Podcast host Joe Rogan struggled to comprehend the intricate family history of the Whittaker family after filmmaker Mark Laita, who had visited the family, reported that the parents of 15 siblings were "double first cousins".
Laita, who had become friends with the family, described their family tree as "deeply inbred" and complex. However, Rogan had difficulty following Laita's account of the Whittaker's ancestral background.
Laita, 63, documented his encounters with the Whittaker family on his YouTube channel Soft White Underbelly. He once likened them to the mountain dwellers in the movie Deliverance.
Through his brief videos, Laita brought attention to the family's plight in Odd, a small town in West Virginia. He revealed their struggles, living in destitution and isolation from the rest of society.
During his appearance on the Joe Rogan show, Laita delved deeper into the Whittaker family's history of incest, revealing that some family members had severe genetic illnesses that affected their physical and mental health, causing them to resort to barking as a means of communication.
According to him, John Emory Whittaker and Gracie Irene Whittaker, the parents of the 15 siblings, were related as they were double first cousins.
"The fathers on both the mother and the father side were identical twins," he explained.
During Laita's explanation of the intricate family lineage of the Whittaker family, Rogan became confused.
First cousins who are double cousins, meaning they share all four grandparents, are the offspring of two sets of siblings who each have children with the other set of siblings, creating a connection between the children through both sides of their family.
"So it's like the same person birthed the mum and dad - even though they were different people but they were identical twins. And the parents were cousins on top of it," he added.
Before the discovery of their complex family history, the parents of the Whittaker family were assumed to be siblings.
Mark was on the lookout for interesting individuals to feature in his films and photographs when he stumbled upon the Whittakers in Raleigh County.
He interviewed siblings Betty, Lorraine, and Ray, as well as their cousin Timmy. Sadly, another family member named Freddie had already passed away from a heart attack.
The Whittaker family's story gained widespread attention in 2020 after a documentary featuring them was uploaded on YouTube and garnered millions of views. Rogan, too, struggled to grasp the difficult living conditions of the family due to their deep history of inbreeding.
"They are as poor as can be. Poorer than poor. The conditions in which they live are unbelievable - the house is so filthy," Mark said.
After multiple visits by Mark, he set up a GoFundMe campaign to help the Whittaker family fund much-needed home repairs. The campaign has raised tens of thousands of dollars so far, which have been used to renovate their home and purchase new vehicles.