Nate Phelps, Son of God Hates Fags Westboro Baptist Church, Reveals All Part 1 of 2


David Pakman: OK, we’re speaking with Nate
Phelps, who is the estranged son of Fred Phelps, of course of Westboro Baptist Church fame.
Nate, thanks for joining us today. Nate Phelps: My pleasure, Dave. David: So give us the background. I mean,
I’m fascinated to be walked through this. You were born in Topeka, Kansas where the
Westboro Baptist Church is? Phelps: Yeah, I was born in ’58 there. I was
the sixth child of what eventually became 13. David: And so you are Shirley Phelps-Roper’s
brother? Phelps: Yes. She actually was born on Halloween
the year before I was born. David: So you have the same… but you don’t
have the same birthday. Phelps: No, I was actually born in November. David: So give me your earliest memories of
what it was like. I mean, is there an indoctrination that begins very young? Just, I can’t even
imagine what it was like to be in that situation. Phelps: Well, yeah, I mean, I don’t… I don’t
know that that’s how my father would’ve characterized it, but from the time we were born, literally,
you know, when the child came home from the hospital, they were there in the pew on Sunday
morning. My father scoffed at the idea of Sunday school because he thought that the
children should be hearing the word of God from their earliest moments, so we were in
the church twice on every Sunday listening to our father’s idea of what the Bible taught
about God and man’s condition and that type of thing, so that was pounded into us from
the very beginning of our lives. David: So how early on does the very direct
anti-gay rhetoric start? Phelps: As early as I can remember. He considered
homosexuality to be a unique sin against God because he saw a passage in, I think in Romans
about God giving them up to their vile affections, as evidence that this was a unique sin that
you couldn’t return from, that, you know, God gave you away, that you can’t turn back
and be saved. So homosexuality was considered particularly evil in his eyes. David: Now, as a kid, I’m guessing you have
no point of reference to evaluate the statements that you’re being told, so what happened…
Well, first of all, when you first were exposed to that type of thing, did you just believe
it? You thought that that was the truth? Phelps: Oh, absolutely. I mean, just like
you said, what choice do you have? A child gets their idea, their notions of the world,
from their caregivers, in this case, from our father. And you know, as you grow older,
then of course you start seeing and hearing ideas that are contradictory or in violation
of what you’ve been taught, but especially in those early years, and especially because
of the way my father taught us, that there was, yeah, you’ll go out there in the world
and you’ll hear these other ideas, but they’re evil, they’re of the Devil. And so, you know,
that’s just how we incorporated that information in. We just expected that the rest of the
world was evil. David: So it was a calculated preemptive warning,
‘You’re going to hear other things, but just be aware that this is the right thing.’ Phelps: Yeah. And that… you know, I can’t
say whether that’s consistent with all religions, but I’ll tell you, that was a key, crucial
component of what… of the process my father put us through, because, you know, I mean,
even into adulthood, you’re constantly questioning yourself when you’re reading other ideas or
considering other ideas whether your motive is pure, whether it’s appropriate to even
be asking these kind of questions. David: And how… can you put a number on
how old you were when you first just heard the term “God hates fags” used? I mean, can
you even remember? Phelps: Well, I don’t know that he used that
specific term. That’s kind of become their catchphrase, but… David: Yeah. Phelps: You know, I typically, when I think
about my, you know, where I was, what age I was when I started asking legitimate questions,
I’d say I was problem seven to eight years old. David: So you were seven or eight and you
started to question what you were being taught? Phelps: Yeah. I mean, in a very juvenile sense,
but you know, I mean, he would suggest that, you know, some event or some sequence of events
or some idea that suggested that God’s hand was involved in some affair on the Earth,
and I would say to myself, “Well, why can’t it just be that it’s the way it is?” you know?
That we don’t have to add this additional component into this. So those kind of questions
were there. Perhaps my motive at that time was fear, I don’t know, you know, because
the image we had of God was pretty frightening. David: So originally it sounds like it wasn’t
the anti-gay homosexuals are behind everything type of thing that you were questioning, it
was just more generally God and religion. Phelps: That’s right. And another big component
of it was that, you know, you grow up with this idea that we are a unique people, that
we stand out among all men on the Earth, and yet I saw my father’s behavior and his attitudes
and his words and his actions towards other humans, and it was, you know, on the one hand,
you would expect almost this holiness or this otherworldliness in us because, I mean, think
about that claim, right? And instead, we were, you know, we were just base, as far as, you
know, just being cruel and unkind and hateful towards other humans. So that was another
strong motivator for me to ask questions. How is this possible that we are this unique
people on the Earth but we’re behaving this way? David: So at this point, were the public protests
and picketing of funerals and that type of thing, was that going on at this point? I
mean, this was some years ago. Phelps: Yeah, no, no. This was years before
they actually started this campaign. This campaign started in ’91. David: Right. Phelps: But the same components, the same
behavior, the same attitudes. My father was constantly in a battle with someone in his
world. He was fighting judges, he was fighting lawyers, he was fighting members of my family,
he was fighting neighbors. That was who he was, and he just couched it or justified it
or explained it in terms of his relationship with God and that the world was at enmity
with God. David: So this makes me think kind of of,
you know, nature versus nurture. Something happened within you that did not happen within
Shirley, for example, or other siblings, which made you question and not just accept at face
value what you were told. Do you… what do you think of that? I mean, is it something
genetic? Was there something you were exposed to that you weren’t? Where do you see that? Phelps: Yeah, that question ultimately in
my mind is impossible to answer with absolute clarity. David: Sure. Phelps: I think that… I think it’s a little
bit of both. I think that there’s this notion, I don’t know if I articulate it well, but
there’s this notion of kind of a feedback loop that as we start getting information
about our world and who we are and how we fit into it, then we take that in and then
we start viewing the world within that context. So very early on, as I started asking these
questions to myself, understand clearly, you don’t ask these questions of our father, because
it’s just not acceptable. David: Right. Phelps: But as I started asking these questions,
then it came out as a, I don’t know, passive-aggressive defiance of my father’s authority or his position.
So he and I became, you know, we were at odds fairly early on in my life. So that kind of
feeds the whole process as well. So by the time I’m 16, 17 years old, I’m convinced that
I have no business there, that I don’t belong in that situation. David: So, and… so describe, walk me through,
how do you leave? Do you talk to Fred Phelps and say, “I’m leaving,” or how does it all
happen? What’s your first step? Phelps: Oh, yeah. My older brother Mark had
left when I was… I think I was 16 years old, maybe still 15, but sometime in that
period of my life, he had made the decision to leave. And so we observed that. This was
the first one who left, and in spite of my father’s intense efforts to draw him back
in, he stayed gone. So then, of course, Mark became the topic of many of my father’s sermons,
and he became the example of what would happen to the rest of us if we left. So it became very clear pretty quickly that
if I intended to follow suit that I had to be very careful not to let… not only not
to let my father know, but not to let anybody in my family know, because there was this
attitude that we grew up with that, you know, we were always searching for favor in our
father’s eyes, so if we found something in the environment that we thought would be important
to him, then we would go running to him and tell him, and then that would… you know,
we would throw any of our siblings under the bus in a moment’s notice. So it was important
for me to stay as quiet and private about that decision as possible. David: But eventually, I mean, once you leave,
he knows you have left, right, at that point? Phelps: Yeah. Well, at that point, but see,
he made it clear that once we left that we were ostracized, that, you know, we were,
first of all, we were, the language he used was we were “delivered to Satan for the destruction
of the flesh”. So we now lived under this certainty that God was angry with us and that
he was going to punish us. We didn’t know what form that would take, but we knew it
was going to happen. David: I mean, is that… would you consider
that abusive? Is it abuse for a father to convince his son that if he leaves, if he
takes a certain path, that he is going to be hated by God, essentially? Phelps: Of course, that’s exactly what I believe.
I think that the whole, you know, so much of the message of Christianity, at least his
version of it, is abusive because it suggests… You know, I, when I was eight years old, I
remember terrified sitting in the pew and trying to imagine an eternity burning in Hell
and was reduced to tears, you know, it’s just stark terror in the mind of an eight-year-old
child. So all of those components were, in my opinion, very abusive. But I don’t know
necessarily that it’s fair to say that my father deliberately abused his children. He
believes this stuff. David: Right. Interesting. So how old were
you when you finally did leave? Phelps: Well, I left on the night of my 18th
birthday. I had decided that I was going to do it, so I started making plans and I bought
an old, gosh, this thing was a year younger than God, it was a Rambler Classic. And it
barely ran, and I bought it, and I hid it up the street so no one knew that I owned
it, and then as my birthday approached, I started packing my belongings a little bit
at a time and hiding them in the garage. So on the night of my 18th birthday, I, once
everybody was asleep, I went out, got the car, and backed it into the driveway and loaded
all my stuff up, and then stood down in the living room and waited for the clock to hit
midnight. And then I left. David: Why did you wait, just so it was completely
legal you waited for midnight? Is that what it was? Phelps: Yeah, because my older sister, Catherine,
had tried to leave when she was 17, and so once again, the younger children were able
to observe my father literally forcing her back physically. David: Wow. Phelps: And she went through about three or
four months of just brutal physical abuse as he tried to beat her into submission. Transcript provided by Alex Wickersham. For
transcription, translation, captions, and subtitles, contact Alex at [email protected]

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