The Long Lens blog: Photography with added snaps, art and culture

The photography site for sore eyes. Featuring: Art, photography, performance and theatre. With extra writing because I'm also a writer.

O my God (Hates America)

The Westboro Baptist Church, better known as or Those Awful People Who Picket The Funerals of Dead Soldiers, are a strange set indeed.

Out of all the interviews I’ve ever done, this lot have generated the most interest. And, let me tell you, I’ve interviewed Jim Bowen. People can’t wait to ask what they are really like.

I was fortunate enough to spend the day with Shirley Phelps, the motormouth unofficial leader of the gang, and her oldest daughter Megan. The rest of the kids – Bekah, Libby, Luke, Noah, Jonah, Zach, Isaiah, Gabriel and Grace drifted in and out during the day. And that’s not even all of them.

And what did I think of them? Well, like a thesis on the molecular deconstruction of photoreceptors which sprout anomalous neurites that reach the inner plexiform and ganglion cell layers, it’s difficult to explain.

I stayed in Topeka with one of the nicest (and largest) families I have ever met. I can’t rate Shirley (pictured) highly enough. I have some great photographs of this remarkable woman with her kids. I’ll have to send her some copies. But what I learned is you can’t separate this family from their burning religious beliefs. Their religion is their existence.

Some of the things they said to me were hideous, unpalatable and uncomfortable. They are acutely aware of this, but have total belief in the reasons they have for saying it.

Fred said ‘taking it up the rump’ so many times I nearly laughed. I don’t think Shirley noticed.

Whether condemning the paedophiles, America or me, they always did it with warmth, generosity and with a smile on their face. And that’s the most important thing. It’s the American way. I say: God bless America (even though God hates America).

Be shocked, appalled or join them at and


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