On Sunday, the Westboro Baptist Church — which is almost universally reviled for picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers and celebrities — confirmed that founder and longtime pastor Fred Phelps Sr. has some "health problems" and is in a care facility. Late Saturday, estranged son Nathan Phelps said on Facebook that his father is "on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas."
Nathan Phelps also informed the world outside of the insular church that his father "was ex-communicated from the 'church' back in August of 2013," adding in an email to The Topeka Capital-Journal that after his father was voted out of Westboro Baptist and moved from his residence above the church, he stopped eating and drinking. A second estranged son, Mark Phelps, confirmed the news from brother Nathan.
Westboro spokesman Steve Drain said that Nathan Phelps was "ill informed," denied that Fred Phelps is near death, and said that "we don't owe any talk to you about" internal church matters. Star Trek alumnus and social-media celebrity George Takei urged his 6.4 million Facebook followers to take the high road with Phelps' impending death: Don't "dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding 'God Hates Freds' signs, tempting as it may be." Westboro is most infamous for its "God Hates Fags" signs, and for suggesting that U.S. troops are dying because of America's tolerance for gays and lesbians. Peter Weber
"Look, it's not easy being a member of Congress these days," Seth Meyers said on Thursday's Late Night, "facing down angry voters at rowdy town halls, standing under those hot lights, getting yelled at by your constituents. I'm sure they'd love to get out of there and just relax for a while, like this guy" — that guy being President Trump on his golf course. "While Trump is tweeting and hitting the links, Republican members of Congress are in their home districts dealing with constituents who are angry about Trump's first month in office," Meyers said, plus his tax returns, ties to Russia, and the GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Meyers ran though some of the tough questions fielded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.), Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), who Meyers said "looks like a kid in a school play whose performance was so bad they called him back out on stage by himself so everyone could boo him." In Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz got lustily booed for "just mentioning the name of the vice president," Meyers said, noting, to be fair, that Mike Pence has also been booed recently at a Broadway show and an Indiana minor-league baseball game.
"And by the way, it's not just Republicans who are facing town hall protests," he said. "Moderate Democrats are also preparing for protests at their own town halls from constituents demanding they stand up to Trump," and they are seeking help, reportedly, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But most of the anger has been toward the GOP. "Trump and Republicans in Congress are facing a massive backlash over their plan to repeal ObamaCare, because they have nothing better to offer," Meyers said, listing three legs of the GOP replacement plan: Tums, Advil, and soup. Watch below. Peter Weber
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a conservative Republican from Florida, caught constituents off guard on Thursday when he agreed that President Trump should release his tax returns.
During a town hall in Pace, a woman told Gaetz her family has been in the United States for 400 years, and she has had relatives fight in every major war. "There are allegations a foreign government has infiltrated our government at the highest levels," she said, before asking Gaetz if he would demand that Trump release his tax returns in order to show any ties to Russia. The crowd began to boo Gaetz, CNN reports, but he quickly interjected, "If you hear me out, you'll like my answer.... Absolutely, Donald Trump should release his tax returns." That earned him some rare applause, though he did not back subpoenaing Trump's returns.
At most town halls held this week by Republican lawmakers, the issue of Trump's taxes has been a major point of conversation. Unlike every other major party nominee since 1972, Trump did not release his tax returns during his campaign, claiming that he was under audit and had been advised not to do so. Catherine Garcia
Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was killed by a highly toxic VX nerve agent that the United Nations has classified as a weapon of mass destruction, Malaysian police said Friday.
Earlier this month, Kim Jong Nam was at the Kuala Lumpur airport when he said a woman grabbed his face and sprayed him with some sort of chemical; he died from a seizure on the way to the hospital. Authorities say a preliminary analysis of swabs taken of his face and eyes shows ethyl N-2-Diisopropylaminoethyl Methylphosphonothiolate, the most potent of all nerve agents, which is lethal after just a fraction of a drop is absorbed through the skin.
Previously only seen in chemical warfare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says exposure to VX nerve agent can lead to convulsions, paralysis, and fatal respiratory failure. The police have said two attackers rubbed a liquid on Kim's face before they fled and washed their hands. Catherine Garcia
Some of Hollywood's biggest names will gather in Beverly Hills on Friday for a pro-immigrant rights rally.
Organized by the United Talent Agency, the United Voices rally "aims to express the creative community's support for freedom of speech and artistic expression, and stand against policies of exclusion and division," the company said in a statement. UTA is one of the most powerful talent agencies in Hollywood, and represents Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who is nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Farhadi said he won't attend Sunday's ceremony because President Trump's executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, is "unjust."
Jodie Foster, Michael J. Fox, Wilmer Valderrama, and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are slated to speak at the rally, and James Franco, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Seth Rogen, and Aisha Tyler are all set to appear. The rally is being held in lieu of UTA's annual Oscar gala, and the agency said it will also donate $250,000 to the International Rescue Committee and the ACLU. Catherine Garcia
While he would like to live in a world without any nuclear weapons, President Trump told Reuters on Thursday, as it stands today, the United States has "fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity" and he wants the U.S. arsenal to be "at the top of the pack."
"We're never going to fall behind any country even if it's a friendly country, we're never going to fall behind on nuclear power," he said. The Ploughshares Fund organization says the United States has 6,800 warheads, compared with Russia's 7,000. New START, a strategic arms limitation treaty between the U.S. and Russia, requires that both countries curb their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons to equal levels by Feb. 5, 2018, keeping them there for 10 years. Trump told Reuters this was a "one-sided deal," and he's "going to start making good deals."
Along with weeding through its nuclear stockpile, the U.S. is spending $1 trillion over 30 years to modernize its aging bombers, land-based missiles, and ballistic missile submarines. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the nonprofit Arms Control Association, told Reuters that both the U.S. and Russia have "far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country." Catherine Garcia
In addition to white people, Richard Spencer also loves the band Depeche Mode. Unfortunately for Spencer, the feelings are not mutual.
Spencer, the white nationalist and alt-right poster boy who became infamous during the presidential campaign as a supporter of Donald Trump, told a reporter at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday that Depeche Mode "is the official band of the alt-right." Later, Spencer told Rolling Stone he is a "lifelong Depeche Mode fan," though his "tongue was firmly in cheek" when he made his earlier statement. "They aren't a typical rock band, in terms of lyrics and much else," he said. "Depeche Mode is a band of existential angst, pain, sadism, horror, darkness, and much more." The group doesn't do "bubblegum pop," Spencer continued, and he claimed their album Music for the Masses has a "bit of a fascist element."
Considering one of Depeche Mode's most notable songs, "People Are People," includes the lyrics, "I can't understand/What makes a man/Hate another man/Help me understand," it was no surprise a representative for the band quickly told Rolling Stone Depeche Mode "has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt-right and does not support the alt-right movement." Catherine Garcia
After several news organizations reported that Donald Trump's advisers were in constant contact with Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, the White House requested the FBI publicly denounce the stories, muliple U.S. officials "briefed on the matter" told CNN Thursday.
The White House wanted the FBI and other agencies investigating the matter to say that the Feb. 14 reports from The New York Times and CNN were false and the two sides never communicated, the officials said, but FBI Director James Comey rejected the request, made by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, because of the ongoing investigation of ties between Trump associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence. The White House is not supposed to directly communicate with the FBI, and such a request violates procedures that limit contact with the FBI over pending investigations. Catherine Garcia