From the time she was 8, Libby Phelps Alvarez traveled the country protesting funerals. Like other members of the family-based Westboro Baptist Church, she often crashed the funerals of fallen soldiers.
“They think that they're fighting for a nation that supports homosexuality," Alvarez told TODAY, explaining the rationale behind the protests.
Now, Alvarez has left the inflammatory Kansas-based church started by her grandfather and travels the world with her new husband experiencing simple acts once forbidden by her former cult-like religion – like getting a haircut. She also has gotten her ears pierced.
She said she first began to question church activities after a friend’s husband died while serving in the military. Her family picketed the funeral. She stayed behind.
“There was a point when we started praying for people to die,” she said. “I didn't actually do that but I was around when they did it.”
In addition to disrupting military funerals, Westboro church members also are known for extreme anti-gay and anti-Semitic rhetoric, targeting both groups in their protests. But they shocked the nation when they announced plans to protest the funerals of the children killed in the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting.
“Westboro will picket Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment,” the church announced in a tweet.
"They think that they are the only ones who are going to heaven and if you don't go to that church you're going to hell,” Alvarez said.
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