CASTLE ROCK - Phil Robertson could be confused with a modern-day evangelist, only with a long beard and a bandana tying back his long hair. He could be confused with a scholar on our Founding Fathers, only with camouflage from head to toe.
However, he certainly couldn't be confused with a person who fails to speak his mind about his constitutional and religious rights.
Robertson quotes scripture and Thomas Jefferson frequently to defend his family's stances on Christianity, guns and hunting. He and his son, Willie, of A&E's reality hit "Duck Dynasty" were at the Douglas County Fairgrounds as part of a fundraiser for The Rock Christian Academy, a private school with 86 students that was founded in 2008.
"The Founding Fathers would be shocked that there was not biblical instruction in our schools," Phil Robertson said at a news conference before appearing in the fairgrounds arena where an estimated 2,000 people paid from $40 to $80 for tickets to the May 19 event. Robertson said that he carries a Bible in his bag everywhere he goes. "We have a God-given right to live free."
The show about the Robertson family's antics and their business Duck Commander has become a ratings phenomenon for A&E by earning the top cable spot on Wednesday nights, according to the Nielsen ratings. The family also has created online buzz, most recently with speculation that Phil Robertson told A&E that his family would stop filming the series if the cable network forced them to curtail the usage of guns and praying on air.
During their visit, Phil and Willie Robertson denied the request had been made.
"Here's the deal: The network, they've been supportive of our faith. You wouldn't think they would, but they are," Willie Robertson said. "And 9.6 million viewers, they ain't going to mess with that show."
Even before the most recent controversy, the show created a significant amount of discussion on blogs, forums and online publications - so much that "Duck Dynasty" has become common in headlines. For example, The Hill's Pundits Blog carried this headline: "Duck Dynasty nation needs Sarah Palin." A Washington Times headline proclaimed: "Barack Obama: President of the Duck Dynasty." And jacksonville.com, the website of the Florida Times-Union, said in a headline: "Fact Check: Are liberals and atheists jeopardizing 'Duck Dynasty'?"
Debate.com even carried the question: "Is Duck Dynasty a good show?" Of those who responded, 60 percent voted "yes." One "yes" responder wrote that the show offered family values and good humor. Another wrote, "OH HECK YEAH!!!!!!!," and that it was the best show on TV.
"Duck Dynasty gives a picture of a family who believes in God, shows what true men and women should be, what strong marriage, children, and grandchildren should be, and has a wonderful work ethic and good humor to go along with it," a responder wrote.
"In our current society of so many fractured families this is fresh water to a world dying of thirst. May more shows like this increase all over!"
However, "no" responders wrote that it was a dumb show and one reason why the rest of the world laughs at Americans.
"Most Americans are just plain uneducated morons that love trashy stupid shows like this because they don't have to think too much," one wrote.
Phil Robertson is undeterred by the fuss. He simply doesn't use the Internet and thinks it takes away from other activities that families could be doing together. Willie Robertson thinks differently and credits the Internet for making the family's business in West Monroe, La., a major commercial success. Willie Robertson is the CEO of the business that Phil Robertson founded in the 1970s.
Willie Robertson told the cheering fans in Castle Rock that his family lives by three principles: Faith, family and ducks. He tells stories about the show, his family's quirks, his father's past and even ones in which he has been mistaken for a homeless person because of his beard and attire, including a trip to Tennessee in his RV adorned with a photo of the "Duck Dynasty" cast.
"Who would have thought that those motley-looking guys on the side of that RV would be the No. 1 reality show on TV," he said as his fans cheered again. "Phil said it (the show) wouldn't work unless we had divine intervention.
"Reality TV: There's so much garbage out there," he said. "Isn't it nice to have a show you can sit down and watch with your children?"
Phil Robertson's book "Happy, Happy, Happy," written with Mark Schlabach and based on his famous catchphrase, was No. 1 on the most recent New York Times hard-cover nonfiction list, noting another success for the family.
In his first of two solo appearances during the Sunday evening event, Phil Robertson gave a bird-calling demonstration while talking about how God and Thomas Jefferson gave him the right to speak freely and did not forbid the killing of animals. Carefully enunciating his words, he consistently used "Colorado" in speaking to the crowd, sometimes prompting loud cheers. One statement that drew boisterous cheers was: "The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Thomas Jefferson said that."
Never mind that Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, actually is attributed to the quote. Phil Robertson still fits the mold of an evangelist, scholar, author and TV star who has become the constant subject of online rumors about what he says, does or that he's sick and even about to die.
In Castle Rock, he looked pretty healthy, enough to preach loudly that "God is a beautiful thing. I'm fixin' to raise the roof down here!"
More on Phil and Willie Robertson:
- Phil was all-state in high school at track and field, football and baseball.
- Phil accepted a football scholarship from Louisiana Tech University, where he reportedly was the starting quarterback over future Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. He also is noted as saying, "Terry went for the bucks, and I chased after the ducks."
- Phil has a bachelor's in physical education and a master's in education. He started his career as a teacher but decided he would rather be in the woods than in the classroom.
- Phil and his wife, Kay, have four boys - Alan, Jase, Willie and Jeptha.
- Phil created the first Duck Commander call in 1972 and then patented it and incorporated Duck Commander Co. in 1973.
- Phil is an expert bird and duck caller, as well as a noted religious speaker.
- Willie, besides being company CEO, created the Buck Commander and Duck Commander TV shows and serves as executive producer of both.
- Willie and his wife, Korie, have four children - John Luke, Sadie, Will and Bella.
- Willie says it was his idea to add his Uncle Si, younger brother of Phil, to the show.
- There is speculation about Phil and Willie's exact ages. However, Wikipedia reports that Phil is 67 and Willie is 41.
Sources: Duck Commander, Wikipedia, biographical information provided by The Rock Christian Academy and at the event.