Did Christian Right Leader Tony Perkins Brush Sexual Assault Under the Rug?
In 2015, a young male Perkins protege molested an 18-year-old man. Perkins was told about it and... well, for starters, didn’t call the police.
Last week, Wesley Goodman, 33, was forced to resign from his post, as local media outlets were preparing to report he had been caught in flagrante delicto with a man in his legislative office.
Goodman was no ordinary state rep. He was a rising star groomed for bigger things. Prior to his election, he accrued a rather impressive resume as an aide to Rep. Jim Jordan and (among other noteworthy gigs) managing director of a rather secretive group called the Conservative Action Project (CAP).
It was in this capacity, in 2015, that Goodman allegedly invited the 18-year-old son of conservatives who were also attending a Council for National Policy (CNP) meeting to his hotel room at a Ritz Carlton in Northern Virginia. (If it helps, you can think of CNP as a sort of nonprofit parent company to CAP.)
The teenage college student says he awoke in the middle of the night to find Goodman unzipping his pants. The teen then went on to tell his parents, who demanded that something be done.
According to records recently obtained by The Washington Post, the young man’s stepfather told Tony Perkins, president of CNP, that something must be done: “If we endorse these types of individuals,” he said, “then it would seem our whole weekend together was nothing more than a charade.” (There was a fundraiser for Goodman on the same day as the alleged incident, which explains the word “endorse.”)
“Trust me… this will not be ignored nor swept aside,” Perkins (who also heads the Family Research Council) replied in an email. “It will be dealt with swiftly, but with prudence.”
Goodman was eventually drummed out of the organization, but he also continued to pursue his electoral political ambitions. In fairness, Perkins warned him not to run for office, writing: “Going forward so soon, without some distance from your past behavior and a track record of recovery, carries great risk for you and for those who are supporting you,” he wrote two months after the alleged incident.
This was good advice—but it was more of a suggestion than an order. It was also promptly ignored by Goodman, presumably with little or no consequence.
Here, it is worth asking a simple, if obvious, question: Should Tony Perkins have called the police? This sure sounds like sexual assault to me. But would his parents—or the young man—have been willing to press charges? (Had the alleged victim been under the age of 18, I would hope that this would be a no-brainer.)
It is understandable that Perkins wouldn’t relish destroying the career of a young man, and heaven knows that he might prefer this story not to hit the newspapers. The liberal press might have a field day with news of gay debauchery taking place at a prominent conservative conclave (remember the Steven Glass CPAC article?) But by keeping it quiet (or, in Perkins’ words, by being “prudent”), he also might have made it possible for Goodman to potentially abuse future victims.
At what point does being discrete constitute a cover-up? These are the sorts of things that victims of sexual harassment are currently wrestling with today when determining whether to go public with their story. Keeping this quiet also made Goodman’s inevitable fall from grace even more spectacular (this scandal is probably receiving more attention than it would have in 2015).
And it raises questions about Perkins’ judgment. “[Perkins] discouraged Goodman from pursuing office, but as far as we know at this time, did not intervene in any other way when Goodman ran for office and won,” writes conservative author and blogger Rod Dreher. “Perkins owes a lot of people an explanation.”
Could it be that this prominent social conservative leader has a penchant for dropping the ball when it comes to personnel decisions? I am reminded that this is the same Tony Perkins who hired Josh Duggar, a reality TV star who became embroiled in multiple sex scandals, to run the lobbying arm of Perkins’ Family Research Center.
Did Perkins perform due diligence in terms of vetting employees? Perkins may be a fine man, but is he a good leader? Other people make mistakes and lose their jobs. Should Perkins?
Like many conservative leaders I have run across in my almost two decades in the swamp, I suspect he is simply susceptible to the charms of clean-cut young conservative men who kiss up to the older men who run these organizations.
I’m not suggesting in any way Perkins was ever attracted to them, just that flattery will get you everywhere—especially in the conservative movement. Interestingly, the kinds of young men most adept at sucking up tend to be masking other deficiencies.
You can’t blame Perkins for Goodman’s sins, but Perkins’ failure to put the brakes on Goodman’s political career does not shroud the conservative movement in glory. Aside from all the other ramifications, this obviously makes family values conservatives look hypocritical—both in terms of their opposition to gay marriage, as well as in terms of their lack of compassion for victims of abuse.
It also plays into an emerging narrative that suggests conservatives are willing to brush serious accusations under the rug in order to defend Republican politicians. There seems to be a culture in some Christian circles that stresses not embarrassing someone in order to restore them. This seems to prioritize defending the alleged abuser over the victim.
The good news is that—although Goodman seems to have had a rather colorful sexual career as a man leading a double life—the recent allegation was reportedly consensual.
This doesn’t necessarily make Tony Perkins out to be a villain. But I wouldn’t put him in charge of my HR department, either.
(Disclosure: Years ago, I attended a couple CNP meetings as a sort of “junior” member. As far as I know, I’ve never encountered Goodman, though my wife serves on the board of directors for a group that is affiliated with Goodman’s wife’s employer.)