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Founder of Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, Dies

Fred Phelps, a publicity-hungry Kansas pastor who picketed hundreds of military funerals because he believed America was too sympathetic to gays, died early Thursday in Topeka, Kan. He was 84.

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Fred Phelps and members of Westboro Baptist Church demonstrate at the trial of Russell Henderson in the killing of Matthew Shepard. (Credit: Getty Images)

His daughter, Margie Phelps, confirmed his death to the Associated Press but did not give the cause.

With his small Topeka congregation, Phelps also demonstrated at funerals and memorials for Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, former Mormon leader Gordon B. Hinckley and heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio — any observance, regardless of any connection to gay issues, where cameras might be rolling.

Convinced that the deaths of U.S. soldiers were divine retribution for the nation’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality, Phelps and his followers carried signs like: “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11.” A disbarred attorney, Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church were sued numerous times but won a landmark freedom of speech case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

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