the internet and at pickets around the nation.
"My father is addicted to hate. Why? I can't say. But I know he has to let it out. As rage. In doing so, he has violated the sacred trust of a parent and a pastor.

"I'm not trying to hurt my father. And I'm not trying to save him. I'm going to tell what happened because I've decided it's the only way I can overcome my past: to drag it into the light and break its chains."

Mark believes that Fred Phelps, no longer able to hate and abuse his adult children if he hopes to keep them near, by necessity now must turn all his protean anger outward against his community. Mark has decided to tell the truth about his father so that others will be warned. He and his brother have now come forward with specific and detailed stories, alarming tales, ones that could be checked and have been verified.

Mark's testimony supports Nate's previously, and both men's statements have been confirmed by a third Phelps' child. In addition, the Capital-Journal has uncovered documents which substantiate this testimony, and interviewed dozens of relevant witnesses who have confirmed much of this information.
For instance, consider the following Christmas story that begins the second chapter of the report, disturbingly titled "Daddy's Hands."
Mark Phelps feels nauseated whenever he remembers that night. He was hit over 60 times and his brother, Nate, over 200 with a mattock (pickax) handle. Nate went into shock. Mark didn't. A boy who became a compulsive counter to handle the stress, Mark counted every stroke. His and Nate's. While their father screamed obscenities and his brother screamed in pain. Every 20 strokes, their mother wiped their faces off in the tub. Nate passed out anyway.

That was Christmas Day.

A mattock is a pick-hoe using a wooden handle heavier than a bat. Fred swung it with both hands like a ballplayer and with all his might.

"The first blow stunned your whole body," says Mark. "By the third blow, your backside was so tender, even the lightest strike was agonizing, but he'd still hit you like he wanted to put it over the fence. By 20, though, you'd have grown numb with
pain. That was when my father would quit and start on my brother. Later, when the feeling had returned and it hurt worse than before, he'd do it again.

"After 40 strokes, I was weak and nauseous and very pale. My body hurt terribly. Then it was Nate's turn. He got 40 each time. I staggered to the bathtub where my mom was wetting a towel to swab my face. Behind me, I could hear the mattock and my brother was choking and moaning. He was crying and he wouldn't stop."

The voice in the phone halts. After an awkward moment, clearing of throats, it continues: "Then I heard my father shouting my name. My mom was right there, but she wouldn't help me. It hurt so badly during the third beating that I kept wanting to drop so he would hit me in the head. I was hoping I'd be knocked out, or killed...anything to end the pain. After that...it was waiting that was terrible. You didn't know if, when he was done with Nate, he'd hurt you again. I was shaking in a cold panic. Twenty-five years since it happened, and the same sick feeling in my stomach comes back now..."

Did he? Come back to you?

"No. He just kept beating Nate. It went on and on and on. I remember the sharp sound of the blows and how finally my brother stopped screaming... It was very quiet. All I could think of was would he do that to me now. I could see my brother lying there in shock, and I knew in a moment it would be my turn.

"I can't describe the basic animal fear you have in your gut at a time like that. Where someone has complete power over you. And they're hurting you. And there is no escape. No way out."
This story is just the tip of the iceberg. I was horrified reading the document. Fred Phelps brutally beat all his children--boys and girls, young and old--as well as his wife.
Sometimes Pastor Phelps preferred to grab one child by their little hands and haul them into the air. Then he would repeatedly smash his knee into their groin and stomach while walking across the room and laughing. The boys remember this happening to Nate when he was only seven, and to Margie and Kathy even after they were sexually developed teenagers. Nate recalls being taken into the church once where his father, a former golden gloves boxer, bent him backwards over a pew, body-punched him, spit in his face, and told him he hated him.

"He habitually had violent rages that included profane cursing, beyond any sailor's ability to curse, where he threw and broke anything he could get his hands on," states Mark. "My father routinely demolished the kitchen and dining room areas, as well as his bedroom. He would not only beat mom and the kids, he would smash dishes, glasses, anything breakable in sight; he'd even throw everything out of the refrigerator.

"He'd literally cover the floor with debris. I remember seeing so much broken crockery once it looked like an archeologists's dig. There was ketchup and mustard and mayonnaise splashed across the walls, cupboards, and floor like a paint bomb had gone off in there. "Afterwards he'd go upstairs to the bedroom-and force mom to go with him. It would take hours for us kids to clean up after his rages. He never helped-he'd just dump on us and leave.
Fred Phelps became addicted to drugs during the 1960s, when he attended law school.
According to Mark, who was 10 when his father graduated, Fred Phelps became heavily dependent on amphetamines and barbituates while in law school. Every week for 6 years, from 1962-1967, their mother would give Mark a 20 dollar bill and ask him to go down and pick up his father's 'allergy medicine'. Mark always got the bottle of little red pills from 'the tall blond man' at the nearby pharmacy. He was told they were to 'help daddy wake up'.

He also picked up bottles of little yellow pills that were to 'help daddy get to sleep'. But the beast already so poorly penned within Fred now came out. Under the conflicting tug of speed that wouldn't wear off and the Darvon he'd taken to sleep, the Pastor Phelps would often wake his family in the middle of the night while doing his imitation of a whirling dervish whose shoes were tied together: "With all the drugs, he had very little body control," remembers Mark, "so we weren't really scared of him then. But he would fall and break the bed apart; get up and knock over all the bedroom furniture.

"Mom would start screaming and call Freddy and me to help her get him under control and put the bed together. My dad's face would look totally stoned, and he couldn't focus his eyes. He couldn't walk in a straight line, and sometimes he couldn't even get up off the floor."

Adds Nate: "Another time when he was stoned on drugs, my dad started going after my mom. She was yelling for help. My two older brothers, probably 12 and 13 at the time, went running upstairs and tried to force my dad back into his bedroom. He was ranting and raving like a lunatic.

"They managed to get him inside his room and slammed the door shut and locked it from the outside. He started pounding on the door and screaming incoherently. Finally, he actually broke the door down. That seemed to calm him a bit, and he fell back on the bed and passed out."

According to Mark, the physician who wrote those prescriptions delivered all or most of the Phelps children, and was their family doctor when they were growing up. During the period in question, he at least twice reported his doctor bag stolen and its narcotics missing. The thieves were never caught. When this physician shot himself in a Topeka parking lot in 1979, he was under investigation for providing drugs illegally to his female patients in exchange for sexual favors.

What kind of drugs? Amphetamines.

The pastor's heavy drug use continued from 1962 until late 1967 or early 1968, according to Mark Phelps. Confined to itself and tormented by an increasingly explosive, abusive, and erratic father, the family hung on day-to-day. Finally, Fred's system could no longer withstand being wrenched up by reds in the morning and jerked down by barbituates at night. One day, he didn't wake up. Mark remembers seeing the long, gray ambulance in the driveway. His father had slipped into a coma from toxic drug abuse. Fred Phelps remained in the hospital for a week, while Mrs. Phelps told the children he had suffered an adverse reaction to an 'allergy medicine'.

When he emerged, Phelps was drug-free and powerfully resolved to regain control of his body. If it was the temple to his soul, he had neglected it. With an astounding strength of will, he immediately plunged into a water-only fast, dropping from 265 to 135 in 47 days. During the fast, "he looked like a scarecrow," says Mark. "He stalked about the house with a scarf around his head, clutching a bible to his chest." But the Pastor Phelps broke his addiction and never relapsed.
Although you can see Fred Phelps on YouTube giving his weekly diatribes, the member of the Phelps clan that I see most often in the national media is Shirley Phelps, one of Fred's daughters. I recall watching videos of Shirley several times on Fox News, the BBC, MTV, and the Tyra Banks show. Previously, her vitriol enraged and confused me. Now, as I watch Shirley spew stunningly hateful words about people she doesn't even know, I imagine her as a child being held in the air by her father while he swears at her and knees her in the groin--or I see her back against the wall as her dad is throwing dishes and food around the kitchen, screaming and swearing and spitting--or I see her screaming as her father beats her incessantly while telling her she is ugly and that he hates her.

This family has been brutally mistreated. They don't deserve our anger, they deserve our action. Child abuse tends to be a behavior that is repeated by the abused. There's no telling what is presently happening to Shirley's children or Fred Phelp's other grandchildren. The State of Kansas needs to take immediate action on behalf of the grandchildren--perhaps removing the children from their homes while a thorough investigation takes place. And Shirley and her siblings need a lot of help.

Hat tips: More Musings, Nate Phelps


Pomoprophet said...

This sorta makes me feel sad for him and his family. He's such a wretched man. Its much easier to just hate him ya know?

Nate Phelps said...

This is a good post...I just wanted you to realize that my brother and I have never filed legal charges against our father. Perhaps the word "testimony" used in the article misled you. It's not that such an option wouldn't be considered, but rather that any statute of limitation pertaining to this matter has long expired.

Thanks for the great blog.

Joe Moderate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Moderate said...

I agree, Pomo. My feelings towards all the "God Hates Fags" folks are so different now: I mostly feel sad for them.

I went back and watched one of the videos of Shirley Phelps on Fox saying all those nasty things. Before when I watched these videos I got really angry; when I watched it yesterday I thought of Shirley being beaten relentlessly as a child... and suddenly I'm not able to get angry at her.

Now, that doesn't mean I at all excuse her present behavior and vitriol. It's terrible and it should stop. But I no longer get so emotionally worked up over it.

D.J. Free! said...

you know, i've never been all that worked up by the phelps family, b/c i've always thought what fred phelps espoused was so ridiculous, that i never really listened to it. but now, my heart breaks.

nate, seriously, my heart goes out to you and your family.

i too am looking at "god hates fags" w/ all new eyes now.

Joe Moderate said...


Thank you for the clarification. I will edit the post immediately for correctness.

Moreover, thank you (and your brother) for coming forward with your story. I have such high respect for you and Mark, and I sincerely hope your story is heard by more people and leads to radical changes in your family.

One of the most compelling parts of the "Fred Phelps: Addicted to Hate" report was the idea of perpetuating abuse. I remember the idea was presented as an explanation for why your mom, who was abused as a child by her own father, tolerated your dad's brutality towards her and her own children. The idea also communicated a fear that some of your siblings may be abusing their own kids.

I recall what you said about your sister, Margie, who is raising an adopted son, Jacob:

I saw her interviewed on television," adds Nate. "And she said we weren't abused, just strictly brought up." He was concerned when he heard her say that: "If she remembers that as a 'strict upbringing', then there's no moral suasion there for her not to 'strictly bring up' her own child, the adopted Jacob."

I certainly hope Jacob is not being hurt at home. But if he is, I hope your story draws the attention of the public and either changes Margie's perspective or encourages the State of Kansas to step in on the child's behalf. My thoughts and prayers are that the abuse in your family be forever halted and that your parents, siblings, nephews and nieces experience justice and healing.

Thanks, Nate.


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Boscoboy said...

If Fred is abusing his grandchildren the state welfare agency should step in to protect them. Fred will be gone sooner than he wishes. But will other family members continue the Hate Mongering. The people of the Westboro Baptist Church need to save their own children. I don't hate them I just hate their behavior. Perhaps when they truly let Jesus into their lives they will be saved from their turmoils.