After 60 years at the helm of his Christian Broadcasting Network, and 55 hosting its signature “news” magazine broadcast, The 700 Club, the 91-year-old Southern Baptist minister and Christian media mogul Pat Robertson is retiring. Many religion journalists and commentators are writing about the news in ways that normalize Robertson, a right-wing Christian extremist whose legacy shouldn’t be soft-pedaled. This piece is meant in part as a corrective. To be sure, many of the outlandish things Robertson has said over the years are funny—but that doesn’t mean they’re harmless.
Through his efforts to build and expand the evangelical and fundamentalist alternative media ecosystem—launching CBN well over three decades before Fox News Channel came on the scene in 1996—Robertson has done incalculable damage to American civil society. In 1991, he published a book that popularized New World Order conspiracy theories among evangelicals, and his influence is reflected in our current post-truth political landscape, in which white evangelicals regularly collaborate with street-brawling fascists and are more likely than any other demographic to embrace anti-vax disinformation and the pernicious QAnon conspiracy theory.
Over the course of his long career undermining democracy and human rights, Robertson founded an evangelical university, ran for president, and allegedly used an ostensibly humanitarian aid mission as a front for a corrupt, for-profit diamond mining operation in Zaire under the brutal dictatorial rule of Mobutu Sese Seko, who came to power in 1965, with the help of the CIA. (For more information, check out my 2018 article on the subject in Playboy, or watch the 2013 documentary “Mission Congo.”) Along the way, he’s developed such a reputation for saying outrageous things that fake quotes from parody news sites occasionally go viral. After all, Robertson at his worst is so cartoonish that he seems capable of saying anything, so long as it’s offensive right-wing nonsense.
And on that note, no, Pat Robertson never said that performing oral sex on women is the root cause of Covid-19. What follows is my personal, and admittedly subjective, top ten list of horrific, outlandish, and, like, totally cringe things that Robertson actually has said, in order from least to most offensively absurd.
- Openly calling for the assassination of a foreign leader
In 2005, Robertson offhandedly remarked of then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, “If he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop,” earning him a rebuke from then-US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself.
Why place this at number ten? Well, for a man who used to pal around with génocidaires and publicly lobbied on Mobutu’s behalf, calling for the assassination of a leftist dictator is pretty standard. Robertson’s mistake was doing it on TV in front of an audience of millions. In addition, his call for the US to assassinate Chavez is one of the remarks that public pressure eventually forced Robertson to walk back and apologize for.
- Comments about hurricanes and “sin”
It’s not true that Robertson blamed hurricane Katrina on the selection of an out lesbian, Ellen Degeneres, as the host of the 2005 Primetime Emmy Awards. This is another case of satire run amok, to the point that fact-checking site Snopes had to debunk the honestly quite plausible story.
In 1998, however, Robertson did have this to say to participants in Orlando’s Pride Festival, referring to rainbow flags: “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you.” In 2005, he also made some vague remarks on The 700 Club to the effect that legal abortion just might have something to with the prevalence of terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
- Comments about September 11
On the September 13, 2001 episode of The 700 Club, Jerry Falwell, Sr. maintained that God had probably “lifted the curtain” of divine protection around America, thereby allowing “our enemies to give us probably what we deserve”—in the form of catastrophes like the September 11 terrorist attacks. Robertson agreed, but this comes in at only number 8 since it was Falwell who did most of the inflammatory speaking.
So, for what heinous “sins” did the United States “deserve” 9/11? Per Falwell, they included “Throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools.” He added, “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this, because God will not be mocked,” before rattling off a list of “sinners” to blame: “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians, who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them, who tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”
Robertson replied, “I totally concur.”
- Unfounded homophobic insinuations about judges and their clerks
When the Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, Robertson said the following to Christian Right lobbyist Jay Sekulow, who would later attain infamy as one of Donald Trump’s lawyers: “Jay, let me ask you about Anthony Kennedy, does he have some clerks who happen to be gays?”
DOMA had defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman. Sekulow said he had “no idea.” Robertson’s insinuation was aggressively provocative, sure, but still pretty standard Robertson fare.
In the same exchange with Sekulow, Robertson had some thoughts on the overturning of California’s prop 8—a state ban on same-sex marriage that passed via ballot proposition in 2008—being overturned by a district court in 2013. (The Supreme Court allowed the district court’s ruling to stand.) Said Robertson to Sekulow, “I understand the district court judge there either was an advocate of homosexual activity, or was a homosexual, had a wife. There was some connection, can you elucidate that?”
Now that’s a bit more colorful.
- Everything Robertson has ever said about Muslims and Islam
Robertson’s history of bigoted anti-Muslim comments dates to well before 2001, but after the September 11 attacks, he became more vitriolic in his anti-Islam bias, a trend seen in evangelical subculture in general. In 2005, Robertson claimed that Christian terrorism “just doesn’t happen,” and asserted of Muslims that “those who believe [Islam] sincerely in their hearts are those that think Osama bin Laden is their great hero. And I think we need to recognize that.”
In 2009, he brought back Cold War-era “domino theory,” replacing Communists with Muslims. “Islam is a violent—I was going to say religion—but it’s not a religion. It’s a political system. It’s a violent political system bent on the overthrow of governments of the world and world domination,” adding, “I think you should treat it as such and treat its adherents as such. As we would members of the Communist party and members of some Fascist group.”
In 2012, a viewer wrote in to The 700 Club to ask what he could do about his wife having “no respect for me as head of the house.” Without missing a beat, Robertson replied, “Well, you could become a Muslim; then you could beat her.” It’s clear from the video footage that he found his “joke” quite amusing.
It must be hard to need a larger-than-life enemy so desperately.
- Robertson’s definition of feminism
Even “respectable” evangelicals like Russell Moore have called feminism “outright heresy,” but in a 1992 Christian Coalition fundraising letter, Robertson made feminism sound absolutely epic by describing it as follows:
The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.
Thanks for that one, Pat.
- Calling non-Christians “termites” who don’t belong in government
In his 1991 book The New World Order, Robertson wrote, “When I said during my presidential bid that I would bring only Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. What do you mean? the media challenged me. You’re not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims? My simple answer is, Yes, they are.”
It’s telling that Robertson failed to add the faux-inclusive prefix “Judeo” to his call for Christian values in government. It is not, however, surprising, given that Robertson called non-Christians “termites” in 1986, claiming that “the great builders of our nation almost to a man have been Christians, because Christians have the desire to build something. He [sic] is motivated by love of man and God, so he builds. The people who have come into [our] institutions [today] are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions…”
He added, chillingly, “The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation.”
- Calling for terrorism against the US State Department
Robertson in 2003, suggesting that a little good old-fashioned terrorism might improve US foreign policy: “Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up like Newt Gingrich wants to do.”
Robertson in 2005, alleging that Christians don’t commit acts of terrorism: “You don’t hear somebody, ‘Christian extremist killing film producers, Christian extremists blowing up trains.’ It just doesn’t happen.”
Make up your mind you dadgum flip-flopper.
- Claiming that gay men deliberately spread HIV using rings that cut people
Over the years, Robertson has displayed a (typically evangelical) unhealthy fixation on other people’s sex lives, and on homosexuality in particular. In this connection, Robertson has trafficked in some highly imaginative “alternative facts.”
On a 2013 episode of The 700 Club, Robertson claimed that members of the gay community in San Francisco, “want to get people so if they got the stuff they’ll have a ring, you shake hands, and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger.” He wasn’t joking, and he went on to describe this completely made up phenomenon as “vicious stuff” and “the equivalent of murder.”
Of course, telling such outrageous lies about the LGBTQ community is truly “vicious stuff.”
- Haiti’s “deal with the devil”
Tell me you’re racist to the core without telling me you’re racist to the core.
That’s what Pat Robertson did after Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, which Robertson attributed to a “curse” tied to the malevolent spiritual forces with the help of which, he assured 700 Club viewers, Haitian slaves overthrew their French colonizers in a late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century revolution. The clear subtext is that people of African descent couldn’t possibly have fought for and gained their independence without some help from Satan himself.
This one is worth quoting at length:
And, you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III [sic] and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’
And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.
It’s easy to laugh at Pat Robertson, but, as I bring this commentary to a close, I want to stress that his views are not as fringe in the American evangelical world as many pundits portray them to be. When you’re brought up (as I was) attending Christian schools steeped in Christian nationalism—and hundreds of thousands of American children are in the often voucher-funded schools of this nature at any given time, with even more being indoctrinated in the same ideology via homeschooling—Robertson’s notion that entire nations can be “blessed” or “punished” based on their degree of “obedience to” or “rebellion against” God is standard fare.
At the end of the day, I’m all for laughing at buffoonish Christian theocrats. But that’s precisely because I take them seriously as a threat to democracy and human rights. CBN was given an unusual degree of access to Trump during his presidency, and Robertson of course supported Trump in 2020. While Pat himself will be less of a fixture in the American public sphere going forward, his pernicious influence will be long-lasting.