For a few hours, it looked like Americans would quietly accept the suspension of popular “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson for his unfiltered opinions about sin, sex, gays and blacks in a magazine interview.
But then, as if on cue, hundreds of thousands of fans of the openly Christian, duck-hunting businessman took to social networks and started their backlash.
As of Thursday night, more than 1.1 million people “liked” the “Stand With Phil Robertson” Facebook page, while about the same number had clicked their support for another Facebook page called “Boycott A&E Until Phil Robertson Is Put Back On Duck Dynasty.” There was even flak on the Web page of the gay advocacy group that demanded his firing.
The family itself is backing Mr. Robertson and implied Thursday evening that the show may be canceled, or at a minimum moved off the A&E Network unless he can return.
“We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm,” the Robertsons wrote on their website, duckcommander.com.
“We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of ‘Duck Dynasty.’ Again, thank you for your continued support of our family,” they concluded.
Some Republican politicians, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, spoke in defense of Mr. Robertson, and traditional values groups added their voices to the cultural moment.
“Don’t apologize for what the Bible calls a sin. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY to stand with Phil,” said one Facebook poster, using one of Mr. Robertson’s pet phrases.
Sadly, being “happy” was not how Mr. Robertson answered a GQ magazine reporter’s question about “what, in your mind, is sinful?”
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” Mr. Robertson replied in the GQ article, released Wednesday.
Then, paraphrasing Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians on sin, Mr. Robertson said, “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
These and other comments about being “white trash” hoeing cotton with black farmhands and not recalling black people “singing the blues” until after major welfare programs were established in the 1960s, earned Mr. Robertson an indefinite suspension from the reality TV show that stars him and his family — and attracts nearly 12 million viewers.
“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” A&E executives said in a statement Wednesday. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
Mr. Robertson also issued a statement, referencing his sinful past and how his “mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together.”
“However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other,” Mr. Robertson said.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation thanked A&E Network for suspending the 67-year-old, gray-bearded patriarch.
It’s “clear that such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable to fans, viewers and networks alike,” said GLAAD spokesman Wilson Cruz. Putting Mr. Robertson on hiatus “sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value.”
In their letter to A&E President and CEO Nancy Dubuc, leaders of the Human Rights Campaign and NAACP asked her to denounce and repudiate Mr. Robertson’s “racist and homophobic remarks.”
“Americans won’t stand for Phil Robertson’s comments,” they said.
Gay-rights supporters took their outrage about Mr. Robertson’s “vile” remarks to social media. Many shared a 2010 “gay-bashing” video of Mr. Robertson, posted by TMZ, in which he lamented “women with women, men with men.”
But on Thursday, Robertson supporters were answering back in droves.
“If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job,” Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, wrote on his Facebook page.
The “mainstream media should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they disagree,” the senator said. “The reason that so many Americans love Duck Dynasty is because it represents the America usually ignored or mocked by liberal elites: a family that loves and cares for each other, believes in God, and speaks openly about their faith.”
Mr. Jindal, who praised Mr. Robertson and his family as “great citizens of the State of Louisiana,” noted that “the politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with.”
He noted the cultural double standards surrounding public misbehavior, saying “it is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”
Mrs. Palin also weighed in on her Facebook page: “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
Even GLAAD’s Facebook page was filled with comments supporting Phil Robertson. “I have never said a negative word about your community, but, that changes today!” wrote one man. “GLAAD I thought you guys stood against Bullying. Wow talk about practice what your preach,” wrote a woman.
As of Thursday night, some 311,000 people had signed a National Organization for Marriage petition asking A&E to reinstate Mr. Robertson and “right this wrong.”
“Duck Dynasty” is set to begin its fifth season Jan. 15. Mr. Robertson is expected to appear in a few episodes that were taped before his suspension, according to media reports.
Other prominent figures also have been publicly chastised for their views about homosexuality.
Wyoming political candidate Liz Cheney was denounced for saying she loved her sister, Mary Cheney, but not same-sex marriage.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his political allies have been condemned for enacting a law that prohibits “propaganda” to youths about “nontraditional sexual relationships.”
The Russian law has politicized the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Gay-rights activists have talked about protests, and President Obama has asked gay athletes, notably tennis champion Billie Jean King and skater Brian Boitano, to attend the ceremonies as part of the U.S. Olympic delegation.