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Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, has died at 84.
Phelps was well known for his acerbic anti-gay protests in public areas, including funerals. He led a campaign against homosexuality and was vilified internationally for his beliefs, but in life nothing changed his views.
According to CNN, the Westboro Baptist Church was founded in Topeka, Kansas in 1955. It was in the 1990’s that Phelps began preaching his message of hatred and he gained international notoriety with the protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student who was murdered.
Phelps made a name for himself in protesting funerals, not only of LGBT individuals, but soldiers, people of other religions, and even Christians who were not part of his family comprised congregation. His followers commonly held signs that read, ‘God hates fags.'
They attempted to blame natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, or national tragedies, as God’s punishment for the country's ‘acceptance’ of homosexuals and asked that homosexuals be put to death.
"The Westboro Baptist Church is probably the vilest hate group in the United the State of America," Heidi Beirich, research director for the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Associated Press in July 2011. "No one is spared, and they find people at their worst, most terrible moments of grief, and they throw this hate in their faces. It's so low."
According to WIBW, Phelps was excommunicated from his own church in the last year. However, the church would not comment on this matter. On March 16, the church issued a statement that said "membership issues are private" and that eight unnamed elders lead the congregation.
While many will not miss Phelps, his family has stated that they believe it is cruel that people would celebrate his death despite the pain they, as a group, have inflicted on countless individuals with their messages of hatred.
With Phelps dead, it is unclear who will lead the church that he founded, but on Thursday the church issued a statement. "Listen carefully; there are no power struggles in the Westboro Baptist Church, and there is no human intercessor -- we serve no man, and no hierarchy, only the Lord Jesus Christ," the statement read.
Image: Wikimedia Commons