Scott Blaine Swenson looks closer at Fred Phelps' own background, and his son Nate Phelps who left the home at 18:

“He’s very narcissistic,” Nate says of his father, “it’s always about him and his personal life. We were instruments to be used. Any concern for our individuality was absent.” Nate explains that the Phelps children (and now grandchildren) were brought up believing the world was evil, everyone and everything outside their family compound was sinful, self-motivated.

The children were routinely humiliated by their father, sent to school with shaved heads for not selling enough candy door-to-door to support the family, or made to leave class during any discussion of history that referred to religion or singing of Christmas carols. Always made to feel different and largely forbidden from socializing outside the family, their alienation became so great it made going home to their father’s violent rage seem safe and normal.

Sounds like a family as abusive cult to me. Which is why we should try not to generalize too much from their unique brand of hatred.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.