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Posted at 4:47 PM ET, 01/13/2011

Inside Westboro Baptist Church (Photos)

By Melissa Bell
Services at the Westboro Baptist Church. (Anthony Karen)

Anthony Karen, a photographer for Life, spent a week in 2008 with the people of Westboro Baptist Church. Life asks, "Why do they routinely disrupt funerals of fallen American troops? Celebrate the carnage of 9/11? Hail the pain of AIDS sufferers? What, at heart, do they believe -- and what are they like when they're not brutalizing the grief-stricken?"

Some of the things he learned: The church has about 70 members, and almost all are part of the Rev. Fred Phelps's immediate and extended family. The 80-year-old has 13 children -- 11 of whom are lawyers -- and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The church is involved in a highly watched Supreme Court case that will decide whether the protests are protected free speech or intentional harassment that can be banned.

See more photos of Karen's time at the church and read more about his time with the family here.

Currently, the Westboro Baptist Church is creating controversy in Arizona. After the tragedy in Tucson, the church backed down from planned protests at the funerals of victims in exchange for airtime on KXXT-AM, CFNY-FM and "The Mike Gallagher Show" on Arizona radio, despite counter-protests petitioning the radio stations to rescind their offers.

Signs used during pickets in storage at the Westboro church garage. (Anthony Karen)
Fred Phelps's daughter and church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper holds a sign during a protest at Topeka's Gage Park in June 2008. The Westboro church's first protest was held here in June 1991 after an incident in which, according to Pastor Phelps, a gay man tried to lure his then-5-year-old grandson into the park. The church still pickets at the park on a regular basis. (Anthony Karen)

More on this story:

Westboro Church meets its match in counter-protesters

Court considers Westboro Baptist Church's anti-gay protests at military funerals

Westboro church backs down from protest -- sort of

By Melissa Bell  | January 13, 2011; 4:47 PM ET
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georgana wrote: Steveswimmer1 and the rest of the gays that criticize Christians
and quote the bible: Don't quote the bible because you don't know what it means.

Steve: Please georgana, I didn’t mean to hurt you Honey. The “Abominations”
shtick was merely designed to outrun Fred Phelps and his hateful Westboro
Baptist Church rants ( outrageously condemning gay folks
especially during Military funerals.

Here the Biblical links are all valid. I have a Degree from a Christian college,
have studied the Bible, and don’t think you can take me to task in this arena.
As for your personal prejudices in accordance with Biblical interpretations
fitting a stigmatized belief system: Well, you are your own there. Life is how
you see it for all of us; and, in your case, until you escape the sub-culture
bubble holding your mind in check you will always be stuck seeing life through a
narrow path.

Actually, I pity the Fred Phelps’ clan. I have seen 7 of their events and I can
tell you it does not take an Anthropologist nor a Geneticist to determine this
is an inbreeding cult whose members, for the most part, certainly during my
observations, are in a veritable robotic trance. Note: If any of the Phelps'
clan care to deny the inbreeding suspicion, I can arrange DNA testing to prove
the point one way or other.

While holding their attention signs for public observation in lack-luster
semi-formation, any observer can discern the Phelps’ clan is inbreeding. Worse,
the poor innocent and trapped sheep following their crazed leader have the look
of blank zombies on their faces as the police lead them to, from and during the

Concluding the hapless of the clan are stuck in an unimaginable mire, I ask my
fellow readers to pity the blind followers.

However, for the clan leaders: I have engineered the "ABOMINATIONS" message
highlighting the clan’s sexual partnerships are no less death sentence worthy in
accordance with Biblical law than male homosexuality.

I am confronting the Phelps' clan on the homosexual front not because I think
the Gay community needs me barging in on their protest. The Gay community does
quite nicely at caring for their own cause.

No, I am from a long-term military family who has chosen to enter this fight by
hitting the Phelps' clan with their own stick. My hope is some in the clan will
repent, see the truth and run from the clan as fast as they can.

Look, georgana, you say: "You talk about hate but gays are some of the most
hateful people I have ever known. You are the hypocrites not us!"

And, I say look at the Westboro Baptist Church Phelps' clan and if your mind is
not set straight by such a sight then there is no hope for you.

Posted by: steveswimmer1 | January 14, 2011 5:20 AM | Report abuse

God hates Fred Phelps.

Posted by: bs2004 | January 14, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

The westboro babtist is not a "church", it is a hate group. They are in it for the money and the press. Most of the members of this "church" are attorneys. If any other group showed up at your door, would they get away with this? No! Why do they? Any one can say they are a "church", that is not going to make you a Church! We in this country let a lot pass for "church". This is not about freedom, it is about being human. The hate is a danger to the freedom of all.

Posted by: cambrunner | January 14, 2011 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I don't agree with the WBC on protesting funerals, but they are absolutely correct about everything else. God HATES homosexuality. Both the Old and New Testaments say that He will destroy any city, state, or nation that embraces it. God is slow to anger because He desires that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But make no mistake about it, eventually God will. Already the thunderclouds of His Holy anger are gathering in the form of economic collapse. The promise of financial ruin comes right off the pages of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. In fact, God will eventually cause the "land to vomit you up" (Leviticus 18:25).

Since I don't expect this EVIL nation to repent, I suggest that those who believe the Word of God brace yourselves for the pain and suffering that lies ahead.

Posted by: penniless_taxpayer | January 14, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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