Duggar family secrets are spilled in a four-part docuseries looking at the controversial reality TV family and their ties to the embattled Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).
Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets digs into the radical religious organization — a fundamentalist ministry which has long guided Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s conservative faith. The Duggars’s Christian beliefs — which include male superiority, no birth control, large families, homeschooling kids, conservative dress, female obedience and more — were the focus of their TLC shows, network staples for two decades. Both on-screen and off, the 19 Kids and Counting family promoted and attended IBLP events, even speaking at them. Since the mid-2010s, the Duggars and IBLP have been rocked by scandal. This docuseries looks at how the two are entwined.
Jill Duggar Dillard — a victim of childhood sexual abuse by her brother Josh Duggar, who was sent for “treatment” at an IBLP facility (he’s now in prison after his 2022 child porn conviction) — goes on the record against the family in the doc alongside her husband Derick Dillard. Jim Bob’s sister, Deanna Jordan, and niece, Amy Duggar King, also appear. They provide insight into the family while ex-IBLP survivors speak to the ministry’s abusive practices under founder Bill Gothard, who resigned in 2014 after being accused of sexual harassment and molestation by over 30 women, including some minors.
Olivia Crist, who directed the project, tells Yahoo Entertainment, “It wasn’t until I really started digging into the research of the insidious organization behind the family, the IBLP, that [I] started to kind of go down the rabbit hole of this cult.”
Executive producer Blye Pagon Faust adds, “The story here is so much bigger than the Duggars.”
The IBLP teachings that Jim Bob, Michelle said “changed our lives”
Shiny Happy People‘s broader story is about IBLP, which Jim Bob and Michelle once claimed “changed our lives.” Several ex members detail horror stories, ranging from sexual abuse in the ministry headquarters and physical/psychological abuse at the training centers.
Gothard created IBLP’s principles, which center around an “umbrella of authority,” where the male is the leader of the family and is to be obeyed. Women, who are matched with a husband through their father, have as many kids as they can, teach them obedience, homeschool the kids and run the house (but have no part of the family finances). Females dress conservatively, under the direction of the father. TV, music (unless it’s Christian), drinking, dating and dancing are discouraged. Females are discouraged from pursuing higher education while males are raised to be leaders, including in politics, to spread IBLP beliefs. Sexuality is to be repressed and ignored until marriage. Once married, women are not to resist their husband’s need for physical intimacy.
“Gothard turned every father into a cult leader and every home into an island,” Josh Pease, a pastor and journalist, said in the doc.
Gothard — who declined to comment for the series and previously denied sexual harassment and abuse allegations against him — created an entire IBLP offshoot for homeschooling called Advanced Training Institute (ATI), which the Duggar children — and thousands of other kids — followed. The program, sunsetted in 2021, centered on “Wisdom Booklets.” Children were taught to not ask questions and follow patriarchal standards. Sex education wasn’t taught, nor was evolution. One “lesson” shown was for kids to identify examples of lustful outfits worn by women. Kids were also taught to exhibit modesty in the home because “nakedness arouses insatiable lusts” in males.
In the doc, many talked about how they had no real education when they were done. Others claimed knowledge of sex abuse within family units like Josh molesting four of his sisters and another unidentified person, saying it’s prevalent because sexuality is repressed, leading to compulsive sexual behavior for some. “The institute raises little predators,” another ex-member said.
Gothard — who never married or had kids, despite instructing people to navigate both marriage and parenting — rolled out his principles at conferences attended by an estimated 2 million people, including the Duggars. Attendees took the teachings back to their communities, spreading his word across the country. Gothard also started training centers across the country — like the one Josh was sent to when he continued abusing girls — where kids did manual labor.
“World domination was the goal,” an ex-member said in the series, noting how TLC’s shows about the family, starting in 2008, became a recruiting tool and promotional vehicle for IBLP. The institute drew support from conservative politicians, including Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. (Huckabee spoke out on Josh’s behalf when the molestation allegations surfaced.)
“It’s not just a church,” Faust explains. “It’s not like one single church on a corner or group of churches or even like a commune for a cult. [IBLP] is an ideology that was packaged up and it was sent out into the world through schools, prisons, military, police and it has made its way into the Supreme Court [and] the halls of Congress. It is an ideology that is so insidious and so harmful. It’s just one of those too that’s hiding in plain sight… I think people’s … minds will be blown when they understand just how far and how deep this has gone. And, again, it is so far beyond the Duggars.”
Jill talks growing up Duggar in an IBLP home
“We have Jill Duggar Dillard on the record and she was so incredible and so forthcoming and so honest, and just laid things bare,” Faust says. “Amy King as well, their cousin, and Deanna Duggar, who is Jim Bob’s sister.”
In her interview, Jill said, “We were a part of the Institute in Basic Life Principles from as early as I remember… Having a voice about what you think and how you feel — and being able to voice and say no about things — was stifled and not encouraged in the IBLP setting, in my family.”
Amy, who wasn’t raise under IBLP principles, recalled witnessing rod punishment when she visited her cousins’ home.
“They called it ‘encouragement.’ They literally said: ‘You need to come into the room and we need to give you some encouragement,'” she remembered. “But it was in the sweetest tone ever: ‘Do you need encouragement? I think you need encouragement.'”
Amy recalled the family holding a bonfire to burn everything Disney and otherwise “worldly.”
Jill said they were homeschooled because they were told kids could be “brainwashed” in public schools.
With males supposed to repress or ignore their sexual feelings, the Duggars used a code word (“Nike”) if someone immodestly dressed was near, so that the male family members could put their head down to avoid looking and having lustful thoughts. It’s explained in the doc that boys are not to change the diapers of female babies for fear they’ll be tempted to touch them.
“If you were in ATI or IBLP, unfortunately, a lot of times you have to go through hell, because it’s not until then that you would risk everything to like, get out of those situations,” Jill said. “Eventually you start making your own decisions, like the nose ring that I got. And it’s piece by piece little by little to like, do what you need to like survive.”
Amy said it’s a “night and day difference” between how Jill was when she lived in Jim Bob’s home and now that she and Derrick are on their own raising their family. “I’m just really really, really proud of her.”
There are many new revelations in the docuseries from Jill and others, also including Jim Bob and Michelle’s former best friends, Jim and Bobye Holt.
Jill emotionally spoke about being one of Josh’s molestation victims, and then being told to sit down with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly in 2015 to defend her brother. She said in hindsight, “I wouldn’t have done” the interview, which she said was an attempt to save 19 Kids and Counting from being canceled. Derrick said he “would not call [Jill’s participation] voluntary.”
Bobye talked about providing key testimony against Josh in his 2021 child pornography trial. Her daughter Kaeleigh was dating Josh with the intention they’d marry when she and her husband learned, in 2003, that Josh had molested five girls when he was between ages 12 and 15. Bobye claimed she asked Michelle when she planned to tell her what Josh had been doing and Michelle said never. Bobye claimed Michelle said Josh was going to keep it a secret and then “confess to Kaeleigh once they were married.” The couple felt their daughter was a “carrot” dangled in front of Josh to get him to control himself. (Josh later married Anna Duggar in 2008.)
Jim went with Jim Bob to speak with an Arkansas state trooper to discuss the Josh molestation allegations. Jim recalled the trooper saying they’d let Josh go that time. “We found out later this guy was a friend of Jim Bob’s,” Jim said. The state trooper was later sentenced to 56 years in prison for child porn.
Instead of sending Josh to a treatment facility for psychotherapy and sex therapy, he was sent to an IBLP facility in Little Rock. Jim Bob picked him up early when the family was to be featured in a magazine spread — the one that ultimately landed to their TLC show.
Jim Bob’s sister Deanna said of her nephew’s problems growing exceedingly worse, resulting in his child porn arrest in 2021: “It could have all been taken care of in a different way if my brother had just woke up and realized he needed to help his son.”
Of Josh, a father of seven, being convicted in his “worst of the worst” child porn case, Amy, said, “It’s the epitome of evil. I don’t think there’s anything worse.”
Jill talked about not being paid to appear on 19 Kids and Counting or the post-scandal spin-off she starred in, Counting On. She said her name was signed on some contracts without her permission. When she approached her father, he offered to pay her $10 an hour for shooting, despite her wedding being the highest-rated episode on TLC. She was told she could get a lump sum (though minimal) but payout only if she signed a new five-year contract. At the end of the day, “I never received any payout” she said. “No check. No cash. No nothing.”
When Jill was giving birth to her first child, she didn’t want the labor filmed, as had been for Josh and Anna. However, she had never said no to her father before. Ultimately, “we basically lost,” Derrick said. The agreement was they could record their own diaries from the delivery, “so they still got the footage,” she said.
“Our work ultimately stands for itself”
There are victims inside and out of the Duggard family, according to the doc. A big focus is ex-IBLP members claiming they were abused by Gothard. Others talk about how he stole their childhoods through his teaching. Some talked about how the Duggar shows made their lives worse because it misrepresented what life was really like within IBLP.
“Our work ultimately stands for itself,” Faust says of the finished product. “We did some real investigative work on this to put the larger pieces together.”
The hope is that maybe Jim Bob and Michelle will tune in, too.
“We hope that they actually will take a look at it themselves and maybe there’s some sort of reflection and changes,” Faust adds. “And other members of the family and of the IBLP organization and ideology perhaps will also come forward and renounce a lot of the harmful teachings.”
Another hope is that the future of TV programming is overhauled as well. After all, the Duggars drew a big audience over the years.
“I think that anyone who takes a look at this [will realize] that some of these things that we’re consuming as entertainment [are] actually misogyny and educational abuse,” explains Cori Shepherd Stern, who is also an executive producer. “To watch a show and to see a child not be taught anything… I would hope that we all as entertainment professionals, take a look at our responsibility in what we’re presenting.”
Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets premieres Friday, June 2 on Prime Video.