In 2009, the Westboro Baptist Church lost a member: Libby Phelps Alvarez, the granddaughter of church founder and pastor Fred Phelps, Sr.
Libby Phelps abandoned the church and a lifetime of picketing the funerals of slain soldiers and holding up slur-filled anti-gay slogans, gaining her freedom from a life controlled by hate as she did so.
Now, nearly four years later, she has re-emerged to tell her story – to NBC’s Today Show, in which Phelps described the "controlling life of hatred and intolerance" she left behind.
"They think that they are the only ones who are going to heaven and if you don't go to that church you're going to hell," she told Today, adding that the membership was primarily motivated by extreme homophobia.
"There was a point when we started praying for people to die," Phelps Alvarez continued. "I didn't actually do that but I was around when they did it."
A petition submitted to the White House after the church threatened to picket the funerals of Sandy Hook victims received more than cleared the 20,000 threshold for an official response – reaching some 335,000 signatures. However, the church has not been classified as a hate group by the federal government, and it still receives tax-exempt status.
How far has Libby come? What exactly do the members of the congregation preach? In a video from the documentary Church of Hate, released in 2007, a carefree-looking Libby Phelps can be seen answering questions about the hatred the Westboro Baptist Church has for others with her relative Jael Phelps.
"I'd rather the whole world go to hell ... whatever God's role is is great by us," Libby begins, concurring with Jael.
"Dying time is truth time!"
She continues, talking about how sinners must feel in hell: "And all that dead person is a drop of water so they can cool their tongue, so that they can go back to their family and tell them how awful this place is, and to repent and listen to Phelps."
"We're happy when the world hates us cause that's what the bible says they're supposed to treat us," Phelps continues.
For Libby Phelps Alvarez, it seems, the past four years have truly been transformative.
For Jael, however, not so much: an interview posted by The Momisodes with her in March 2012 still shows her calmly discussing the church’s ideology, mentioning that she “cannot empathize” with the parents of dead soldiers “about that evil conduct that follows such a terrible judgment from God upon their lives,” and “cannot justify spending time with people who don’t love and serve the Lord.”