Ep. 1: Westboro Baptist Church: Son of founder Gramps Phelps on his life in the cult
Hello and welcome to the first episode of On the Edge with Andrew Gold. This being the inaugural one, I should probably tell you a little about myself and the podcast. I’m a documentary maker and TV presenter by trade. You can watch my documentary about an abusive exorcist in Argentina on YouTube or BBC iPlayer, and I’ve made films on everything from UFOs and porn to abortion and infidelity. Over the years, with my documentary hat on, I connected with so many people on the edge of society who I found absolutely fascinating, but didn’t quite fit the stories that TV channels were looking for, so I thought, why not bring these characters to you via a podcast. In my first ever episode, I talk to Nate Phelps, the son of Gramps Phelps - from America's Most Hated Family: the Westboro Baptist Church.
Brother of Shirley Phelps and son of Fred 'Gramps' Phelps, Nate is now an LGBT advocate and an extremely lovely and thoughtful guy. He is a defector from the Westboro Baptist Church sect from Topeka, Kansas. The cult, which is also known as America's Most Hated Family, became infamous in the 1990s for its campaigns in which they'd picket funerals of military personnel as a bizarre and illogical protest against homosexuality. And now, with more church members defecting, we're approaching the baptist church death.
Their signs at the pickets usually claimed that 'god hates f***' (a homophobic slur), but also took aim at such celebrities as Princess Diana and Louis Theroux, who made three BBC documentaries about the Kansas-based cult.
Nate was indoctrinated with the church’s homophobic philosophy and made to listen to his father’s preaching from the moment he left the womb. After doubts began to rise in his mind, he escaped his father’s church at midnight on his 18th birthday in a terrifying account you’ll hear him relay. He was left to fend for himself, confused, scared and alone, his mind still consumed by the teachings of his abusive cult leader of a father. This led him to do some bad things, once out of the church, which he discusses openly. He now speaks as a public advocate of LGBT rights and is a prominent member of the hub of secular thought, the Center for Inquiry.
In our conversation, I find him charming, penitent and single-minded in his defence of civil liberties. He discusses his meeting with Louis Theroux, the brutal abuse with a medieval instrument at the hands of his tyrannical father and the intelligence, wit and humour of his sister and mouthpiece for the church, Shirley. He tells me what really went down with his supposedly repentant dad and the LGBT Rainbow House across the street from the church, and he reveals what he tells his children about the church he grew up in. As we speak, I find it hard to believe that I’m speaking to a man who – even after leaving the church - has would physically attack gay men … and, as explains, some of those demons remain deep within.
This is my very first podcast, so I was delighted to have such a fascinating and charming person on the show. Like most of us, I've always had a strange fascination around the Westboro Baptist Church, and as we discuss, I think part of that is down the cruel and acerbic wit and intelligence behind their bonkers theories and religious drivel. Like a car crash, you can't help but look. I hope you feel the same about our chat, and like and subscribe to be updated about my next guests in the coming weeks.
If you liked this, check out the blog posts below, or learn about the Coffin Confessor who turns up at funerals to reveal the secrets of the dead, listen to the man in prison for accidentally killing his girlfriend and hear from a genuine psychopath (a female, Mormon one at that).