Former Family Friend Claims Michelle Duggar Was Complicit In Josh Coverup

The following article contains references to the sexual abuse of children.

Amazon Prime's highly anticipated docuseries, "Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets," starts streaming on June 2, and millions will surely be tuning in to discover the truth behind the seemingly clean-cut reality TV family. In the trailer, viewers learn that parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar belong to a controversial church, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). Its founder, Bill Gothard, claimed to have "the answer" to pleasing God: Namely, to follow a strict hierarchy in which men are the unquestioned leaders, and they, in turn, live by the rules Gothard set. 

As one ex-member put it, "Kids obey the parents; wives obey their husbands; everyone obeys Bill Gothard." IBLP families shun popular culture and skin-baring clothes, homeschool their children through a sketchy curriculum, and live debt-free through entrepreneurship and penny-pinching so as not to be dependent on the government or worldly employers. Ex-members claim the church is not only fundamentally un-Christian but also dangerously cult-like. They added that by putting the Duggar family in the spotlight, the TLC network helped normalize the IBLP. 

One interviewee even declared that "19 Kids & Counting" was nothing more than "a PR show for Gothard's teachings." But perhaps the most disturbing revelation of "Shiny Happy People" thus far surrounds the lengths to which the Duggar parents reportedly went to keep their show on the air. It involved covering up their darkest secret — and Michelle may have had more to do with it than anyone suspected.

The Duggars were determined not to let scandal stop them

"19 Kids & Counting" allowed Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar to showcase the IBLP and its values, although they de-emphasized the group itself. On their website, the Duggars clarified, "We said the only way we would do the [show] is if they did not edit out our faith because that is the core of our lives." So viewers saw the Duggars following their modest dress code and engaging in wholesome activities, without realizing the family was obeying the dictates of their dodgy church founder. 

Then, in 2015, the future of both the family and their TV series was threatened after news broke that eldest son Josh Duggar had molested four of his sisters as a teenager. Worse, Jim Bob Duggar didn't report it to the police for more than a year while the Duggars opted not to mention the situation to TLC at all. The parents did an interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News during which they denied their son was a pedophile and insisted they had moved on. 

"God is going to use all of this for good," Jim Bob said at the time (via Salon). Daughters Jessa Duggar Seewald and Jill Duggar Dillard, two of the sisters who were molested, also defended their brother. The damage control worked; TLC canceled the original series, but swiftly threw together the spinoff, "Counting On." This wasn't the only time the Duggars kept the scandal hidden, however. 

The Duggars didn't want to tell Josh's girlfriend what they knew

As a member of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, Michelle Duggar (née Ruark) submits to her husband Jim Bob Duggar's authority. She allows him to make all the major decisions for the family and tries to be the wife she says a husband needs: "A wife who is grateful ... loyal and supportive, develops inward and outward beauty ... honors his leadership ... make[s] appeals, not demands," per the official family website. 

But did Michelle's need to obey her husband and church get in the way of her better judgment? The "Shiny Happy People" docuseries suggests as much. Among the people interviewed for the series were Jim and Bobye Holt, a couple who were once close friends with the Duggars. In fact, their daughter, Kaeleigh, dated Josh Duggar, and the families hoped they would marry. But, as Bobye testified, the relationship abruptly ended in 2003 when the Duggars told her about Josh's misdeeds (per People).

In "Shiny Happy People," Holt goes one step further. He claims the Duggar matriarch was fully involved in the cover-up, and that the family almost didn't share the information with them: "Michelle said, 'We weren't going to have them tell you guys at all. We were going to have Josh confess to Kaeleigh once they were married.'" Holt adds that he was the one who prompted Jim Bob to take his son to the authorities, but Josh was let off the hook because the state trooper was a family friend.

How many more secrets will 'Shiny Happy People' reveal?

Of course, this was far from the end of the scandal surrounding Josh Duggar. The year 2015 also brought the stunning news of Josh's Ashley Madison membership, a forum for spouses looking for discreet affairs. Josh admitted publicly to being a "hypocrite" and to a pornography addiction that led him to be unfaithful to his wife (via CNN). Despite the revelations, Anna Duggar stayed with her husband and even added to their family. Then, in 2021, shortly after Anna's seventh pregnancy was announced, Josh was arrested on charges of receiving and possessing child sexual abuse material. 

Although he wasn't a part of the "Counting On" series, the disgrace was enough to end the Duggar family's time on reality TV for good. What followed was months of investigation, a trial, and finally, a guilty verdict that put Josh in prison for more than 12 years. Even knowing her son's history, Michelle Duggar wrote a letter begging the judge to give him a light sentence. All this begs an important question. 

Jim Bob and Michelle knew about Josh's history of sexual abuse at the time he was courting Anna. Did they tell her about it before she married him, or at any point afterward? If not, was this another instance of putting their TV show above all else? And did Michelle ever regret her part in the cover-up?  We'll have to wait until "Shiny Happy People" comes out to see if it provides any answers.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.