The vice mayor of Maricopa, Ariz., issued an apology after he praised recently-deceased Westboro Baptist founder Fred Phelps on Facebook, ultimately admitting that he had no idea who Fred Phelps was and had read an obituary from the satire publication The Onion, mistaking it for fact.
Vice Mayor Ed Farrell drew criticism on Facebook for a post he wrote on Monday, in which he praised Phelps. Phelps, a pastor, died at the age of 84 on March 19. He and his extremist Westboro Baptist group are known for their controversial and aggressive protesting style that often includes picketing the funerals of celebrities and U.S. soldiers and toting vulgar protest signs.
Farrell's Facebook post from Monday read: "We need more Fred Phelps in this world. May you rest in peace sir," and included a link to an obituary on Phelps from the satire publication, The Onion. The fake obituary was titled "Fred Phelps, Man Who Forever Stopped March Of Gay Rights, Dead At 84" and jokingly described Phelps as an activist who effectively ended LGBT advocacy altogether.
Shortly after his post, Farrell began receiving several comments that questioned if the vice mayor was making a joke. The vice mayor initially defended his post, saying he agreed with The Onion obituary that said Phelps was not afraid to preach the "biblical standards that our God made for us" regarding homosexuality.
The vice mayor then clarified to The Maricopa Monitor that he had "no clue" about who Phelps really was, thinking the controversial Westboro Baptist leader was a moderate, Kansas-based pastor who simply opposed same-sex marriage. "I had no idea who this Phelps guy was, I had no idea about the publication The Onion," Farrell told the local media outlet. "I was just simply scrolling down my news feed and saw this article."
"I had no clue about this guy; he's an idiot," Farrell said. "I can't believe that I posted what I posted … shame on me."
Farrell went on to say that he does stand by one part of his Facebook posts, saying he "[wishes] America could get back to the Biblical foundations." The vice mayor also said that his original Facebook post regarding Phelps was sparked by a traumatizing experience he recently had in Washington, D.C., when a male employee reportedly took Farrell's picture while he was showering in the locker room of the hotel's fitness club. Farrell told The Maricopa Monitor that the experience "scarred" him, and the recent incident is what triggered his controversial Facebook post.
"Just got on a soap box for awhile," Farrell wrote on his Facebook. "I'm off of it now. Still very affected by what happened to me in dc."
The vice mayor later posted a comment on his Facebook clarifying the incident, saying he had many LGBT friends and certainly didn't support Phelps' practice of protesting U.S. military funerals. "If you read the article, it mentions nothing about him being anti military, which by the way, I support our troops 100 % and thank God every morning for the ones that put their lives and their families on the line for America," the vice mayor wrote. "All the article mentions is how this guy fought against Gay rights on a biblical platform that God set before us."
Phelps passed away on March 19 of natural causes at around 11:15 p.m., his church confirmed. The controversial pastor is survived by his wife, Margie M. Simms, and his five children. His group, Westboro Baptist, is expected to continue its controversial practices despite its leader's death. The group is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination.