FBI Releases Its Files For Fred Phelps, Deceased Anti-Gay Pastor

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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The FBI has released its case files for Fred Phelps, the pastor of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church who died last year.

The documents, which The Daily Caller obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and which are also now listed on the FBI’s website, mostly contain the FBI’s communications with local law enforcement officials seeking information on Phelps and his Topeka, Kan.-based church.

Westboro, which was made up mostly of Phelps family members, became notorious for expressing its anti-gay views by picketing the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers.

Phelps, who ran for political office a number of times as a Democrat, died March 17 of last year at the age of 84.

The documents show that Phelps first came onto the FBI’s radar in 1967, when the minister was working as a civil rights attorney in Topeka.

An informant contacted the agency in March 1967 and detailed a list of ethics complaints against Phelps, including accusations that he was ripping off clients.

In an internal security memo dated April 17, 1967, an FBI agent wrote that the informant “expressed the opinion that Phelps does not appear to be rational and may be in need of psychiatric care.”

Based on the source’s claims, the FBI agent conducted personal surveillance on Phelps’ church on March 24, 1967.

Phelps was ultimately disbarred from the Kansas Bar in 1979.

The FBI next flagged Phelps in 1987, when it shared its 1967 case file with its Miami field office. The reason for the hit was not clarified in the redacted document.

Other files contained in the document trove deal with complaints Phelps filed after receiving threats from the enemies he had made over the years.

Phelps and Westboro followers did not become known for their vocal anti-gay preaching until the late 1980s or early 1990s.

In an Oct. 1, 1993 memo, an FBI agent informed U.S. Attorney Randall Rathbun of a threatening handwritten note Phelps had received.

“It would appear that Mr. Phelps is intentionally provoking these types of responses,” the agent wrote. “Large amounts of money and investigative time can potentially be wasted investigating these threatening letters.”

Though Phelps routinely alerted local law enforcement and the FBI to threats he and his church received, the records also show that he was usually unwilling to cooperate with investigations. One document notes that Phelps refused to conduct an interview about one such attack at the FBI’s Kansas City field office. He demanded the interview be held at Westboro, though the agency refused.

Phelps began his legal career in the 1960s and became a sought after civil rights attorney. He also ran for public office numerous times as a Democrat. He received nearly 31 percent of the vote in the 1992 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

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