A House Divided: The Secrets Josh Duggar and His Family Tried to Keep Are Back to Haunt Them

Josh Duggar's family rallied around him in 2015 when decade-old molestation accusations were revealed. Now that he's charged with possessing child pornography, they may have to keep their distance.

By Natalie Finn May 12, 2021 6:00 PMTags
Watch: Josh Duggar's Hearing Reveals Graphic New Allegations in Court

It's been six years since the Duggar family's dusty skeletons were first yanked out of the closet.

According to a police report, Josh Duggar, the eldest of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's 19 children, was accused of molesting five underage girls, including four of his sisters, back when he was a teenager in the early 2000s.

A married father of three with another on the way when In Touch Weekly shocked the world with its stomach-turning scoop in May 2015, Josh's life started to unravel in rapid fashion.

He stepped down from his post as executive director of Family Research Council Action, the FRC being a Christian lobbying group known for its conservative stances on political and cultural issues. His parents and sisters Jill and Jessa sat down with Fox News' Megyn Kelly that June for a surreal interview, in which Jessa called Josh's actions "very wrong" but accused In Touch of exploitation. Then in July, TLC canceled the family's hit show, 19 Kids and Counting, after nine seasons.

And in case none of that was humiliating enough, a month later a massive data breach at the extramarital-affair dating site Ashley Madison revealed that Josh apparently had an account. The schadenfreude, coming from those who never bought into the brand of family values the Duggars preached, was thick. He checked into a "long-term treatment center" for six months, retreating from public life. 

The Complete Duggar Family Tree

Meanwhile, the family had been making the most of their spotlight for a decade, the inordinate number of them having first attracted nationwide attention in 2003 when an AP photographer snapped a photo of Jim Bob and Michelle out voting with 14 kids in tow. The New York Times ran the image, after which Parenting magazine reached out to Michelle about writing an article. Discovery Health featured the Duggars in several hour-long specials, leading to the premiere of then-17 Kids and Counting in 2008.

Reporting on the family in 2005, the Dallas Morning News included "the Duggar house rules" that were posted in the dining area, among which were "Always use soft words, even when you don't feel well," "Have sincere motives with no thought of self-gain," and "Think pure thoughts."

Jim Bob was a state legislator in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999 to 2002 before a couple of failed bids for national office. Josh, who was home-schooled, accompanied him frequently to the Capitol in Little Rock, where the beat reporters called him "the governor." 

Kris Connor/Getty Images

Harboring his own his dreams of holding higher office, Josh followed his parents into conservative activism and enjoyed photo ops over the years with a number of notable Republicans, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.  

Michelle caused a nationwide stir in 2014 when she recorded a robocall encouraging residents to oppose an anti-discrimination ordinance that would help protect members of the LGBTQ community when it came to housing, employment, and public accommodation. The Fayetteville City Council passed the ordinance anyway in August and 19 Kids and Counting survived a Change.org petition calling for its immediate cancellation.

That October, the Fayetteville Flier reported that the Duggars had contributed $10,000 to the campaigns of three of the ordinance's most vocal opponents—and the ordinance, that was supposed to help protect people from discrimination, was overturned in December.

Their son Jedidiah Duggar, 22, ran for his dad's old seat in the state legislature last year, but lost in the general election. Brother Jason Duggar, 21, did some get-out-the-vote work, but otherwise the family didn't make a showy splash of promoting Jed's campaign. (They were thrilled to welcome his new wife Katey into the family last month.)

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And while he still shows up in whole-family photos, the Duggars' social media account hasn't included much of Josh since it came to light that he had inappropriately touched five girls, including four of his sisters, when he was 14.

"Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret," he said in a statement in May 2015 when the family's darkest secret was revealed as the result of In Touch's Freedom of Information Act request. "I hurt others, including my family and close friends."

Though it had been expunged to protect the identity of underaged victims, In Touch had unearthed a December 2006 Springdale Police Department report that revealed Jim Bob and Michelle had brought members of the family to the Children's Safety Center in Springdale, Ark., for interviews that year after the Arkansas State Police Child Abuse hotline received a tip that their son had sexually abused underage girls in 2002 and 2003.

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"The parents," as they were referred to in the report, told investigators in 2006 that their son admitted to "fondling" the victims three and a half years prior, and "the father said that he went to a state trooper and reported this, but no report was ever filed." The report further stated that the parents said "they were both comfortable that nothing had occurred since [redacted] went through the program in Little Rock."

Per the 2006 report, they initially told investigators that Josh was sent away to a faith-based program consisting of "hard physical work and counseling" from March 17, 2003, until July 17, 2003, after which Jim Bob went to the authorities. Michelle clarified later to police that Josh wasn't really sent to a training center, per se, but was sent to a family friend who wasn't a certified counselor but was remodeling a building at the time.

In an interview airing tonight on FOX News Channel’s The Kelly File at 9PM/ET

Talking to Fox News' Kelly in June 2015, a couple weeks after the report came out, Jim Bob and Michelle recalled a 14-year-old Josh voluntarily admitting to them that he had "inappropriately touched some of our daughters."

Jim Bob explained, "He was just curious about girls and he had gone in and touched them over their clothes while they were sleeping." There was another instance when Josh touched the girls under their clothes "but just for a couple seconds."

"Of course this is public shame that our son did this," the parents said. "We thought at first that Josh was on the road to manhood at first. But he was just a kid. He was still juvenile. But there was a couple more times he came and told us what he had done, and we were devastated."

Added Jim Bob, "He was still a kid. He was still a juvenile. He wasn't an adult. This was not rape or anything like that. This was touching someone over their clothes."

Jessa also told Kelly, "I do want to speak up in his defense against people who are calling him a child molester or a pedophile or a rapist, some people are saying. I'm like, that is so overboard and a lie, really. I mean, people get mad at me for saying that but I can say this because I was one of the victims." (She and Jill remain the only two siblings who have explicitly come forward as Josh's victims.)

And Jessa indicated that she felt as though she was being violated all over again, telling Kelly, "Definitely it was difficult whenever all this came up, the shock of this happening and then talking about it with the family and counseling. I mean, every step was kind of like difficult to walk through. But I'd definitely say that these past two weeks have been a thousand times worse for us." 

After Josh got treatment, Jim Bob said, it "felt like the last step was to make things right with the law. We felt like it was an important step for Josh to confess to the police what he had done because he'd broken the law. It was terrifying." 

But all those years later, they just wanted to move on.


"At this point," the patriarch said, "our family is trying to regroup from these attacks…Hopefully justice will be served on those who released juvenile records."

Mike Huckabee also released a statement slamming the media and fervently defending the Duggars' right to privacy in 2015, calling Josh's actions "as he described them himself, 'inexcusable,' but that doesn't mean 'unforgivable.'" The former presidential candidate concluded, "Today, [my wife] Janet and I want to show up and stand up for our friends. Let others run from them. We will run to them with our support."

Jill, Jessa and sisters Joy-Anna and Jinger later sued the city of Springdale, Washington County, law enforcement and In Touch, alleging breach of privacy for releasing and reporting on the police records, arguing that, as minors, they had been assured of confidentiality when speaking to investigators. An appeals court recommended the suit be dismissed in June 2020, agreeing that the remaining defendants, three individual officials, had qualified immunity concerning their actions in this case.

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But while the Duggars understandably would have been content to keep this devastating chapter solely a family matter forever, they did inform Josh's future wife and her parents before the couple married in 2008.

"I can imagine the shock many of you are going through reading this. I remember feeling that same shock," Anna Duggar (née Keller) told People in May 2015 after Josh had admitted to acting inexcusably. "When my family and I first visited the Duggar home, Josh shared his past teenage mistakes. I was surprised at his openness and humility and at the same time didn't know why he was sharing it. For Josh, he wanted not just me but my parents to know who he really was—even every difficult past mistakes."

"He continued to do what he was taught. [I know] who Josh really is—someone who had gone down a wrong path and had humbled himself before God and those whom he had offended. Someone who had received the help needed to change the direction of his life and do what is right."


A few months later, in August 2015, an Ashley Madison account tied to Josh was exposed. He never acknowledged as much, but when the site suffered a data breach Gawker reported finding a credit card in his name linked to an address associated with the family, after which he admitted to viewing pornography, cheating on his wife and being "the biggest hypocrite ever."

He said in a statement, "While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife. I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him.

"I brought hurt and a reproach to my family, close friends and the fans of our show with my actions that happened when I was 14-15 years old, and now I have re-broken their trust. The last few years, while publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country, I was hiding my own personal failings. As I am learning the hard way, we have the freedom to choose to our actions, but we do not get to choose our consequences. I deeply regret all hurt I have caused so many by being such a bad example. I humbly ask for your forgiveness. Please pray for my precious wife Anna and our family during this time."

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Josh's statement was posted on his parents' website, where his admission of becoming addicted to porn and references to the molestation scandal were later edited out.

Her well of public support for her husband seemingly run dry, Anna remained silent following this report. But when Josh checked into treatment later that month, Michelle acknowledged on the family website, "His wrong choices have deeply hurt his precious wife and children and have negatively affected so many others. He has also brought great insult to the values and faith we hold dear...For him it will be a long journey toward wholeness and recovery. We pray that in this he comes to complete repentance and sincere change."

And then, after the summer from hell, life seemed to just...go back to normal.

Instagram/Jill Duggar

That December, TLC ordered up Jill and Jessa: Counting On, later just Counting On, which featured almost everybody in the family, including Anna and her kids, but not Josh. The couple would go on to welcome their fourth, fifth and sixth children, and they just revealed April 23 that no. 7 is on the way.

In the meantime, drama cropped up elsewhere amid all the courting, weddings and new grandchildren, of which Jim Bob and Michelle now have 19 (and are due to have 21 soon). Jill's husband Derrick Dillard got himself disinvited from further appearances on TLC in 2017 after making transphobic comments about fellow network star Jazz Jennings. In October the couple revealed that they'd been estranged from her family for some time.

"Our control to choose what jobs we were allowed to accept and even where we were allowed to live was taken away from us," Jill explained to People. Their decision to leave Counting On "didn't go over very well with anyone." But, she added, "We knew we had to pull out completely to reevaluate and get our bearings."

A family statement chalked the rift up to "differences of opinion and perspective" and expressed hope that all would be mended soon.

Washington County AR Sheriff department

But the Duggar family is reeling once again, and it's unclear how anyone sets out to defend anybody in this case. It may just not be possible.

On April 29 Josh was arrested and the next day he pleaded not guilty in federal court (appearing via Zoom from Washington County Detention Center in Fayetteville) to a count apiece of possession and receipt of child pornography, each charge carrying a possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

He was released May 6 into the custody of family friends after posting an undisclosed amount of bail. He must wear an ankle bracelet monitor and can visit with his kids so long as his wife is present, per the terms set by a judge. He's also barred from using the Internet.

Josh's attorneys said that they intended to defend this case "aggressively and thoroughly."

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According to the federal indictment filed April 28 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Josh is accused of receiving material containing images of children younger than 12 "between, on or about" May 14, 2019, and May 16, 2019.

At his bond hearing, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Gerald Faulkner described the material downloaded to an IP address linked to the defendant's former place of employment in "the top five of the worst of the worst that I've ever had to examine." The investigator also testified that one of the files included images of minors between the ages of 18 months and 12 years old being molested. 

This could explain the raid conducted by Homeland Security on Josh's office at a car dealership in Springville, Ark., in November 2019, as first reported by TMZ. At the time, the Duggar family denied rumors that any of their homes had also been searched. Authorities offered no further information other than that the search was part of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

The family said in a statement, in part, "Living a life in the public's eye has taught us that it is best not to reply to every rumor and piece of 'fake news' that is circulated online. It would be a full-time job if we attempted to do so."

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In response to Josh's arrest in April, however, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar said, "We appreciate your continued prayers for our family at this time. The accusations brought against Joshua today are very serious. It is our prayer that the truth, no matter what it is, will come to light, and that this will all be resolved in a timely manner. We love Josh and Anna and continue to pray for their family."

Jinger, now a mother of two daughters with husband Jeremy Vuolo, wrote on Instagram, "We are disturbed to hear of the charges against Josh. While the case must go through the legal system, we want to make it clear that we absolutely condemn any form of child abuse and fully support the authorities and judicial process in their pursuit of justice." 

Joy-Anna, also a mother of two, and husband Austin Forsyth posted May 9, "The recent accusations brought against Josh sadden us to our core. We have not wanted to be hasty in making any statements while trying to process the news ourselves. We are especially heartbroken by the reality that there are children in the world being harmed and exploited. We ask for prayer for all those involved, and it is our continued prayer that the truth comes to light."

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Special Agent Faulkner also told the court that investigators found software for Covenant Eyes, a program to aid people struggling with an addiction to pornography that alerts their partner when porn sites are accessed, on the computer linked to Josh. The defendant was a registered member, Faulkner said, with reports of his activity set to go to his wife—but, he added, Josh had been using a password-protected network that evaded the software. 

In an April 29 statement to E! News, Jill and Derrick simply called the news of her brother's arrest "very sad." Yet celebratory photos posted by Jill to mark Derrick's graduation from law school days later show that life is going on in their household, which includes sons Israel, 6, and Samuel, 3.

But it was impossible for the family—along with the rest of the world—to not be swept right back to that time just six years ago when they rallied around Josh after his past behavior came to light.


Coincidentally, Jinger and Jeremy—who now live in Los Angeles—just released a book May 4, The Hope We Hold: Finding Peace in the Promises of God, in which she detailed what a "nightmare" the molestation scandal was for her family.

"One of my siblings had made some sinful choices, but it had all been years ago," she wrote. "It had been awful, but we had dealt with it as a family."

Jinger further recalled how her dad gathered all the siblings to tell them that "the worst trial in our family history, a trial we had long since dealt with and made our peace with, was now public knowledge. Intimate details about our lives were splashed across a magazine page and all over the Internet for anyone and everyone to read. I felt shell-shocked, as if a bomb had exploded."

Before the police report surfaced, the family had taken "the necessary steps to move toward healing, and offered up our forgiveness," she explained. "Now that it was out in public, the old wound was open again, raw, painful."

They left town in the family bus, Jinger remembered, waiting until the middle of the night until the photographers camped outside their property were asleep. "People outside my close circle now knew details about my life that I had never chosen to share," she wrote. "Details that I had never wanted to share. And there would be fallout. That goes without saying when you lead a public life. I just didn't know how far it would go. What would happen to us? How in the world would we get through this?"


At least now she's already far from looky-loos in Arkansas.

Anna, Josh's' wife of 12 years, has yet to release any sort of individual statement. Just a few days before her husband's arrest, she was posting cheery updates on Instagram, wondering if sister-in-law Jessa Sewald's incoming third child would perhaps make for 11 girl cousins born in a row, including the daughter Anna's expecting, and sharing pics from a fireside family movie night in sister-in-law Jana Duggar's garden.

On her April 23 post revealing she was pregnant again, an inquiring critic wondered whether Josh had a job and how could they afford having all those kids. Anna replied in the comments, "Yes, my husband is a diligent worker and provides well for our family."

Ever the optimist, Anna wrote in honor of Josh's 33rd birthday on March 3, "I love being by your side—looking forward to what the next 33 years have in store for us!"