By Will Payne
(MailOnline) Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson and his family believe they have been ‘hung out to dry’ by TV network A&E after he was suspended for homophobic comments made in a magazine interview, MailOnline can reveal.
Sources within the close-knit Louisiana clan say they are convinced A&E are manipulating the controversial situation to bring them – and particularly Robertson – back into line after Television executives grew tired of the family pushing their deeply-held, Christian beliefs.
They also think the network could have done something to stop the controversial GQ article being made public, because an A&E representative was present during the interview with patriarch, Roberston, 67.
A source close to the family, who asked not to be named, told MailOnline: ‘You have to ask yourself, why this interview happened and why it ever became public. Someone from A&E was there and was aware of the kind of answers Phil was giving.
‘But despite that, they didn’t ever try to stop it or control it. Instead, they let it hit the headlines and then released a statement condemning it.
‘It is our belief that they knew what was going to happen and then used the situation to exercise control over Phil.
‘It is our understanding that when the TV executives came up with the concept for the show they wanted it to be a case of people laughing at a bunch of backward rednecks.
‘But when it didn’t turn out like that and people actually started identifying with the way the family behaved and were laughing with them, not at them, they became uncomfortable. It did not sit will with the New York TV types.
Family values: The Robertson family feels as though they are being discriminated against for their deeply rooted Christian beliefs
‘We believe they were also uncomfortable with the family’s insistence that there would be a strong religious presence in the show. They knew Phil was the driving force behind this and we think they have used this situation to bring him in line so they could steer the show back down the path they originally intended for it.
‘But they may have underestimated how united the family are and how committed they are to their beliefs. They also didn’t realize how much support Phil would get from the public, so things have backfired on them.’
The controversy began after outrageous extracts from Robertson’s interview for the January edition of GQ were made public. The outdoorsman was quoted as saying: 'It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man’s anus.
'That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.'
When asked what he thought was sinful, Robertson replied: ‘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.’
The Duck Dynasty trailer sits outside of the Duck Commander Store in West Monroe on Friday
A&E suspended him on Wednesday and released a statement, saying: ‘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'.
‘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.’
But on Thursday the family issued their own response which suggested they would be prepared to walk away from the highly lucrative reality show, which regularly pulls in more than 12 million viewers.
They said: ‘While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Phil would never incite or encourage hate.
A sign supporting A & E Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson sits at the corner of Vernon Drive and Washington Street in West Monroe
‘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. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.’
The family source added to this, telling MailOnline: ‘We believe in the word of the Bible exactly as it is written and we will call a sin a sin and a sinner a sinner. But we are all sinners, every one of us and we believe in redemption and that opening yourself up to Jesus Christ will save you.
‘That is what Phil believes and that will not change. We are sorry if that has offended anyone, because that was never our intention. We believe in love and truth and that is it.’
Multi-millionaire Robertson’s incendiary comments have been slammed by many, including gay-rights groups.
GLAAD spokesman Wilson Cruz was first to condemn him, saying: ‘Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.
‘He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.’
But Cruz’s views certainly aren’t reflected in the family’s home town of West Monroe. The Robertson’s are absolutely loved and revered in the deeply religious north-western Louisiana city.
The family were already wealthy before their reality show, making their money from the Duck Commander business which sells hunting equipment. Phil Robertson lives in a huge gated compound on the edge of town and his son Willie owns a gigantic lakeside property.
They have employed dozens of locals for years and now their empire has grown, they provide even more jobs to the town’s people. That has cemented their popularity and since the homophobia scandal broke, a number of make-shift signs have been constructed offering backing to Robertson.
On Friday cars honked their horns in support as they drove passed one erected on the edge of town.
The Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ where the Robertson Family worship
Their presence in West Monroe is inescapable, with billboards and posters celebrating them everywhere. Last weekend, around 30,000 people packed the downtown area for the ‘Duck Commander Christmas Parade’. People travelled from all over the country to celebrate the festive season with the family, filling every hotel room in town.
Phil’s son Willie owns a massive downtown restaurant, which is always packed and there is a huge gift store just down the road, constantly filled with fans, eager to get their hands on Duck Commander merchandise.
The controversy that has engulfed the family this week has done nothing to put a dent in business, if anything it has given it a boost.
The Madrid family drove two hours from Alexandria to show their solidarity and snap up some trademark duck calls for an upcoming hunting trip. Mother-of-two Kimberly said: ‘We are Christians and we completely support Phil.
Images of ducks tatter street lamps in downtown Monroe in support of Robertson
‘This country has a proud history of freedom of speech and I believe Phil is the one who is being persecuted, because he has lost his jobs because of his religious beliefs.
‘The spokesman for GLADD said Phil wasn’t representing the people of Louisiana, but I don’t know one person who is not behind him. We will not be watching A&E again.’
Another customer, Bernard Wolleson said: ‘I think you would have to get out of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama to find anyone who does not support Phil.
‘I am supportive of religious freedom, regardless of the faith and that is what is at issue. They knew he was outspoken when they hired him. What he said may have sounded crude, but I believe his intent was right.’
Just days after the scandal broke, rather than hide away; Phil Robertson went to his local church, White’s Ferry Road church to take part in a prayer meeting.
He is actually a very prominent elder there and his parishioners are completely behind him. On Friday Church secretary Luanne Watts told MailOnline they had been bombarded with calls and emails from American’s showing their support.
She said: ‘What has happened is a blessing. Phil believes in the word of God and he will not shift from that.
‘We have had hundreds of messages from people all over the country and I think out of all of them only one email has been negative.
Kimberly Madrid of Alexandria, La. discusses her support of Duck Dynasty Star Phil Robertson while shopping at the Duck Commander Store with sons Nathaniel, 12, and Matthew, 9
‘I went to school with his boys, so I have known him for years. He is a great man and his faith is the most important thing in his life. He is here every Wednesday and Sunday, to give sermons, or take prayer groups. He will be here this Sunday as well.
‘We are all completely behind him. You will struggle to find anyone in town who does not support him.’
And that view seems to be held by many Americans. On Thursday MailOnline revealed Walmart had sold out of their money-spinning Duck Dynasty range.
The Robertson family has a merchandise empire that is estimated by Forbes to be worth about $400million - and their deal with Walmart makes up around half of this.
The chain sells a huge array of Duck Dynasty merchandise- from T-shirts to camo bedding, posters, watches, toy trucks, camo chairs, clothing, jewellery and even bottle openers.
Walmart announced at their annual shareholders meeting that the best-selling item of apparel for both men and women this year was the reality show's T-shirt, according to Forbes.
Forbes writer Claire O'Connor said: 'When I was down in Arkansas for this Walmart meeting, you really do marvel at the amount of people who are wearing these Duck Dynasty T-shirts and hats.
'There are kid’s pajamas, there is camo bedding and you probably won't be surprised to hear that they sell Duck Dynasty prayer devotionals.'
Aside from their continued commercial success, an online petition called #IstandwithPhil demanding Robertson’s reinstatement has already attracted almost 140,000 signatures.
UPDATE: Robertson to be Reinstated? Fearing boycott, Cracker Barrel Reverses Decision.