In this sequel, broadcast by the BBC on April 3, Theroux revisits the Westboro Baptist Church, run by the Phelps clan, the Topeka, Kansas-based fundamentalist cult infamous for its message that "God hates fags," "God hates America" and, dammit, God just hates everyone in the world but them. But this time round, it was a more upsetting experience for me. Back then, they seemed just a bunch of isolated weirdos. In the new film, Theroux probes deeper, especially into the minds of the church's young people, some of whom have since left or been shunned by the church.
One such young person is Libby Phelps, who tearfully describes how a series of events, stemming from the sin of wearing a bikini on a vacation to Puerto Rico, led to the sudden realization that she just "had to get out." I was reminded uncomfortably of my own mom's experience in an abusive fundamentalist church, and my advice to her when the control it had over her began to unravel: Run.
An aspect of the Westboro Baptist Church that came through very strongly in the original documentary was how brilliantly its members managed to hide all signs of inner conflict. Jael Phelps, for example, displayed a remarkably wide and resilient smile in the face of a grilling. In the sequel, we see the veneer begin to crack, however, and never more so than in Theroux's interview with the likeable teenager Grace. She is visibly uncomfortable toeing the Phelps line, and it's clear the rest of the clan know it. Her peers surround her, watching her words like hawks. Eventually some of the other girls let their masks slip as they get emotional talking about their attachment to a group of young (male) students who visited the church from Holland. Jael exerts such control over the situation that Louis turns to her and says:
What are you, like the Gestapo now? ... Your role is [to] interject the doctrinal hard line at key moments, when people are showing vulnerability?
Another tragic moment is when Louis talks to an Asian man, who sits taking notes at the back of the church during a service. The rather effeminate young man hopes to join the church, but isn't yet sure he's ready. He believes he's going to hell, and when asked whether he's obeying God, he answers, "Truthfully, no, because that is something that I have to work on." Matriarch Shirley Phelps-Roper interjects to inform Louis the guy came in "off the streets of San Francisco." It's not difficult to fill in the blanks -- and it's tragic.