The founder of one of the most extreme homophobic religious groups in the United States was the subject of a series of investigations by the FBI, new documents have revealed.
US website The Daily Caller obtained the FBI’s files on Westboro Baptist Church founder Pastor Fred Phelps via a freedom of information request – the earliest of which dates from 1967 when Phelps was working as a civil rights lawyer.
An informant contacted the FBI in March of that year and passed on the details of a number of ethics complaints made against Phelps to the Topeka Bar Association – including that he was ripping off some of his clients – though much of the details still remain redacted.
A month later an unnamed FBI agent recorded that the informant told him Phelps ‘does not appear to be rational and may be in need of psychiatric care.’
Based on that information the FBI agent performed serveillence on Phelps' church.
The file states that following that the FBI did not consider Phelps to be sympathetic to groups that are opposed to the interests of the United States Government but that his movements should be monitored if he tried travelling overseas.
Phelps was already styling himself as a religious leader and had sued to get his house declared a church for tax purposes.
Phelps was later disbarred by the Kansas Bar Association in 1979.
Phelps next appears in the FBI’s files in 1987 when, for reasons that appear unclear, his file was shared with its Miami field office.
It was around this time that Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church began fixating on gay people and began their extreme hate preaching.
A memo from October of 1993 documents an FBI agent informing US Attorney Randall Rathbun that he had come to the conclusion that Phelps was an attention seeking time waster who deliberately sought to provoke threats against himself.
Phelps had recently appeared on The Jane Whitney Show to debate gay rights activists and that had apparently provoked someone into sending a threatening letter to Phelps.
‘Since we regularly picket against the fag threat to our nation in Topeka and will picket again soon in [Kansas City, Missouri], [Kansas City, Kansas] and [New York] we thought you should know of [this] recent 16-page terroristic [sic] threat,’ Phelps wrote to the FBI according to the file.
‘It would appear that Mr Phelps is intentionally provoking these types of responses,’ the agent wrote to Rathbun.
‘Large amounts of money and investigative time can potentially be wasted investigating these threatening letters.’
The files contain many other reports about death threats sent to Phelps but, despite reporting them, in most instances he refused to cooperate with the authorities.
Phelps died on 17 March last year at the age of 84 having been excommunicated from his own church and family.