Ex-member: Westboro Baptist prayed for people to die

A former member of the controversial group told "Today,""We started praying for people to die."

A Kansas-based church known for its anti-gay views and for picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers prayed for people to die, according to a granddaughter of the founder of the church.

Libby Phelps Alvarez spoke to "Today" on Wednesday about Westboro Baptist Church's activities and her decision to leave it.

The church was started by Alvarez's grandfather, Fred Phelps. Church members travel the country picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers, who they say have died because the U.S. embraces homosexuality.

"There was a point where we started praying for people to die," Alvarez  told "Today." "I didn't actually do it, but I was around when they did it."

"They think that they're the only ones that are going to go heaven," Alvarez said in the interview. "I almost think I was brainwashed into thinking that I wasn’t brainwashed."

The church planned a protest of the funerals of children killed in the Newton, Conn., school shooting, but got backlash from the hacking collective Anonymous, who vowed "an agenda of action" against the group.

Many have called for the group's actions to be labeled hate crimes.

Back in December, a We the People petition asked the government to legally recognize the church as a hate group.

The petition currently has more than 334,000 signatures. "They pose a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve without some form of imposed regulation," the petition says.

Another petition on Change.org asks the president to "stop Westboro Baptist Church's discriminating actions/hate crimes."

"Westboro Baptist is a hate group who are committing hate crimes," the petition says.

Alvarez fled four years ago while her parents were at a protest, according to "Today," and has since done a number of things formerly forbidden to her, including traveling, getting married, piercing her ears and getting a haircut.

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