The descriptions I've read of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) describe its congregation as composed "mostly" or "almost entirely" of pastor Fred Phelps' own relatives. I've wondered who makes up the remainder of the parishioners. I can kinda sorta understand that someone who was raised in the Phelps household/church might decide to stay with the family even when they're old enough to move out. After all, no matter how much you disagree with your family's beliefs, walking away from them permanently would be difficult (although some of Phelps' relatives, most famously his son Nate, have left). But how could WBC's hatemongering possibly attract someone who wasn't thoroughly indoctrinated into Phelps' fringe belief system from birth?
After reading this article, I'm still wondering. Steve Drain, an aspiring filmmaker who initially came to WBC to film a documentary, was prepared to hate Phelps, but instead came to see him as "the most misunderstood man alive," as "this humble, little old man" who spreads his "God Hates..." ("fags," soldiers, the US, Sweden, etc.) message "out of a heartfelt fear that if he doesn't do it, then the Lord is going to deal with him." Did Drain bother to watch Phelps as he was filming him? That ain't fear on Phelps' face; it's hate. Phelps has preached—with a grin—that he loves the thought of people going to hell and will be "watching you suffer, in all the nuances of your exquisite torment."†
According to the article, Drain came to admire Phelps and his family because they didn't omit parts of the Bible that they didn't like. The more he watched the footage he'd shot at WBC, the more he felt that he belonged there. Eventually he moved his family to Topeka, into a one-bedroom house near the church. He, his wife, and his 19-year-old daughter are now members of the church, the only ones not related to Fred Phelps by blood or marriage. His 7- and 9-year-old kids have not yet made "professions of faith"; Drain and his wife turned their oldest daughter "over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh" because she "offended the Lord" by having an online relationship with a man. Drain gave her some money and a car, and says he "wasn't trying to be cruel" by kicking her out, but he "can't be dragged down by somebody who has no interest in serving the Lord."
Drain's documentary "Hatemongers" (which contains language that is Not Suitable For Work) can be found in multiple chunks on Google Video. I've only watched the first couple of segments, and I'm glad that it's split into several short pieces because my tolerance for the Westboro wackos is limited. Possibly Drain actually explains his baffling sympathy for Phelps in one of the later segments. Possibly the May 21st "rapture" predictions from a completely separate group of fringe Christians are correct, and we heathens won't have to deal with Phelps and his ilk anymore after Saturday.
† At about the 06:10 mark in the linked video. Sorry, "deep linking" to a specific spot in a Google Video used to work, but no more, apparently.