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Fred Phelps, a man best known for founding the fiercely anti-homosexual and vocal Westboro Baptist Church, died early Thursday according to his daughter Margie Phelps. The cause of his death is unknown. He was 84 and had been in hospice care for several days.
As USA Today notes, Phelps was a vocal protester, frequently organizing rallies against gays and Jews, often outside of military funerals. His actions even prompted the creation of two federal laws.
CNN reports that Phelps founded the church in 1955. He is largely responsible for creating the extreme, fire-and-brimstone nature of the church. Many members of the congregation are related to Phelps through blood or marriage.
Their protests have become infamous for their harsh nature. Participants, including small children, will brandish signs with slogans like "God hates fags" or "Thank God for dead soldiers." They've picketed events from Lady Gaga concerts to funerals to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
They have been called "arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Phelps himself advocated that gays and lesbians be put to death, and his church's actions directly resulted in a 2009 bill, signed by President Obama, making crimes against perceived sexual orientation a hate crime.
Their protests outside of military funerals led to former President George W. Bush and Obama signing acts into law creating a buffer zone of 150, then 300 feet around funerals where there could be no picketing.
Rumors that Phelps was excommunicated from the church, started by Phelps' son Nathan, began several days ago. It's unclear at this point if he was excommunicated and if he was, what the reasoning behind it might have been.