- Speaker Mike Johnson campaigned with now-disgraced reality TV star Josh Duggar years ago in Louisiana.
- Johnson has a long close association with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who has been connected to religious and political leaders accused of sexual abuse.
- Johnson called Duggar, now in prison for child pornography, a “friend” when the two campaigned for now-U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy.
Like many self-identified Christian conservatives, House Speaker Mike Johnson has long been preoccupied with sex — who’s having it, how they are having it, and why they are having it. In 2004, he proclaimed that “sex outside of the marriage of one man and one woman is ultimately destructive.” In 2022, he introduced the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act, a bill premised on the notion that Democrats were on a “crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery.”
But a Business Insider review of Johnson’s social media postings and political affiliations found that while he was busy seeking to regulate private sexual behavior and castigating his opponents as “groomers” of children, the Louisiana Republican was associated with a coterie of right-wing activists with a history of overlooking, tolerating, or ignoring the sexual abuse of children and teens in their own midst.
Most notably, according to a photo posted to his Facebook account and unearthed by Business Insider, Johnson proudly campaigned in 2014 with a man who would become one of the most notorious sex offenders in recent history — disgraced reality TV star Josh Duggar.
Duggar, who was convicted of possessing child pornography in 2021, worked as a lobbyist for the Christian evangelical activist group Family Research Council from 2013 to 2015, when allegations surfaced that the former “19 Kids and Counting” star molested several minors, including his own sisters.
The man who recruited Duggar, FRC president Tony Perkins, is a long-time friend and political ally of Johnson. The new Speaker recently described Perkins as his “original mentor” on a recent episode of his “Truth Be Told” radio show. According to the Washington Post, “Perkins goes way back with the Duggar family.”
Duggar, who was 25 when Perkins hired him, moved his young family to Washington, D.C. to take on the lobbying role, appearing over the next two years alongside GOP candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, and Bobby Jindal.
According to the Facebook photo, Johnson stumped with Duggar at a 2014 Louisiana rally in Shreveport for then-Senate candidate Bill Cassidy. In a post, he described Duggar as a “friend.”
“My friend, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who won Louisiana’s presidential primary in 2012, will be a special guest at the rally tonight,” Johnson wrote on his personal Facebook in December 2014. “[T]his will also be the last 2014 stop for the Family Research Council Action bus tour from Washington, D.C., featuring some other friends, such as Josh Duggar, of the Duggar Family, who is Executive Director of FRC Action.”
The next day Johnson posted a photo of himself, his two daughters and Santorum posing with Duggar, calling the event a “great time.”
The photo, from Johnson’s campaign candidate account, featured a grinning Duggar on one side, with Johnson on the other, and Santorum in the center, flanked by children wearing Johnson’s campaign T-shirts.
“What a great group of Godly people,” one user commented. “Character does count, and I thank each of you for being a living example to us all.”
Duggar resigned in May 2015, after InTouch Magazine published accounts from police records in 2006 accusing Duggar of sexually abusing children.
In a statement to Business Insider, Johnson’s spokesperson Raj Shah sought to put distance between the Speaker and Duggar.
“Josh Duggar is a criminal,” Shah said in the emailed statement. “Business Insider’s attempt to link Johnson to his misconduct based on a decade-old Facebook post about his attendance at a campaign rally prior to Duggar’s conduct being exposed is quite ridiculous.”
Perkins issued a statement immediately following the revelations in 2015. “Josh believes that the situation will make it difficult to be effective in his current work,” he said. He called the accusations “previously unknown information.”
According to the Washington Post, Perkins was close to Duggar’s father Jim Bob Duggar, who served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003. InTouch reported in 2015, citing police reports, that Jim Bob met with elders at his Arkansas church in 2003 after learning about multiple sexual abuse claims involving Josh. But neither the senior Duggar nor the church elders reported anything to the police at the time.
Duggar was never charged over the abuse alleged in the police reports, which fell outside of the statute of limitations. He is now serving 12 and half years in prison after being convicted of possessing child pornography.
Duggar isn’t the only figure associated with Perkins and the FRC that has been accused of sexually abusing minors. In 2010, Johnson was tapped to be the inaugural dean of the new Christian-oriented Paul Pressler School of Law at Louisiana College. Pressler, a retired judge and leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, was a key figure in shifting the Baptist church rightward in the 1980s. Perkins sat on the school’s board of trustees at the time.
But the law school never opened. Johnson resigned in 2012. Five years later, in 2017, a former Bible study student of Pressler’s filed a lawsuit alleging that the church leader began sexually abusing him when he was 14 years old.
Since then, sworn testimony and emails unearthed in lawsuits have indicated that church leaders and local GOP politicians were aware of allegations that Pressler had abused minors as far back as 2004.
There is no evidence that Perkins himself knew about the allegations against Pressler.
But there is evidence that Perkins knew of another case of an associate who was accused of sexual impropriety involving a teenager, and tried to keep it quiet.
In 2017, according to emails obtained by the Washington Post, the father of an 18-year-old college student attending a meeting for the Council for National Policy told Perkins that Wesley Goodman, a young Ohio conservative politician and Perkins acolyte, groped the young man in his sleep.
Perkins urged Goodman not to run for office but never made the incident public, even after Goodman was elected to the Ohio state legislature, according to The Post. Goodman later resigned after an unrelated incident of “inappropriate” sexual behavior at his office, according to statements from the Ohio state speaker at the time.
Perkins was president of the CNP, a secretive group of far-right conservatives that participated in efforts to overturn the 2020 election for Donald Trump. Perkins has been “instrumental” in shaping the CNP’s recent agenda, according to the CNP’s own internal newsletter first as reported by The Washington Spectator, including pushing for anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion legislation.
Shah, Johnson’s spokesman, said Johnson was unaware of the claims regarding Pressler or Goodman. “The Speaker had no knowledge of accusations against Paul Pressler and has never even heard of Wesley Goodman,” he said. “This pathetic attempt at a hit job takes guilt by association to a new low.”
Calls and emails to Perkins and Duggar family lawyers were not immediately returned.
Pressler and Goodman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.