The Westboro Baptist Church is (Probably Not) a Scam

The original version of this post was a link to an article called “The Scam of the Decade.” The author argues that the real goal of the Westboro Baptist Church — the infamous “God Hates Fags” people — is to get people to attack them so they can file frivelous lawsuits. It made sense. Fred Phelps and nine of his children are lawyers. And how else could they afford the $250,000 a year they told the The Guardian they spend on traveling to funerals across the country? And how could they possibly take themselves seriously? I mean, just look at this video:

But the scam theory doesn’t hold up. In an article for Stanford Review blog, Jordan Carr looks at their history, and found that between the cost of filing those frivelous suits, and the costs of getting sued and/or arrested, they probably aren’t making very much. (Thanks to Patrick for pointing this out in the comments.)

So where do they get their money? It appears that they’re working straight jobs. Three of Phelps work for the state of Kansas as of 2006, according to the Religion News Blog. Fred Phelps Jr. is a staff lawyer for the Kansas Department of Corrections, Margie Phelps is the is director of re-entry for the Kansas Department of Corrections and Abigail Phelps is a counsilor for the Juvenile Justice Authority.

According to Kansas Open Gov, Fred’s salary in 2012 was $62,060.44, Margie’s was $67,398.40 and Abiggail’s was $38,560.58. Not quite enough to cover $250,000, but there’s still several other family members out there.

Because I kept seeing people link to this post as evidence that the church is a scam, even after I updated the post and even changed the headline, I decided to completely re-write it. It is possible that it’s a scam. Carr admits there could be a number of small, local suits that the Church is winning across the country. But it seems unlikely.

See Also:

The Duggars and Quiverfull – The Cult Behind The Family

Why is this anti-gay Leviticus tattoo extra absurd?

Who really said “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross”?


  1. Does this make them more or less reprehensible?

    I vote for no change.

  2. Wow. This never even occurred to me. I just thought they were garden-variety deranged lunatics.

  3. Makes sense.

    … and now I feel like an asshole, because I watched the vid and all I can think now is “Wow, that’s by far the best informal church choir I’ve ever heard.”

  4. Link above states: “I will tell you where I got this truth about Phelps. I looked him in the eye.” And “They probably file a load of civil rights violation lawsuits.” Emphasis added.

    Neither are convincing. Google yields at least one case of payment to Phelps ($16,000) from a man who successfully sued Phelps ($5 million). So that’s not convincing either.

    A possible explanation, but lacking evidence. Another possible explanation, not lacking evidence, is that Phelps is exactly who he says he is doing exactly what he says he’s doing. He’s obeying what God said in Leviticus 18:22 and what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17.

    • Trevor.
      If you believe that he is obeying exactly what God said, then you are taking a very narrow look into scripture. How about looking at the passage where God made everyone in His own image? How about the passage where He loves the ENTIRE created world (john 3:16).

      Where, I would like to know, are the fruit of the spirit seen in what Phelps is doing? Where, is the love and care for the “Tax Collectors and Sinners.”

      As a conservative, evangelical Christian, I am sickened by this man’s actions. The ONLY time Jesus, Paul, or others condemned someone for specific sins, was when it was happening WITHIN THE CHURCH (or religious rulers, in the case of Jesus and the pharisees). Otherwise, the message was strictly about forgiveness and salvation.

      Tell me please, how are you comfortable with Phelps spending all this money going everywhere to picket, when he could be spending all that money to simply tell people about Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

      Sure is a sad day for Christianity when the mess age of homesexuals burning in hell is more important than the message that Jesus loves us all and wants a relationship with us through salvation.

      When was the last time you saw Jesus carrying a picket sign? Or, have confused it with a cross?

      • I agree with you, Tony! Jesus was about love, not hate. Besides, if Trevor has true faith in Christianity, he should know only God can judge us. If he takes it upon himself to judge his fellow man, not only is he an idiot, he’s also a hypcocrite.

      • Thank you Tony, I have a best friend named Tony who is an ordained minister, and he would say the exact same thing. These people are not really christians, they are the ones who will go up expecting God to recognize them but he won’t know who they are, then they will call the mountains to fall on them in their shame. It does say that in the bible, I have read it myself and believe it……

  5. Also possible: he is doing exactly what he says he’s doing, and also taking the opportunity to make money on the side. When I was an activist, I would have jumped on the chance to fund myself that way.

    I have heard this rumor before, several years ago, but never looked into it because I don’t usually take the WBC that seriously.

  6. Since the time this was written (2006) it seems that there have been a lot more lawsuits against WBC than pressed by it. I haven’t been able to find any references to the WBC winning lawsuits.

    This has me curious as to where they get their money. Is Phelps independently wealthy? Do the Phelps kids still practice law? If so, who hires them?

  7. While irked that this never even popped into my head, I was also irked that the person making these claims never bothered to investigate them, or provide any supporting documentation.

  8. The Stanford Review looked into this claim last year, and found that while WBC was making a lot of money via lawsuits, it was nowhere near their supposed expenses ($250,000 annually).

  9. Well, it does seem to make more sense than what they say they are doing, which is a natural extension of the “no sparrow shall fall” idea. That is, God is paying attention to everything you do every second and absolutely anything that happens to you is a direct sign of God’s pleasure or displeasure. As per the old Robert Anton Wilson exercises, try to honestly believe that for an hour and see what the world looks like. So…that auto accident, that cancer, well, you must have sinned. Haven’t these people ever read Job? A lawsuit scam would make a lot more sense, though more boring. …but, yeah, “I could see it in his eyes” is an even poorer standard of proof than the bible. At least WBC has a book. Oh… I take it back…he has a blog, so I guess their reasoning is on equal footing. “Look, it says this in this book.” “No, you look — it says this on this blog.” Urrgh.

  10. Oh, at least some of the brood definitely believe. Some years ago, a dear friend of mine conducted a phone interview with one of the Phelps sons. She asked only about 4 simple questions over the course of a two hour interview. The man was busting at the seams to explain the theology and biblical intent (as he saw them) motivating the family’s actions.

    I don’t know if that interview ever made it online, but if I can dig it up, I’ll post it here.

  11. i’ve heard this theory before and it’s BS. why? because civil lawsuits are public record. if these guys were really going around filing suits all over the country we would have heard about it, or you could search for it. There hasn’t been one example of them ever suing anyone and getting a large settlement from it.

  12. Phelps is too fascinating for that. He used to be a civil rights lawyer. Phelps-Chartered Co. is very real, though, but if profit is their motive they’re doing a piss poor job working this particular scam.

  13. Just noticed a typo in the tags- you wrote “cults”.

  14. Just noticed a typo in the tags- you wrote “cults”.

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