Could Do Worse Than Duck Dynasty

Papa Pilgrim and Family

Papa Pilgrim and Family

What is this romance with bearded, Bible-toting patriarchs? Why does a country accent and camouflage put Republican politicians into such a fog of infatuation?

Sarah Palin, for one, could not see Russia from her back door, but about 300 miles down the road from Wasilla a conservative rising star fell from grace and ended his days enjoying state hospitality.

“Pilgrim’s Wilderness, A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier” by Tom Kizzia, reviewed here in Alaska Dispatch, tells a dark and shocking story.

About 10 years ago, Robert Alan Hale, a rich man’s son from Texas, staked a claim in remote McCarthy, Alaska, with his wife, Country Rose and their 15 home-schooled children.

Re-christening himself ‘Papa Pilgrim’, Hale played the role of the simple, godly, old-fashioned American. It was all a sham. Hale scammed the welfare system, stole from his neighbors and abused his children and wife horrifically.

Hale started a feud with the National Parks System. For a while, his anti-government grievance won him friends in the local Republican party. Here is Tom Kizzia quoted in Mudflats blog.

They showed up in a van they’d been given in Washington State—one with windows and actual seats. On the side they’d painted PILGRIM FAMILY MINSTRELS TOUR VAN 2004, and on the back, HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS-WE DO! Papa Pilgrim spoke approvingly to a reporter about the Republican platform, saying it appeared to take a “godly approach.” The family’s homespun manner offered a welcome distraction from the internal warfare tearing at Republicans that election year…

Hale’s religion didn’t stop him from lying to friends and foe alike. His home schooling cheated his children of any education, leaving them almost illiterate. He made no provisions for them to make their own lives as adults. He kept his wife pregnant– showing off the large family in public that he abused in private. In the end, it was only the courage of his sons and daughters, who risked their lives to escape, that brought this criminal to justice.

Hale was too much of a megalomaniac to charm the local Republicans for long. The thrill was gone pretty quickly.

He’s in a very warm place now, but unfortunately, there are more like him out there.

We love heartwarming expressions like ‘faith’ and ‘family values’, but what the heck does that mean? Likely something different for everyone who hears it. It’s totally unsurprising that the ‘Duck Dynasty’ guy came out with Biblical condemnation of gay people expressed in the crudest way. Aren’t those folks supposed to be simple people of faith? Did it occur to anyone at A&E that the whole package might not be as marketable as the surface?

This blog you are reading is free speech. I’m quite confident I will never make a cent off it. Reality show stars are paid by the word, and their corporate sponsors won’t invest in a product that loses money. The reason anti-gay prejudice is so destructive is that our fellow-citizens are denied equal rights and even sometimes physically attacked for being who they are. A&E is right not to endorse hate speech.

It’s time for Americans to give up our nostalgia for a past that never was, and recognize that ‘simple’ people are quite complicated. We all are.

Politicians like Bobby Jindal should not rush to defend bad speech from a man who charms some on television. Standing on principle is higher ground than following personalities. People do stuff. Maybe that’s more reality than we are ready for.

Image from NPR.org interview with Tom Kizzia

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