By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Rumors of Phelps' declining health are widespread, but Shirley Phelps-Roper dismisses them as "wishful thinking."
The idea that the picketing will stop when Fred gets too old and dies, she says, is "a vain hope."
Especially as long as she's around.
In the pastor's absence, she is the mouth of God.
"She prays daily for the opportunity to be the Lord's mouth," her sister Margie tells the Pitch, "and he's blessed her with that opportunity."
Phelps-Roper answers all media calls. She does more traveling and picketing than anyone else in Westboro's congregation. Unlike her brothers and sisters, Phelps-Roper doesn't work full-time outside her home. When she does work, it's for the family law firm, Phelps-Chartered.
This year, it seems, the family's efforts have been more aggressive than ever.
For example, blood was still fresh in the one-room Pennsylvania schoolhouse when Westboro members announced their plans to go to Nickel Mines and thank God for the murders of five Amish schoolgirls.
Cable news commentators fumed with indignation. At the last minute, Phelps-Roper struck a deal with syndicated talk-radio host Mike Gallagher, who offered the Phelpses an hour of airtime if they'd call off the picket. The conservative Gallagher said he made the bargain to spare the Amish family members more pain.
So Phelps-Roper and her sister Margie not Fred flew to New York City on a day's notice to claim their hour on Gallagher's show. They also taped an appearance on The O'Reilly Factor Bill O'Reilly chose not to interview the sisters, but he and Gallagher badmouthed them for a segment, calling them "evil," "desperate publicity mongers," "witch hunters" and "Nazis."
The most memorable stop on the impromptu media tour was Phelps-Roper's appearance on the October 4 edition of the Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes. There, Phelps-Roper butted heads with conservative alpha male Sean Hannity on live TV.
An angry God killed the girls, Phelps-Roper explained, because the Amish created "their own form of righteousness."
Connect the dots, Phelps-Roper said. It's God's revenge for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's treatment of God's prophets in the Westboro Baptist Church.
"Shirley, you really are a sick woman," Hannity said.
"Slight cold, but thank you," Phelps-Roper said with a scoff and a smile.
"You are a sick, twisted human being. Where is your heart? Where is your soul? Where's your compassion? Where's your love? . . . Have you ever sinned, Miss Perfect here?"
"Of course, you know that I have sinned, and that's not the point."
Hannity, smelling blood, pursued her. "You have. What are your sins, Miss Perfect? . . . I want to know what your sins are."
"I'm not going to talk to you about any such thing. I don't glory in my shame like you seem to want to do," Phelps-Roper replied.
"No, I just find this amazing that everyone else is a big sinner but you, and you admit to being a sinner."
"Obey the commandments of the Lord your God!"
"Which ones did you break?"
FOX News' Hannity and Colmes square off with Shirley Phelps-Roper in this video.
Visibly agitated, Phelps-Roper repeated her admonishment about obeying the Lord's commandments, and Hannity resorted to a string of insults, calling her "soulless, thoughtless, mean" and "brain-dead."
"Thoughtless? Thoughtless? We go out there year after year after year on our own to warn this nation that if you obey God, he'll bless you. Why don't you just try it?"
Unable to get a word in, Hannity struggled to keep control of his show.
"I can't get mad at you because you're so pathetic," Colmes added. "And what you're saying is so horrible and mean-spirited."
"You can do that and call me names," Phelps-Roper said. "It doesn't fix it. You have got the wrath of God pouring out on your head. You need to fix that by obeying."
"Thank you for the lecture," Colmes said.
"Repent like the men of Nineveh," Phelps-Roper said. As they cut to a break, she turned to Hannity and smiled.
After the red light went off, Phelps-Roper tells the Pitch, a frustrated Hannity turned to her and said, "I just know that you've got some sins, and they're big ones."
"Get over yourself," Phelps-Roper says she told him. "You guys just don't get it. You bring all of these people in here, and you have them talk about a lot of nothing when you have this spot where you could use it to provoke your fellow countrymen to obey God.... You're in a lot of trouble. Calling me names and talking about what you might be able to unearth about my lifestyle? Good luck with that."
But Hannity's hunch was right. Phelps-Roper had sinned and it was a big one.
Lydia Phelps-Davis (Rebekahs daughter, left) joins Shirley Phelps Ropers sons Noah (center) and Zach for an afternoon funeral picket.
photo: Jay Soldner
In 1979, Shirley Phelps gave birth to a child out of wedlock. Estranged family members tell the Pitch that she became romantically involved with a man who was staying at a halfway house where she was doing her college internship. At the time, she was majoring in criminal justice at Washburn University in Topeka.