America's most hated family - homophobic 'cult' and woman who escaped

The Westboro Baptist Church first found notoriety after Louis Theroux's 2007 documentary called 'The Most Hated Family in America' - revealing their extremely hateful views on the LGBTQ+ community

Mirror, UKSeptember 25, 2023

By Louise Lazell

They've been dubbed America's 'most hated family' and it seems there's no level they won't stoop to in order to shock.

The family within the Westboro Baptist church, based in Topeka, Kansas, first found notoriety after featuring in Louis Theroux’s 2007 documentary, which revealed their extremely hateful views on the LGBTQ+ community and regular pickets against US soldiers’ funerals with placards reading ‘God Hates F**s’. Over a decade after first visiting, the film-maker returned to meet with the family for a follow-up episode called Louis Theroux: Surviving America’s Most Hated Family in 2019 - which airs again this Sunday on BBC2. And much like the first documentary, viewers will need to brace themselves for the extreme hatred and despicable views that earned them their ‘most hated’ title.

The hate group was led by its patriarch, the church founder and figurehead, Pastor Fred Phelps, who believed he was a prophet chosen by God to “preach his message of hate”. Phelps - known as Gramps - passed away in 2014, but the group, largely made up of his family, remained ongoing.

The church bases its entire work around the belief that ‘God hates f**gs’ and expresses the opinion that nearly every tragedy is God’s punishment for homosexuality. This is shown most clearly in their condemned picketing of US soldiers’ funerals, where they hold signs blaming their deaths on the country’s tolerance of homosexuality and LGBT people. They have been seen holding signs reading ‘Thank God For Dead Soldiers’.

Louis’s return to the most hated family was prompted by the departure of a young member of the church he had previously interviewed, Megan, who was the daughter of Shirley Phelps-Roper - the most committed member of the group. She opens up about finding a community on Twitter who help her question how she had become indoctrinated by her family and came to the conclusion that she needed to leave.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the church used the opportunity to spread their message that Covid was a punishment for disobeying God. Shirley, who acts as spokesperson for the church, had signs that said God had sent the virus “in fury”.

They have similarly odious views when it comes to the climate crisis, telling Louis Therous: “Don’t call it climate change, call it God Almighty repaying you to his face for your hatred of him. I’m so thankful it goes down to my toes. The Lord sent us to tell you the world is doomed and that you cannot keep going in this way.”

Lauren Drain first appeared in the documentary back in 2007 but has since left the family and is now living her dream life as a nurse. She was banished from the group when she was 21 after it was discovered she was talking to a boy who wasn't from the group and was forced to leave behind sisters Taylor and Faith as well as brother Bo.

Lauren said: "It was a very strict culture. I wasn't allowed to cut my hair, paint my nails, date or talk with boys, or really make friends with anyone outside of the church. We had a lot of church-related schedules around daily picketing, cleaning up church property, doing household and neighbourhood lawn work and chores. Many of the Westboro parents would monitor their kids' emails, cell phone texts and limit any interaction with anyone outside of the church.

"There was a lot of fear-based shaming and punishments for any rules broken and questions asked by us when we were young," Lauren said. I asked a lot of questions, so clearly I became a target for some of the church humiliation and punishments. To me now, it was all part of their goal to control the members and keep them in line with their strict rules and judgemental beliefs. They openly judged everyone to death and hell, which became a source of discomfort for me as I got older and wiser."

Lauren was eventually booted out of the group after her family found out she was communicating with a boy outside the church and revealed she was cut off from her family after speaking daily for more than seven years. The mum-of-one, who appeared in Louis Theroux's 2007 documentary The Most Hated Family in America, said it was the most devastating moment of her life.

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