One of the sons who escaped from the Fred Phelps cult gives an inside view on the abusive nut

Nate Phelps, one of Fred Phelps’s kids who ended up escaping when he turned 18, has done an AMA on reddit. I thought these were some of the more revealing Q&As:

Reading this definitely changed my opinion about how to combat the craziness. I now have more empathy for the people inside the cult who are being victimized by Fred.
Instead of feeding into their expectation that outsiders will hate them or just ignoring them, what if people show up to counter-protest with messages of support for the abuse victims inside the cult offering to help them if they leave? Maybe if they knew that the outside world is willing to help them if they do escape from the abusive lunatic more of them would make an escape like Nate did.

Several posters have been pointing out for some years now that making his own family into pariahs is not a side effect but the key goal for Phred.

Who’da thunk, Fred was a KooK?

Nate Phelps is also working on a documentary called “Nate vs. Hate.” Here’s a trailer. Last I heard, he was working on financing to finish it.

He’s also really active in the atheist community and the LGBT community.

Reminds me of a boss I had, who thought her job as Quality Manager of a factory had as its main goal “pissing everybody off”. No, you moron, your goal should be to ensure that what we send to the customers is what the customers bought!

WBC protesters met with loving kindness and convinced to defect. It’s a beautiful idea, but would it help or do more harm than good? Are there any social psychologists who can comment on this strategy?

I don’t know what his funding strategy is but if ever there was a Kickstarter project crying out to be funded, this would be it. Can you imagine how many people there are on the Interwebs who would throw a few bucks at him to get a film like that made?

That’s exactly what I thought.

I listened to an interview with him on some now-defunct atheism/skeptic podcast, and it was just mind-blowing. His dad used to be a civil rights lawyer - simply because it was a field to make tons of money in as there weren’t many lawyers willing to stick their necks out at the time.

I thought–reading too quickly–he said, “He pulled her arm out of the socket. He beat her with it.” *That *would have been hard core.

I read an article once that went into more detail about the children and mother’s abuse and it made me want to vomit. It was really, really awful. They were severely beaten and then beaten again before their injuries from the first beating had healed, all because social services got involved. I can’t imagine the utter hell of growing up like that.

Good for him.

I remember one year, during the NYC Pride Parade, some people tried reasoning with them, and a woman gave them cupcakes she had baked for them. Nothing came of it. When the parade was over, the cupcakes were left there, on the sidewalk. I guess they were afraid the cupcakes were poisoned. For all I know, they were right.

Its difficult for me to even grasp what goes on there. At least some of the older sons must be big enough take Fred on. My dad and I almost came to blows a couple of times, and he was just being an incredible ass. I can’t imagine being afraid of Fred Phelps after you grow up and get bigger and stronger than him. Why doesn’t one of the sons just strangle him in his sleep?

That’s horrible to read, but it’s not a surprise that Fred’s the same kind of person in private that he is in public. I will say that it debunks that theory that the WBC don’t believe what they say and is just trolling people in the hope they will get attacked and make a killing on lawsuits.

IMO (from what I’ve seen) they both believe what they say and are more confrontational than they need to be in order to get attacked and make a killing on lawsuits.

More money for the Cause, don’cha know.

My WAG? Maybe the kids believe the fire-and-brimstone, and what better way to be damned eternally than go against your father?

My other guess is what I’ve been calling the family version of “Stockholm Syndrome” - kids who side with the abusive parent because s/he’s got the power, and the abused parent doesn’t protect/rescue them anyway. I’ve seen it to a lesser extent in my husband’s family, where adult children who even sought therapy due to their abusive father still tend to side with him against their mother or siblings in arguments, etc.

I don’t think they make a killing on lawsuits, and I’ve seen the claim made often enough that I think someone would’ve posted a cite by now if they were suing tons of people. From what I’ve seen, they’ve won money in a few lawsuits, but it’s not much money and none of it comes from lawsuits against people who lash out at them. Most of it came from the city of Topeka for not providing enough protection to the WBC during its protests, and that was all the way back in the '90s. The money they’ve made from lawsuits in total seems to be less than the amount they spend traveling to protests every year. I’m guessing the families just turn over most of their income to the church. I don’t think they’re not exaggerating their views to upset people.

I think that’s all there is to it. These people were psychologically terrorized as children and most of them probably can’t conceive of going against their father. It’s not like he is still caring for them- he’s in his early 80s, so they’ve long since grown up. He just still dominates their lives.

Yeah, I am not surprised they wouldn’t accept food from a stranger. I wouldn’t, if I were them.
I just think that it might be more constructive if we tried to look at the kids and grandkids as victims of an abuser who has intentionally alienated them from outside help (similar to how abused women are often alienated from their friends and family). This is all Fred’s fault, not the fault of the kids who were beaten and terrorized into agreeing with him.

If they came to my area to protest, I’d hold up a sign with encouragement to escape from Fred and offering to help them if they want out rather than a sign criticizing them. Imagine what Fred would think if instead of the expected anti-WBC signs there was just a row of signs telling his kids to get out and offering to help them escape. :slight_smile:

I agree with your theories that they probably are afraid he’s right (wouldn’t you be, IF you had been raised in isolation from normal society and Fred’s theology was all you had ever known?) and maybe have Stockholm syndrome.
There are plenty of cases of abused women who in theory could escape the abuser but don’t for a variety of reasons.
Apparently Fred used to be in very good shape (a triathlon athlete or something along those lines) so maybe he is still strong enough to be physically intimidating even though he’s so old, as well as the psychological power he has over all of them.

Do you have specific concerns about what kind of harm would occur if we treated the the non-Fred members of the family kindly?
In any other case of an abused family that I can think of, I don’t think that anyone would say that the family of the abuser should be shunned or treated with hostility.

I imagine that Fred would portray you as a temptress sent by satan to woo them away from their true path, and so they must be even more angry and spiteful until eventually satan will show his true colors, and they will understand that outside of the Phelps clan there is only hate.

Speaking form my own experience with my wife who comes from an abusive family it is very difficult for her to give up the world view that was forced upon her as a child, even though she rationally knows that it was all lies. In the Phelps case where the brainwashing is even more extreme, and the children are still in the situation it will be even harder.

If the stories are true I’m surprised that child protective services hasn’t gotten involved.