How does the Internet react to the news that a notoriously anti-gay, anti-veteran pastor - who believed 9/11 was an expression of “God’s wrath” and picketed gay funerals with signs like “AIDS kills fags dead” - is lying on his deathbed?
Pretty much the way you’d expect.
Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps has been a notorious lightning rod for Internet hate since the founding of his flagship website GodHatesFags.com in 1999. Since then, the Topeka-based "church" claims it’s held over 52,000 pickets in 921 cities, often most controversially at the funerals of gays or military veterans.
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the church a hate group.
So, it’s with a certain irony that Phelps’s estranged son Nathan Phelps posted news of his father’s imminent death - that of a man who so prolifically protested the funerals of thousands of others - on his Facebook page late Friday night:
“I've learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the "church" back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.
I'm not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.
I feel sad for all the hurt he's caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I'm bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.”
As news spread, social media exploded over whether Phelps' critics should respond in kind to his own funeral, or ignore the event entirely. Equality Kansas executive director Thomas Witt asked Phelps' critics to respect the family's privacy.
"This is our moment as a community to rise above the sorrow, anger, and strife he sowed, and to show the world we are caring and compassionate people who respect the privacy and dignity of all."
Some even cracked jokes.
"If I had the money, I'd pay the Marine core [sic] to march "Stars and Stripes Forever" riiiight through the funeral home and follow them to the grave site," Reddit user bananafish707 wrote. "They'd go into the quiet parts and just as they try to say something nice it goes right back to the loud finish."
"I would pay the Village People to perform YMCA," user Abomonog quipped in reply. "I guess I'm that much meaner than you."
Photo by Charlie Riedel/Associated Press