Mom wonders how to reach her son, a man with a Buddha tattoo who turned into hate

CNN, WVIR, KXLY

By Sara Sidner, CNN

The first sign of trouble was brief. Just a few comments during the hustle and bustle of ordinary life.

Karen Amsden was chatting with her son in the driveway as she picked up her grandchildren when she mentioned something about a quote from Anne Frank, one of the Nazis’ most famous victims who wrote a haunting diary before she was captured and murdered in the Holocaust.

“He just said something about, ‘That’s not even real. The Holocaust does not exist,” Amsden recalls.

She thought her son was joking. Now she says it’s clear he wasn’t.

Amsden is many things: a grandmother of two boys; a lifelong social worker, and now in her late 40s, she’s also branching out into acting in her small Utah town. And she says she’s also the mother of an extremist.

It wasn’t always like this, and Amsden says she still hopes to reclaim the son she watched grow up, the one who seems to have disappeared.

“It’s complicated,” she said of how her son escaped from her, from being someone she described as everyone’s friend to being arrested and charged of plotting to disrupt a Pride event as a member of the extremist group Patriot Front.

“I’m looking for a solution or advice myself because I feel like the things I’ve tried aren’t working,” she said.

Mom tells how a pacifist young man embraced hate

It used to be different between Amsden and his son, Jared Boyce, who is now 27.

“We were very close,” she said of her only child. Growing up in Utah, he was kind and caring and had friends from different backgrounds and races, she said.

He struggled, in particular, after his father left the family to live as an openly gay man, Amsden said. She recalled that her son’s relationship with his father had become strained, although it was virtually non-existent after his father left.

What came through more clearly was Boyce’s apparent desire to find his own place in the world.

“I don’t blame his dad for what Jared decided to do, but he had a hard time being accepted,” Amsden said.

“At one point he was in Buddha. And pacifism. He even has a Buddha tattoo on his arm,” she said, adding that he had another tattoo that read, “Don’t give in to hate, anger and rage.”

But hatred, anger and rage seem to be where he finally found his place.

Turning to the internet in recent years as his marriage fell apart, Amsden said his son was sucked into a group that radicalized him and made him feel he had to act to save people from the wrong.

When CNN reached out to Boyce to ask for his perspective, he responded by texting a video of a drag queen dancing in public in front of a large audience before her costume ripped open and exposed her genitals.

There was no message with the text. Boyce’s mother interpreted it as being emblematic of her son’s belief that he must work with the Patriot Front to prevent children from being groomed by gay men.

She acknowledged it was a false bigoted trope and says she believes he learned it from the Patriot Front, a white nationalist hate group that formed in the wake of the deadly ‘Unite’ rally. the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. .

Amsden says Boyce joined the group online in 2018 and has since tried to convince her that her online “brotherhood” is right and good.

She said he tried to convert her with the group’s manifestos, but she kept telling him she wasn’t interested in people who spew hatred against gays, immigrants, blacks and Moreover.

But she doesn’t know what to do.

A turning point for mom, if not for son

Amsden hoped Boyce could break with the Patriot Front after he and 30 other men allegedly associated with the group were arrested after piled into a rented truck with shields, flags on long poles and a smoke bomb. Police have charged the 31 people with conspiracy to riot on the day of a gay pride parade in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

CNN contacted the attorney listed as representing one of the men, but did not hear back.

Boyce spent the night he was arrested in jail, and his mother hoped it might be a wake-up call for him that the group he was involved with wasn’t good and might drive him away from his youngsters. sons – aged 3 and 5 years.

Amsden was watching his grandsons this weekend, as Boyce said he wanted to go camping. But when he returned and she reprimanded him for his arrest, she found her stance had hardened.

Instead of coming to his senses, he was more determined than ever that he and his associates were doing the right thing. And that pushed Amsden to the end of his rope.

She says she tried to like Boyce. She tried patience with him. She tried to help him. She gave her adult son a place to stay when her marriage fell apart. She gave him money for gas when he didn’t have enough. She tried to reason with him. She yelled at him. She says she argued and listened.

And now she can’t take it anymore, so she told him to get out of his basement where he lived.

“I’m not kicking him out of my house because I want him to be in pain and miserable and homeless. I just want him to realize where love and support really comes from,” he said. she declared.

“It’s not from them. He feels like it. But they are not going to take him in and help him find a job,” she added of the men in her group.

” I have tried everything. He chose the Patriot Front over his family,” Amsden said in tears. “It’s a slap in the face.”

Stay connected, but set limits

Amsden says she’s desperate to keep her family together but doesn’t know how to bridge the gap with her son.

Psychiatrist Joseph Ma Pierre says desire can be precious.

“If we’re talking about family members or loved ones, I think the most important principle is just to try to stay in touch,” said Pierre, who for decades has studied why people join groups. , and is a Clinical Professor of Health Sciences in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

“So if that person then decides they want to come down the rabbit hole or make a change, there’s something to come back to.”

But he warns those who reach out to someone who is engulfed in hate or lies to set limits for their own sanity, to avoid getting sucked in.

“I think sometimes I can say, ‘Listen, let’s have coffee, but we’re not going to talk about anything (stressful), okay, let’s just talk about other things,'” Pierre said.

It may be the best or only option when relatives and friends have become “true believers” in a cause and are unwilling or unable to be challenged, he said.

“For the true believer, it’s not just belief. It’s that ‘I define myself based on that belief’ and that’s where it gets really hard to undo,” Pierre told CNN. “At this point, it gets really dangerous (to argue) because that then people see the threat to ideology, belief, as a threat to themselves.”

Earlier in someone’s radicalization, when they might be what Pierre calls a “non-believer” who isn’t really connected, or a “tramp” when someone is flirting with new ideas, other approaches might work.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer because each circumstance will involve different circumstances that will bring people to this point, the psychiatrist said. Do they feel lonely, angry, worried or scared? Could professional help be needed with mental health?

And while contesting beliefs can push people further into a corner, offering alternative viewpoints and evidence can be helpful if someone is in the early stages.

Pierre suggests those dealing with a struggling loved one find a support group for themselves where others understand them and may even have people who have left hate and extremist groups who can explain why they were drawn to them. and how and why they changed their minds.

“If we expect them to ever come out of the proverbial rabbit hole, we need to figure out what brought them in in the first place,” Pierre said.

Traveling across America I find strained families

For most families, it was not extremism that entered their family, but political polarization that entered the equation and began to tear their relationships apart.

I have heard many versions of this scenario play out in homes as I traveled across America reporting for CNN.

People whisper to me that they don’t talk to their aunt anymore because she’s a “mad liberal socialist” who rejects any idea that has anything to do with conservatism. Others tell me they don’t invite their grandfather around their kids anymore because he’s become an “angry right-wing Trump cult crackpot” spouting “xenophobic nonsense.”

The Americans also cut longtime friends. They removed acquaintances and friends from feeds on Facebook and other social media. They disinvited co-workers to parties. All because it’s too stressful to have them around when we’re talking about politics or religion or anything substantial.

You may have felt the pressure yourself at social gatherings. Many people don’t know what to do and leave. It’s too tiring and too toxic to try to fix this part of a world that already feels overwhelming.

One of the things that makes it harder to fight extremism and polarization is the massive amount of misinformation and misinformation now available to the public.

“We are not dealing with the same set of facts,” says Pierre. “So when you try to reason with each other, you come from two different worlds.”

Here, too, there are ways to bridge the gap, such as agreeing to disagree on issues that cause friction and moving on to other topics that can foster understanding and bring back the joy of unity.

Pass on the hate

But in any relationship that has become rocky, there may come a time when walking away may be the only way to preserve your own sanity, Pierre added.

This is not yet an option for Karen Amsden. She says she will always love her son but he is not the only one she cares about.

She is afraid for her children, her precious grandsons and how they are taught to hate.

“They’re both amazing kids,” Amsden said of the boys.

But she is heartbroken when they repeat their father’s extremist beliefs.

“We’ll drive away and (he) will see a rainbow flag and drive away… ‘My dad hates the rainbow flag. The rainbow flag is bad.

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