The Duggar family was first introduced to American television audiences in 2004 in a Discovery Channel documentary entitled 14 Children and Pregnant Again.
The title, of course, tells you everything you need to know about the premise.
The project addressed the Duggars’ religious beliefs and explained that their faith compelled them to have as large a family as possible and worry about the logistics later.
But the filmmakers mostly focused on the day-to-day logisitical challenges of life in such an overstuffed household.
The question of how to feed, clothe, mentor and discipline so many kids was the documentary’s primary concern.
In time, of course, the Duggars’ popularity grew, and the family became quite wealthy.
The problems of providing for such a large household solved themselves as reality TV fame delivered unto Jim Bob a larger house and a series of lucrative investment opportunities.
The Duggars never became fabulously wealthy, mind you.
19 Kids and Counting was never a mega hit on the level of Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives franchise, but it developed a devoted cult following — which was appropriate given the show’s subject matter.
But through some seriously sketchy business practices, the patriarch of the Duggar clan was able to stretch the family’s TV income and provide a surprisingly comfortable life for his very large brood.
Jim Bob pocketed his kids’ earnings and used them to launch a series of small but profitable business ventures, focusing primarily on flipping cars and real estate.
Everything was going according to plan — in the eyes of Jim Bob and Michelle, God had recognized their need and provided for them, just as they always knew he would.
But just as their success reached its peak, couple’s cherished eldest child nearly brought the entire empire crashing down.
By now, of course, you know that Josh Duggar has been convicted of possessing and receiving child pornography.
But you might not have been aware that the verdict caps off decades of deceit, years in which the Duggars pulled off the greatest con in the history of reality television by hiding secrets that would have turned even their most diehard fans against them.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the world learned that Josh had molested five young girls.
Four of the victims were his sisters, the fifth a babysitter who had been hired by his parents.
The crimes were hidden by the Duggars for more than a decade before finally being exposed as a resulf of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by In Touch magazine.
When former family friend Bobye Holt testified at Josh’s trial, she revealed that Jim Bob and Michelle had known since 2003 that Josh molested five young.
Holt testified that around the time that the Duggars rose to fame, Jim Bob and Michelle requested that she and her husband, former Arkansas state legislator Jim Holt, to counsel their son as spiritual advisers.
Josh had been courting the Holt’s teenage daughter, but the Duggars decided that the relationship should be called off due to his indiscretions.
“He told us so our oldest daughter would know why the relationship had to end,” Holt recalled on the witness stand.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Bobye came to understand the extent of Josh’s crimes.
Josh had begun paying visits to the Holt’s Little Rock home in order to “get things off his mind.”
It was during one of these visits that he admitted to penetrating the vagina of a 5-year-old girl with his finger.
“You don’t forget something like that,” Holt said.
Likely adding to Holt’s shock and diagust was the fact that the Duggars became more famous and more widely admired during this time.
They made an appearance on the Today show on Father’s Day 2005, during which one host declared the family was “an inspiration to all of us.”
As Buzzfeed reports, their fame seemed to peak with the birth of their 16th child, daughter Johannah.
“Michelle Duggar just delivered her 16th child, and she’s already thinking about doing it again,” wrote the Tallahassee Democrat
Offers came pouring in from all over the country, including an invitation to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s wildly popular daytime talk show.
That appearance never happened, however, as an anonymous whistleblower alerted Oprah’s team to the Duggars’ dark secret.
“You need to know the truth,” read a note received by production staff.
“They are not what they seem to be.”
At the urging of Holt and others, Jim Bob and Michelle took Josh to Arkansas State Police Headquarters in 2006.
The Duggars say that after Josh made his confession, they didn’t hear from police “for months” and considered the matter closed.
And with that, he Duggars renewed their focus on building their media empire.
Josh got engaged to Anna Duggar, a development that was of course documented by TLC camera crews.
In the 19 Kids and Counting episode entitled “Josh Gets Engaged” Jim Bob and Michelle eagerly sang their eldest son’s praises.
“Saving that first kiss for your wedding day is like, really special,” Michelle told the cameras.
“And I hope that it inspires others to consider that as well.”
In addition to their reality TV earnings, the Duggars made big bucks on the evangelical speaking circuit, appearing at conferences and granting dozens of interviews a year.
“We feel like it’s just an opportunity to encourage families to enjoy their children, enjoy children while they have them, and realize that they are a gift from God,” Michelle told one publication in 2009.
“That’s our prayer. This is an opportunity to just encourage others to value family and just enjoy the time you have with them.”
Even after Josh’s attacks against his sisters were exposed, the Duggar brand seemed to be indestrcutible.
TLC canceled 19 Kids and Counting but brought the family back just months later with a spin-off series titled Counting On.
The only change was that Josh would no longer appear on camera.
It wasn’t until after Josh’s arrest this year that the network finally canceled Counting On.
In most cases, predators like Josh can’t get away with it on their own for very long.
They need people in positions of authority — parents, employers, police — to turn a blind eye.
Thankfully, despite the tremendous amount of help he received, Josh’s path of destruction has finally come to an end.