Twisted in Topeka

Louis Theroux’s revisit to Westboro Baptist Church (last night on BBC2) was revealing and disturbing, but not for what was said.

True, there was the usual parade of bigotry and downright lies; the selected bible quotes taken out of context and blasted fortissimo at anyone within ear shot; the repugnant posters; the crapulent and deeply unfunny parodies of songs; in fact, the usual tide of twisted filth you expect from the Fred Phelps Follies.

There were moments of light, as Theroux took pains to show the counter-demonstrations that now regularly take place whenever the Phelps-Jugend take to the streets. Many towns use such gatherings to raise money for research into HIV. There was a moment of revelation when it became clear that the patriarch was going to run away rather than face the man on camera.

There was even, occasionally, the hysterically funny – like Steve Drain comparing Theroux to Pontius Pilate. (I’d suggest, at this point, that Drain the Brain should go back and read the gospels. Pilate wasn’t anywhere near as bad as he was later painted!)

No. What was really on show last night were the cracks in the façade – evidence of serious subsidence. Even worse was the inhumanity these people can display – not just to the world at large, but to their own family.

Theroux was prompted to go back to Topeka because he had heard of defections from the faithful. He interviewed two such apostates, one of them Brain’s daughter, the other Fred Junior’s.

Lauren Drain actually looked quite relaxed at having escaped, a far cry from the stare-eyed fanatics that remain. Libby Phelps also had a genuine smile on her face, as opposed to the others’ sickly fixed grins, but was obviously very upset  about the total exclusion from her family that they have visited upon her. The psychotic Drain with his robotic wife and Fred Junior and his missus, who, unlike her husband, looks like she ought to know better, all professed themselves delighted that their daughters had been excommunicated. It was, however, very forced and they looked very much like they were following a script.

(I pause at this point for a confession. Unlike, I suspect, most of you I can and have shut a family member out of my life. I know it can be done. It took two decades to put right and I now regret it bitterly. I would expect someone of Fred’s age, and claiming to be a follower of Christ, to understand this. But maybe I’m being naïve and human beings really ARE capable of that much hate.)

No-one should be robbed of their childhood by being pressure-fed such a distorted and poisonous view of the world.

And then there were the children. Noah, eleven years old, desperately trying to remember his programming, and spouting forth what now appears to be the Phelps mantra – we’re right and you’re wrong, so shut up. Eighteen year old Grace, who couldn’t be interviewed unless there were no less than three minders on hand, presumably to make sure she stuck to the party line. What Phelps and his wretched adherents have done is nothing short of child abuse.

No-one should be robbed of their childhood by being pressure-fed such a distorted and poisonous view of the world.