When his parents heard the charges against him, they were stunned.
His mother, who had a kidney transplant two years ago, is in serious ill health, exacerbated by the stress of finding out about his crimes.
He was surprised that a member of the Westboro Baptist Church was on Twitter at all.
“I sort of thought they would be this fire-and-brimstone sort of Pentecostal anti-technology clan that would be removed from the world,” he told me. Sample tweet: ‘Phelps-Roper was exhilarated by the response. Like this: God hates America.” That afternoon, as Phelps-Roper picketed a small business in Topeka with other Westboro members, she was still glued to her i Phone.
In 1994, the church launched a Web site, and early on it had a chat room where visitors could interact with members of Westboro.
He believed that all people were born depraved, and that only a tiny elect who repented would be saved from Hell.
A literalist, Phelps believed that contemporary Christianity, with its emphasis on God’s love, preached a perverted version of the Bible.
As a child, Phelps-Roper spent hours there, sparring with strangers.
She learned about Twitter in 2008, after reading an article about an American graduate student in Egypt who had used it to notify his friends that he had been arrested while photographing riots.