Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps has died, aged 84, of an as-yet-undisclosed illness, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports. A fire-and-brimstone preacher at his Kansas-based fundamentalist church, he gained national attention in the 1990s for picketing military funerals and other events with signs bearing slogans like "God Hates Fags," and for his role in the events following the death of Matthew Shepard, as depicted in the film The Laramie Project.
Phelps' activities tested the limits of freedom of speech and religion. His roving congregation traveled the nation to voice its disapproval of homosexuality, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and preach the gospel of an angry God prepared to smite a world full of sinners. The LGBT community, minorities, Jews, immigrants, celebrities and other public figures all drew his ire, and he deployed placard-wielding members of his family—sometimes children as young as 7—to the funerals of Frank Sinatra, Sen. Barry Goldwater, Coretta Scott King and others.
According to a BBC documentary, he was the patriarch of the "most hated family in America." The Southern Poverty Law Center called his congregation, largely comprised of members of his extended family, "arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America."