Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died Thursday after an illness, Kansas City's KCTV reports. He was 84.

Based in Topeka, Kansas, the WBC is known for protesting events such as celebrity and military funerals, with its members brandishing signs with anti-gay messages like "God Hates F--s."

Born in Meridian, Miss., Phelps planned to pursue a career in the military but decided to become a minister instead. He became the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in 1955.

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In the 1960s, he earned a law degree and became a lawyer. He was permanently disbarred from practicing law in Kansas in 1979, after he verbally berated a court reporter on the stand.

Phelps ran for governor of Kansas in the Democratic primary election in 1990, 1994 and 1998, and for the U.S. Senate in 1992.

Earlier this month, Phelps' estranged son Nathan — who left the church — told The Associated Press that Phelps was dying and had been excommunicated from the WBC for reasons that are unclear.