Louis Theroux is making a long-anticipated return to Kansas, to once again meet the members of one of America’s most notorious hate groups, in a new documentary Surviving America's Most Hated Family.
The Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial Christian ministry, are known for protesting and picketing high profile events, including military funerals and creating antagonistic homophobic placards.
Having been led by Pastor Fred Phelps, also known as ‘Gramps’ to the congregation, his death in 2014 led to extreme changes within the tight-knit family community.
In a time of Trump’s America, controversial statements are now commonplace and the relevance of the church has been brought into question, threatening to tear it apart.
Pastor Phelps’ final days were marred by allegations of mental illness and excommunication, as well high-profile family defections including Pastor Phelps’ own granddaughter Megan; now a prominent Westboro critic.
Theroux is ready to immerse himself back into the church's toxic environment, to discover the impact the loss of the church’s patriarch has had.
Despite his death, Pastor Phelps’ doctrine of divine hate has cast a shadow on both the church’s true believers and those who have escaped Westboro’s vice-like grip.
This has not prevented the group from attracting new members, like Bradford-born Mathias Holroyd, who believes Westboro’s fire and brimstone rhetoric speaks to his struggle to fit in with modern society.
Theroux was interested to return to the church and see how over 13 years the extreme religious group had changed from the inside and from the perspective of ex-members.
He understood that the church had let him back in so they could spread their twisted take on the gospels, but for Theroux it offered the opportunity to see “the strange machinations of psychology, religion, and social conditioning.”
“We’ve been able to tell a story about indoctrination, where it comes from, how it is enforced - but also about deradicalisation, and the way in which a handful of those who were formerly zealots have managed to break free and take a kinder less hateful view of the world,” said Theroux.
He added: “Gramps’ angry and bigoted outlook had been the bedrock of Westboro's practises and I was curious to see whether his death might have caused any kind of break-up or re-evaluation within the church, especially since there had been rumours that Fred Phelps might have had some kind of change of heart at the end of his life.”
Surviving America's Most Hated Family will air on BBC Two at a to be confirmed date.