Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, has died at age 84. (Via KSHB)
A former lawyer and civil rights activist, Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a hate group.
Phelps' church, which consists mostly of family members, has become infamous for its strident anti-gay message, and for picketing funerals of military service members.
Fred's son Nathan Phelps, who left the church and the family when he turned 18, told WCBD in 2010 that Westboro had become a vehicle for his father's hatred.
"He is first an angry, hateful person. And this is just a good structure in which he can operate."
It was Nathan who initially broke the news of his father's declining health, writing in a Facebook post that his father had been excommunicated from the church last August, and was "on the edge of death" in a Topeka hospice.
This headline from The Huffington Post symbolized much of the reaction to that news.
In fact a Facebook page with more than 1,300 likes calls for protests at Phelps' funeral.
Phelps leaves behind 13 children and 54 grandchildren.
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