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Son of a Bigot

His dad founded the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Nate Phelps is dedicated to reversing that legacy of hate.

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What, he’d have you bend over a chair or what did he do?

Yeah, and then he would beat us anywhere from the lower part of our back down to behind our knees and he swung it hard, he swung it like a baseball bat. And oftentimes what would happen is there would be eight or 10 strokes and then he would go into a 10- or 15-minute screaming session with what we were doing wrong and how it was defying God and that we were evil. You know all of these religious-based threats and insults to the children and then he’d go back to the beating and by then the skin has stretched tight from the damage. So the next blows would just split the skin and so you’d get blood.

Would your father choose to do this in front of your other brothers and sisters?

No, it was very public. It couldn’t help but be public because there was so much noise and ranting, everybody in the house knew that he was on a tear. And sometimes when it got really bad my mom would try to intervene and then he would go after her and beat her for that. He used all of these strategies that appeared to be very deliberate. He required the older boys to start administering the beatings themselves, and if they didn’t do it properly then they would get beat from him because they weren’t hitting hard enough or doing it as he would do it. And that was kind of a pattern he used even with the passing on of the message that he taught. He didn’t just settle for making sure we knew it. He required us to present it the way he did.

Did you have any opportunity to run away?

The thought never really occurred to me. You grow up in that environment, you just kind of accept that’s the way the world is and that you’re there and you’re stuck there. And then my older brother Mark left when I was about 16, and that put the idea in my head.  But then my older sister Kathy left, and she was only 17, so he went after her, found her, forced her back home because he still legally owned her, and abused her terrible for the remaining four to five months before she turned 18. So I learned from that that if I was going to be successful I had to wait till my 18th birthday. So that’s what I did. Literally the night of my 18th birthday, at midnight, I had made my arrangements and I walked out the back door.

Were you obliged to be a part of the public protests he would do, whether it was picketing funerals or homosexuals?

He didn’t start the “God hates fags” campaign until after I left. But throughout our childhood there was that inclination toward conflict with neighbors and community members, and he absolutely required of us, whatever form it took, as well as this putting the word out there that everybody in the world was going to hell, that had to be presented with the same kind of vitriolic fury that he did it, or then we’d end up getting in trouble if we weren’t vicious enough. Without a doubt you don’t have an option in that environment, and I’m quite certain that’s still the case that those kids that are out there, the young ones and even the teenagers, they’re not necessarily there because they want to be, they have to be there.

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