My son was in Charlottesville. He probably went with his friends, but I don’t know for sure because I haven’t talked to him in about three years.
Maybe some alt-righters were born into racist families and then they just follow along, but we weren’t like that. He grew up in a big, multicultural city. When he was a kid, he was very accepting — his friend group was ethnically diverse, we often hosted overseas exchange students. He was dating someone who wasn’t white. He was a responsible kid. I mean, he would occasionally drink and smoke pot and stuff like that, but he wasn’t getting into trouble or anything. He had a few close friends, but he was not that great with getting girlfriends.
He was a good student, smart, sweet, and we were close. He always told me he loved me. But over time he began to change. I was worried it was drugs or depression. He started treating me like shit. I remember one time I went to hug him and he nearly ripped me a new one just for touching him. He said, “We have nothing in common.” I was hurt. That was just the beginning.
When he was in his late teens, he started listening to this podcast FreeDomain Radio. After he told me about it, I googled it, and from that point forward, my life was never the same. It was founded by this guy Stefan Molyneux, who I later learned is a major figure on the alt-right. He spews horrible things. I heard him listening to the podcasts in his bedroom. My son started saying things like, If we could just get the Asians out of here it wouldn’t be so crowded. I realized he was getting into really dangerous stuff. He was beyond the point where we could have a rational discussion. Not long after, I told him I thought he should move out.
After he left, we stopped talking and he pretty much alienated his closest friends. The only way I could keep track of him was by watching his online presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (I remembered his nicknames from when he lived at home). I saw that he was questioning the Holocaust, and tweeting about Trump, white supremacy, and all this horrible stuff about women. On his YouTube account, people were commenting that women don’t need to have education because their place is at home having babies. I panicked and approached a local religious group that’s very knowledgeable about cults and they said, Just wait it out and take care of yourself.
These days, I check up on him whenever I’m on the computer — it’s constant. I’ve got all his social-media pages pinned on Google Chrome. Sometimes he removes posts quickly and sometimes he makes things public and leaves them there. Maybe he wants me to see? I make sure I’m not logged in when I look at his accounts because I don’t want him to block me.
I recently saw him on a video, he looks healthy. Taking good care of yourself is all part of the white-supremacy thing, right? They have to be in good shape in case there’s violence, and they have to be fit so they can make good white babies. My thinking these days is God forbid he should have kids.
I knew from his tweets that he was going to Charlottesville and I was nervous because I know these things can turn violent. And throughout the day I was anxious, waiting for him to tweet so I knew he was okay. I’m horrified that he was there. From his tweets, it sounds like he was hanging around with neo-Nazis. It’s hard for me to believe. And then there’s a part of me that hopes he does something and gets caught because that’s one way to get him reformed.
I think the biggest thing with him is he needed a father figure. His dad really disappointed him. The alt-right is definitely a group that people are recruited into. I really do believe that. They take a “normal” level of fear of difference to the extreme. And I think that time of life — after school, when you are in your early 20s, is a real period of transition, of finding yourself. These kids think they have found the answer in these alt-right groups, you know? Like, I can be a part of something that’s bigger than me … and then they feel like they’re really going to make a difference, they even have a passion for making a difference.
All parents look back at how they raised their children and think they could have done something different, but I did the best I could. I raised him alone for a big part of his life. When he was younger, I had more control, but you can’t be with them 24/7. You don’t know what they’re listening to. They take their laptops to school. You can’t know everything that’s on the internet. Once they find it and feel like it speaks to them, they’re not going to listen to you.
These days the only way I can reach him is email. I sometimes send him videos of our dog. I have an extension on email that shows me if he reads it. The last thing I sent him was a video of our dog, but you could hear my voice … I secretly hope he felt something when he heard my voice, because deep inside I know he must miss me.
*Some names and details have been changed.