“Don’t speak ill of the dead” is a dumb idea.

When people have caused massive suffering to others, and changed society for the worse, it’s good to speak ill of them. It helps to reaffirm our values, and to counter the wave of encomiums and eulogies that will inevitably accompany their death.  

So that is exactly what I’m going to do. Because Pat Robertson said, and did, unspeakable things, and millions of people listened to him. And while he is gone, the extremist legacy he created is more powerful than ever, with its conspiracy theories, end-times prophesies, hateful rhetoric, anti-scientific ignorance, and sense that America is being attacked from within, all wrapped up within a Christian nationalist package that makes God and MAGA interchangeable.

Pat Robertson solemnized the greatest same-sex marriage in history: between Jesus Christ and Ronald Reagan. He co-created the Christian Right in the 1970s and 1980s, propelling Reagan to victory and changing American politics forever. He founded the Christian Coalition, Christian Broadcasting Network, and Regent University. Until this revolution, most right-wing Christians preferred to stay out of politics, seeing it as corrupt and worldly; Robertson and his ilk changed all of that, hammering religious dogmas into a plank of the modern Republican party.

But unlike Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and other pioneers of the Christian Right, Robertson was also batshit, with his endless conspiracy theories, claims of faith healing, and prophesies of the end of the world. More than anyone, Pat Robertson succeeded at mainstreaming the craziest fringes of Christian fundamentalism, and his descendants are, today, the base of the Republican Party: religious extremists motivated by rage, fear, and conspiracy theories.

Here’s a sampling:

  • As part of the 1980s-90s conservative backlash against women’s equality, he wrote, “feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
  • Foreshadowing today’s Christian nationalist rhetoric, Robertson said in a 1986 interview that, “The great builders of our nation almost to a man have been Christians, because Christians have the desire to build something… The people who have come into [our] institutions [today] are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians… 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.”
  • In the same-sex marriage debates of the 2010s, he said, “The union of two men doesn’t bring forth anything except disease, apparently, and suffering. And the same thing in the union of two women.”
  • After the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where a Muslim man massacred almost 50 people, Robertson said of LGBTQ people and Muslims, “the best thing to do is to sit on the sidelines and let them kill themselves.”
  • In 2009, during the height of “war of civilization” Islamophobia, Robertson said on The 700 Club that “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 the governments of the world, and world domination…. And I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents as such, as we would members of the Communist Party, or members of some fascist group.”
  • Robertson was not kind to other Christians either, saying “’You’re supposed to be nice to Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists … Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.”

Robertson was also a conspiracy theorist, well before such things were fashionable. In his 1991 book New World Order, he spoke of a “tightly knit cabal whose goal is nothing less than a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer,” including the European bankers who ordered the assassination of President Lincoln, to Karl Marx, to the British bankers who funded the Soviet KGB.

And then there was Robertson the false prophet. Robertson predicted the world would end as far back as 1982. He said that God told him directly that a tsunami would strike the United States in 2006 (it did not), that a massive terrorist strike on the United States would take place in 2007 (it did not), and that President Obama would lose the 2012 election (he did not).

Even the weather was, for Robertson, fodder for bad religion. Robertson said that Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment for American abortion policies, that the 2010 earthquake in Haiti happened because Haitians made “a pact to the Devil” to free themselves from French slave owners, and that he personally steered Hurricane Gloria away from Virginia Beach in 1985.

All right, enough. After all, there are plenty of crazy people out there.

But Robertson wasn’t some rando posting on Reddit – he was a power player who shaped the course of American politics for two generations. 

The Christian Coalition, which Robertson left in 2001, was enmeshed in GOP politics, and was sued by the Federal Election Coalition for improperly coordinating with Republican campaigns in 1990, 1992, and 1994. Robertson himself ran for president in 1988, speaking at the Republican Convention.

So when Robertson spouted conspiracy theories, homophobia, racism, and misogyny on his cable TV show, huge swaths of America – and politicians – listened to him.  He may have been a huckster, like his fellow faith healer Oral Roberts: Several profiles of Robertson have shown how he personally profited from his supposedly charitable organizations and political work. Like much of Trumpworld, he was equal parts ideologue and grifter.

But he also caused immense harm. When the Reagan administration belittled those suffering from AIDS and slow-pedaled research to stop the deadly plague, it was because of Robertson and the Christian Right, who regarded it as divine punishment against gay people. How many gay men  died because of Robertson’s and Reagan’s cruelty?  We’ll never know. 


But it wasn’t just gay people. When banning abortion became a litmus test of fealty to God and/or America, that, too, was the doing of Robertson and his ilk.  Without the Christian Coalition in the 1980s, there’d be no Leonard Leo and Federalist Society in the 2010s, and women would still have authority over their own bodies in the 2020s.

Most of all, Robertson was instrumental in redefining politics as a kind of theological battleground, with absurd end times predictions and conspiracy theories. It’s no exaggeration to say that Robertson paved the way for QAnon and the dangerous nihilism of contemporary White Christian Nationalism, at once ridiculous and terrifying. We are living in his world, and it is a dystopia.