Louis Theroux: ‘I doubt Fred Phelps was gay, he was just an angry bigot’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Journalist and broadcaster Louis Theroux has reflected on meeting the late Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, saying he “doubts” that he was gay.

Phelps, the founder of the “God Hates Fags” WBC, died last Wednesday at the age of 85. 

In a column for the Guardian, Theroux, who featured in two documentaries about the church in 2006, and 2010, he says he thinks rumours that Phelps was gay are untrue, and that he was just an “angry, bigoted man”.

He wrote: “I’ve heard people speculate that Phelps had repressed gay leanings or that perhaps he was sexually assaulted when he was young, leading to a lasting animosity to homosexuality. Personally, I doubt it. I think there may be a small clue to his mindset in his having attended West Point military academy: I suspect he hated it there and had a lasting dislike of the military, which partly explains the picketing of funerals. But there may be no simple explanation for his behaviour.

“He was just an angry, bigoted man who thrived on conflict. There are credible reports from his disaffected offspring (four of his 13 children left the church) that he was physically abusive to his wife, Marge; he was violent to his children and had an intermittent problem with pills. He was also a lawyer and won some civil-rights cases, receiving an award from the NAACP. But he liked going against the grain.”

Theroux reflects on power struggles within Westboro, and also questions what is meant by reports that Fred Phelps was “excommunicated” before his death.

The anti-gay church claims that everything bad that happens to Americans from the death of soldiersmass murder through to natural disasters are a punishment of God for the existence of gay people in the United States.

It gained international attention for its “god hates fags” slogan.

An excommunicated member of the church recently said that she felt that Fred Phelps was gay.

Phelps’ estranged son Nathan last weekend told the press that his father was on his deathbed, and said that he had been excommunicated from the church in August.