It wasn’t until Libby Phelps was an adult, a twenty-five year old, that she escaped the Westboro Baptist Church. She is the granddaughter of its founder, Fred Phelps, and when she left, the church and its values were all she’d known. She didn’t tell her family she was leaving. It happened in just a few minutes; she ran into her house, grabbed a bag, and fled. No goodbyes.
Based in Topeka, Kansas, the Westboro Baptist Church community is one the country’s most notorious evangelical groups. Its members are known for their boisterous picketing—their zealous members with anti-military, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay signs—“Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Jews,” or “Thank God for 9/11”—and their notorious catchphrase “God hates fags.” Search for them online and you’re directed to their website, www.godhatesfags.com.
The church makes headlines in news across the country. You’ve driven past its picketers or seen them on TV. It has seventy members and ninety percent of them are part of Libby’s family. They picket concerts, football games, other churches, and, most notoriously, the funerals of servicemen and victims of hate crimes. For its members, to question its rules is to risk going to hell—where worms eat at your body and fire shoots out of your eyeballs.
In Girl on a Wire, Libby is candid about her experience and what’s happened since her escape. On Anderson Cooper Live, she was confronted by the mother of a soldier whose funeral had been picketed, and had to respond. Despite it all, she cares for her family. Her grandfather’s sermons were fear mongering, but she loves him. This unusual memoir presents a rare, inside look into a notorious cult, and is an astonishing story of strength, bravery, and determination.