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Reactions to Fred Phelps' death include stoicism, sorrow, sanctimony

March 20, 2014|By Matt Pearce

As the founder of the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps made plenty of enemies over the last two decades for protesting at the funerals of gay people and soldiers to spread his church's fire-and-brimstone message.

Phelps, 84, died Wednesday night after a stint in hospice care. Many observers wondered whether anyone would protest at his funeral. 

Church members said no public funeral was planned and blasted the media's attention to Phelps' death.

Here's a roundup of some of Thursday's reactions.

The Westboro Baptist Church: Phelps "has gone the way of all flesh" 

There were few if any outward signs of mourning in the statement posted online Thursday by the church, titled "Your Dashed Hopes," which scolded outsiders for the attention to Phelps' death: 

"The world-wide media has been in a frenzy during the last few days, gleefully anticipating the death of Fred Waldron Phelps Sr. It has been an unprecedented, hypocritical, vitriolic explosion of words. Do they vainly hope for the death of his body? People die – that is the way of all flesh."

The statement goes on to quote scripture before also criticizing the media for reporting on rumors that Phelps had recently been excommunicated from the church by its members. (The church has not explicitly denied the claim.)

All the attention to Phelps' death was just a distraction from outsiders' inevitable damnation, the church wrote.

"God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world."

Megan Phelps-Roper, Phelps' granddaughter: "I'm so sorry for the harm he caused" 

Phelps-Roper, one of several Phelps family members who fled the Westboro Baptist Church after being raised in it, mourned her grandfather on Twitter.

— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 20, 2014

Nathan Phelps, Phelps' son and an LGBT activist: "Fred’s ideas have not died with him" 

Nathan Phelps, who fled the Westboro Baptist Church to become an advocate for the very causes his father opposed, said the fight wasn't over in a statement released through Recovering from Religion:

"Unfortunately, Fred’s ideas have not died with him, but live on, not just among the members of Westboro Baptist Church, but among the many communities and small minds that refuse to recognize the equality and humanity of our brothers and sisters on this small planet we share. I will mourn his passing, not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been. I deeply mourn the grief and pain felt by my family members denied their right to visit him in his final days. They deserved the right to finally have closure to decades of rejection, and that was stolen from them."

Thomas Witt, executive director for Equality Kansas: Phelps' life "will have been meaningless"

In a phone interview with the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, Witt, one of Kansas' top LGBT advocates, strongly urged people not to protest Phelps' funeral if the opportunity arose.

“We are asking that the LGBT community rise above all the anger we feel toward the Westboro Baptist Church and do what we’ve been asking the Phelps family do for 20 years, which is let us grieve in peace," Witt said.

He added: "The gay-rights movement is moving forward … and will continue to move forward now that he’s gone. [Phelps] leaves nothing more than an obscene footnote in history. His life will have been meaningless."

Mother of slain soldier whose funeral was picketed by Phelps: "I'm glad he's gone" 

Patty Sourivong, whose son, Kampha, 20, was a National Guardsman who was killed in Iraq in 2006, told the Des Moines Register“Am I happy that he’s gone? Yeah, I’m happy that he’s gone. It’s cruel to say that, but what he did was cruel.” Phelps' followers had picketed her son's funeral in Iowa City.

She told the newspaper she hoped the Westboro Baptist Church would fade away, adding, “I was very disappointed that the media gave them the time of day."

Richard Kim of the Nation: Phelps was "a useful bigot" for liberals and conservatives alike

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