As the pastor of the much-reviled Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps has become synonymous with hatred. The pastor and his family make it a point to carry signs at the funerals saying, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” They show up to media-friendly events with signs that read, “God Hates Fags.”
Nate Phelps is the sixth of Fred’s 13 children, and he has the scars to show for it. He describes his father as verbally and physically abusive.
And when you talk about the physical violence was it something that was spontaneous or routine? How do you remember?
It was both. I mean there were some things that you just knew if he found out about it there was gonna be trouble. There was also this tendency to explode without any warning and that actually was far more destructive in the long run because you just never knew, and that’s more terrifying than cause-and-effect.
Did he use his belt or a cane, what was his …?
When we were younger it was a barber strap. That thing got so shredded at the ends that it would wrap around the sides of our legs and tear the skin. It was kind of like a cat o’ nine tails. When I was about 8 or 9 he introduced us to a Mattock handle, which is a farming instrument or tool that you use to pull up roots, and it’s got an axe head on one end and a hoe head on the other end. It’s big. You know, take a baseball bat, add maybe 30 percent to that.
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.
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