Duggar family documentary 'Shiny Happy People' alleges there was a secret cult of abuse (2024)

For seven years, the Duggars shared cheerful images of their large family with the world through their hit TLC reality show, "19 Kids and Counting."

In recent years, however, the family has come to be defined by scandals. In 2015, the show was canceled followingrevelations that oldest child,Josh Duggar,had molested four of his sisters and a babysitterwhen he was a teen. That year, Josh alsoadmitted to cheating on his wife and shared a public apology.

The family didn't stop sharing their lives on TV; however, and a spinoff series, "Jill & Jessa: Counting On" ran on TLC and focused on Josh's sisters and their families.

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Timeline:Duggar sex-abuse scandal

That show was canceled, too, after Josh was arrested for possession of child p*rnography in 2021. He was later convicted and sentenced to more than 12 years in prison.

Now, members of the Duggar family are in front of the cameras once again – this time, for an explosive documentary. "Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets," a four-part limited docuseries (streaming now on Amazon Prime).

The show's most shocking revelations about the famous family – and the now-disgraced "cult" to which they belonged:

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What 'cult' were the Duggars a part of?

Ever wondered why, exactly, the Duggars had so many kids? "Shiny Happy People" details the ultra-conservative teachings of the religious group that parents Jim Bob and Michelle joined as a young couple.

The Institute for Basic Life Principles was founded by Bill Gothard, an influential leader in the conservative Christian "Quiverfull" movement. "He believed Christian families should have as many children as possible in order to have more chances to influence the world for Jesus Christ."

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Roughly 2 million people attended one of Gothard's seminars in person or via satellite, the documentary claims. His organization was built on the doctrine that there were "umbrellas of authority" all good Christians needed to follow. A high premium was placed on "instant obedience": Women were required to submit to a male leader at all times, and children to their parents. Gothard also urged families in his organization to homeschool their kids using his comprehensive Christian curriculum.

The documentary explains that Gothard, who never married or had kids, was later forced out of leadership because of alleged sexual harassment and assault of young girls. He later countersued his alleged victims but lost the case.

“Shiny Happy People” makes the case that Josh Duggar’s abuse was not simply an isolated event. By detailing how the Duggars grew up in a cult led by an accused sexual predator who taught women and children to be unwaveringly obedient and submissive, the series presents Josh’s abuse as less of a shock and more of a terrible inevitability.

Horrifying accusations: Training children 'like animals,' educational neglect, labor camps

Participants in the docuseries accused the institute of many forms of child abuse.

According to the show, IBLP encouraged parents to use the book “To Train Up a Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl as a guide for disciplining their children.

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The series showed clips of Michael Pearl explaining his methodology on morning news shows and at institute seminars. In one clip, Pearl instructed parents to hit a child five times and then, "If he screams too hard with the first five, gets hysterical, wait. You know, a little psychological terror is sometimes more effective than the pain.”

Amy Duggar King, a cousin of the Duggar children, described how that punishment was implemented in the family's home. “They called it ‘encouragement,’” King said. ”You need to come into the room and we need to give you some encouragement,” Michelle Duggar would tell her children "in the sweetest voice," King added.

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The show also described the details of "blanket training," which the Duggar matriarch detailed in one of her books. The technique was used on very young, sometimes infant children. A parent would put an object a child wanted just outside a blanket the baby was lying on; when the child reached for it, they would be hit.

The goal was "breaking the rebellious spirit they’re born with," said Eve Ettinger, an ex-IBLP member featured in the show.

The show also alleged that the institute ran training centers for children, where kids worked long hours doing unpaid and often-strenuous manual labor. Duggar family friend Jim Holt said Josh was sent to one of these programs by his parents after allegedly confessing to sexually abusing his sisters.

Jill Duggar Dillard: “Yes, we were taken advantage of”

In one of the show's most heartbreaking scenes, fourth eldest child Jill Duggar Dillard described her Fox News interview following the public exposure of her brother’s molestation.

Dillard, one of her brother’s victims, said she “felt obligated” to appear on Fox News and defend him. “I didn’t want to, but at the same time I’d never said no to my family before,” Dillard said. ”It was this whole umbrellas of authority thing,” she added, referencing the group's emphasis on submission from women and children. “That was ingrained in me.”

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Dillard also alleged she was never paid for her appearance on “19 Kids and Counting” or the spinoff series she starred in. “For seven and a half years of my adult life, I was never paid," she said.

In one episode of "Counting On,” Dillard said she was pressured into giving birth on TV, despite her previous resistance, but didn't have the money to cover medical costs and at times relied on food stamps.

In a 2020 YouTube video, Dillard talked about the current state of her relationship with her family. "We’re having to kind of just take some time and heal and just doing what's best for our family right now and just working through it, I guess," the fourth Duggar child wrote. "It's difficult, but we're praying and trusting God that the timeline is his."

Contributing: Amy Haneline

Duggar family documentary 'Shiny Happy People' alleges there was a secret cult of abuse (2024)
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