Wednesday, July 31, 2019

That Time that I was Accidentally Friends with a White Supremacist

So you guys, here's a thing that's happened this summer:

I'm part of this super low-key homeschool group in my town--for those of you playing the home game, it's the nice one, not the one with the mean moms who bullied me for several years. This nice homeschool group trends more hippy than not, with the kind of people who drink homemade kefir out of Mason jars and pass around grain-free snack bars and form nature co-ops. We used to have an afternoon playgroup every week. We've gone on camping trips together. I chip in on the natural foods group buy sometimes. I love them.

One of the moms in this group was among the hippiest of them all. She once lovingly explained to me why tampons are bad. She sometimes brought homemade jello--like HOMEMADE jello, made with, like, organic gelatin and applesauce and coconut oil, and she ate it out of a Mason jar. On a hike, she gamely pretended to consult with me about tree identification via bark, politely ignoring the obvious fact that I obviously cannot identify any tree beyond if it's a maple or an oak or a sycamore, and for sure not by its bark. We were Facebook friends, and I was really into all the photos that she posted of her sheep and the stuff that she wove on her honest-to-god loom. One one camping trip, she taught my kid how to use a drop spindle. I really liked her, you guys. I really, really liked her.

She and her husband are farmers, because, you know, of course they are, and they sell at some of our local farmer's markets. That's not important right this second, but hold onto it.

Okay, so a couple of months ago I was scrolling Facebook, as you do, and my friend had vaguebooked some weird post about people who were spreading lies about her. I had no idea what she was talking about, which is generally the point of vaguebooking, but in the comments to her post, someone commiserated with her and said it was awful, all those awful things people were saying about her in our town's local Facebook group.

Does your town have one of those? A sort of indie little Facebook group where people ask for recommendations of good carpenters and bitch about the road construction and sometimes gossip? Our town has two--an official one and a sort of anti-official one for the snarky people who can't say anything nice. I swear that I've heard more breaking news on these groups that later ends up in the newspaper! I also know all the good carpenters, and where to get a watch fixed, and that the McDonald's by the highway always tells people that they're out of soft-serve when really they just don't want to get the machine fixed.

So OBVIOUSLY I immediately clicked onto that Facebook group and scrolled down to see who was talking trash about this friend, and indeed, people were talking trash about her!

Okay, here's another tangent: last year, in the county over from mine, a guy committed a hate crime by vandalizing a synagogue. He'd originally planned to burn it down, and still had bomb-making supplies in his car when he was arrested. His trial recently happened, and as part of it the transcript of the FBI interview was released, and on page 70ish of this interview transcript he gives the first names of two people who were members of a white nationalist hate group, Identity Evropa. He claims that these people had dinner with him in a local diner, and within a couple of days of that he'd used a money order to pay dues and join this group. He's pretty disjointed, about what you'd expect, but there's a pretty strong implication that these people who met with him are the ones who recruited him into this hate group, not long before he became radicalized enough to commit an actual hate crime.

And now we're back to the story: in his interview, he gave the first names of these people he met with, the members of Identity Evropa, and their first names matched the first names of my friend and her husband. People were claiming that they WERE these people, and were trashing them and telling people not to buy produce from them and that they should be banned from the farmer's market, etc.

I've had mean lies spread about me before, and it sucks, so I was loaded for bear at this point, and I immediately went into research mode. It shouldn't be that hard to prove that my friend wasn't the person named in the FBI transcript, and shame on the FBI for making it so easy for someone to be falsely accused like that.

Step 1: I found the FBI transcript for myself, and read it for myself. And yes, the names did match, and the location that he gave for their meetup was feasible. BUT in the interview, he also gave the woman's handle that she used when she posted on the Discord message board associated with Identity Evropa. So...

Step 2: I Googled that handle and Discord, and the first hit was Unicorn Riot, a non-profit that specifically worked to obtain and post the messages from neo-Nazi Discord chat boards. You can search this by Discord handle, and doing so gives you all the leaked posts from that specific handle. There's no context to tell you what the user is replying to, so all you really have to go by are what that user says.

I read through all of the posts that this specific user posted, looking for clues to help me prove that this person was not my friend. Except that all of the identifying information that she gave did line up--not enough to definitively identify her, but enough that, frustratingly, I couldn't definitively say it wasn't her, either. She posted pictures of her sheep. My friend has sheep. She posted a picture of a weaving that she'd done. My friend weaves. She posted the sexes and ages of her children. My friend has children of those ages and sexes. She posted a picture of her newborn. My friend's baby was born then. She posted about homeschooling. My friend homeschools.

At some point, although I was still looking for identification details that would prove that this Discord user wasn't my friend, I went back and also started taking screenshots of the upsetting, racist things that the Discord user was posting. She posted about taking the gentle children's world history curriculum, Story of the World, and supplementing it for her children with another book that purports to be a history just of white people, and is used as a call to arms by a LOT of white supremacists. She derided a particular self-help book as "anti-white." She claimed that there was no such thing as a Native American genocide, and that Native Americans could be prospering but "do not today for other reasons." She wrote these words: "Any Whites who have spent time living in a neighborhood or attending a school with a non-white majority know the strife that Whites endure."

You see where this is going, right?

But still, it wasn't definitive that this racist Discord user spewing upsetting, racist things was my friend, I mean, it wasn't definitive to me at the time. Until--and I don't remember if I found this link on the Discord leaks, or if it was another comment on the Facebook group that gave it to me--but either way, I learned that this person had a short-lived YouTube series. In it, she goes by her Discord handle, and tells us about plantain and yarrow and the benefits of bone broth.

Step 3: I clicked on the YouTube channel and played the first video, the one on yarrow. Twenty-two seconds in, my friend's voice says, "Greetings from the homestead. I'm Volkmom." Two minutes and 45 seconds in, she informs me that "race is sacred."

And that's it. She basically handed me the clearest way to identify her--I'd know her voice anywhere.

The Facebook gossip was absolutely correct. This Discord user really wasn't my friend, but only because I can't be friends with someone whose worldview is not just wrong, but abhorrently wrong. I feel sick to my stomach, wondering why she hid this about herself, why I could be so fond of someone who had such a rotten heart. She was one of my aspirational Facebook friends, you know those ones who you read their Facebook posts and you're all, "Gee, I wish I wanted to install a hoop garden and keep sheep! Aww, look at how pastoral they all are, sitting in the sun and eating blackberries!" My kids know her. My kids like her! I've now given my children memories of hanging out at the lake with a white supremacist.

I thought she was so great, you guys.

Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those things where everyone in the know could simply be all, "Hey did you know so-and-so is basically a neo-Nazi? We're not going to hang out with them again, okay? Okay!" That's because remember when I told you to hang onto the knowledge that this woman and her husband sell at the farmer's market?

They sell at the farmer's market. And this fact is blowing up my town.

My town apparently can't legally evict them, although another farmer's market, run not by the city but as a non-profit, did. The mayor says that sure, he super hates white supremacy, but the town also arrested a peaceful protester who was simply standing next to their booth holding a sign saying she'd been harassed by them. The town makes all of the anti-racism protesters stand outside the farmer's market, but the creepy dudes with the visible knives, who literally told a reporter that they were Three Percenters--you know, the actual right-wing militia that was active at the Charlottesville rally? Yeah, they get to hang out in front of their booth. On Saturday, less than half an hour after the peaceful protester was arrested, my kids and I walked past their booth and past a whole group of those guys laughing and chatting in front of it. I'd have had to push past them if I wanted to approach the booth. Most people were pretending like they didn't exist, but plenty of people were squeezing past to deliberately buy from them, as well.

It has been weeks and weeks of this mess, there's been a conflict there for the past two Saturdays, at least. And then on Monday, driving Will to horseback riding, I heard on the radio the breaking news that the city is SUSPENDING THE ENTIRE FARMER'S MARKET. They say that they're suspending it for two weeks, but who knows?

Are a bunch of farmers and producers going to lose a lot of money? For sure. The farmer's market here is bustling, even when white supremacists and their pet right-wing militias scare away a bunch of potential customers.

Are they saving us from an incident in which people are going to get seriously hurt? It's starting to seem like it. I mean, I guess? If arresting peaceful protesters but letting avowed Three Percenters stand armed in the exact same spot is honestly the best that the city can do to keep its people safe at a farmer's market, of all places, then sure, I guess, just shut the damn thing down and we'll all be racist or not quietly inside our own homes.

You guys, I am not built for the soul-searching and internal conflict and Feelings that this has made me feel. The weird guilt that I was accidentally friends with a white supremacist. The upset that I really liked her, and the worry that maybe I should talk to her and tell her--I don't even know, that racism isn't okay?--and I'm doing the wrong thing by avoiding her, instead. Or should I join the protesters? I want to hate her and demonize her, but man, I can't get the picture out of my head of hanging out around a campfire with her, listening to her and the other hippy moms talking about orgone boxes (WHICH ARE ACTUALLY A THING AND NOW I HAVE TO GO RESEARCH THEM AGAIN TO MAKE SURE THEY'RE NOT RACIST, BECAUSE MY LIFE HAS BECOME ME QUESTIONING ALL OF MY MEMORIES), and how she was really nice and I liked her.

And who else do I know who's secretly racist? That's the thing. I don't trust my pleasant memories of pleasant times anymore. I don't trust many of my friends anymore. I don't trust myself to know who's a great person and who's a really, really, really terrible person.

ANYWAY... Apologies for the last few paragraphs basically being a crazy, incoherent rant. I don't really have any summing up thing to say, or, like, some kind of profound insight or whatever. Mostly, I just wanted to tell you about this crappy thing that's been happening and how I'm feeling super crappy about it.

If you, too, were ever accidentally friends with a white supremacist for a while, let me know and we can start a club!


Unknown said...

Although I have never been friends with a white supremacist (that I know of) I was friends with a man and his wife for over a year before discovering he had sexually assaulted a woman that I knew -and other women in the past. I was horrified and broken. I felt gross and betrayed and unable to trust new people I met. I had spent so much time at their apartment, eating dinner and playing games. We would watch each others' pets on holidays. After talking it out in therapy I have finally begun to come to terms with the fact that I cannot possibly know anyone's true agenda. Rapists have dogs they love and apparently white supremacists can love to weave. Life is hard like that. Your writing about your experience has helped me feel less alone ❤ thank you.

A in B said...

She fooled a lot of people. Thank you for sharing this, and just know that you are not alone.

lilmizscareall said...

I’m in Indy and I’d be happy to be your new, long distance, non racist friend. I love all those things, as well as all people!

Sue Wanzer said...

Thank you for your deep honesty.

JH Daseester said...

You discovered a hidden underside of someone you thought you knew well. (That's happened to me a lot, especially with close family members, since the 2016 election.) We've all had that experience, of finding out our best friend's secret past, or that our boyfriend/girlfriend is cheating on us, or...or uncovering any surprise that destroys our belief systems. The saddest part of your story is that her one quality of being a proud bigot overrides every good quality Sarah has. She is a hatemonger, an elitist, a narcissist with a baseless and false sense of superiority, who believes her excrement doesn't stink. Even sadder, her homeschooled children are captive and being poisoned by her ugly ideals. I hope you find the nerve to someday confront her and explain that all the negativity she has put out into the universe is hers to own. Karma is teaching her tough lessons. I'm sorry for your reality check bouncing, but GOOD FOR YOU for calling out how vile she is, despite her intelligence and creativity. You win, for losing her as a friend!

Scottobear said...

Holy cow. That is beyond disturbing. Thank you for sharing, and please understand that did nothing wrong by seeing only the good in someone with very terrible flaws. It is doubtful you can change their beliefs and I am glad you found out before anything got worse. Good and healing thoughts to you.

Dr. Bjorn Ingvoldstad said...

I'm removed from Bloomie in time and space (now on the east coast since 2006), but I've been trying to follow this story best I can... Your blog post was recommended by a media-savvy friend there, and I just wanted to thank you for writing this on out. All the best to you as this story goes forward...

Robyn the Slug said...

I wish I could reassure you that these kind of beliefs are uncommon and that you'll be able to see them from a distance, but data shows us they aren't uncommon at all in the US (as the continued patronage of their stall demonstrates).

The antidote is to do the checks ahead of time by having conversations about race and equality with your friends. Would your homeschooling group be willing to do work against racism? Can you read and discuss a book like 'The New Jim Crow', or 'Uprooting Racism'? You might find that others mostly want to ignore the problem, but ignoring it is just another way to perpetuate racism.

Mike said...

Racism and White Supremacy are baked in to American Society. I would argue that most white people in America either know a White Supremacist or are themselves White Supremacists. At the very least, all white folks benefit from White Supremacy on a daily basis.
We can learn how to undo racism and White Supremacy though.

LisaJT said...

Hi there! Accidentally friends with a white supremacist. My husband was part of their wedding... didnt REALIZE it until the best man's speech went into being nationalists and everyone cheered. Havent seen them since.
We dont homeschool, but I have been thinking about it. I just wouldn't know where to start. But! I have kids and I live around town! We can start a club.

Melissa said...

Hope you don’t mind, I shared your very well written blog on my local FB group. I think your point of view is something people really need to understand. No matter how nice we believe someone to be, or how close of friends we are, there has to be hard lines we will not let ourselves cross.

I found out people we went on multiple vacations with were homophonic. When their child tried to come out to them, the parents told them that they were not gay and to stop the nonsense. That was a hard line for me.

Moral hard line.

You are making the hard decision, but the right one!

B-townpreschoolteacher said...

I'm curious if your homeschool group included any people of color. Although I'm sure most of the people in the group were not racist, but I think we have to do more than just "not be racist". This town is very segregated, we need to reach out and build bridges, support black-owned businesses, and maybe suggest that groups we belong to, such as the homeschool group, participate in workshops designed to help people become aware of their implicit bias and just how deep racism runs in this country. A friend of mine mentioned how this farmers market event had the positive byproduct of causing him to need to discuss white supremacy and racism with his children. My husband and my daughter are black, my son is . We don't have the luxury of not talking about racism in our family. My husband talk to my children about it all the time because he experiences is it on a regular basis and he wants our children to be prepared.
It is easy for a racists to hide in hippy/progressive circles in Bloomington because there are very few people of color who circulate in in them and very little need to discuss the topic of racism. I hope this catastrophic event will be the impetus for white people in this community to educate themselves about race and racism in this countr and this town, because people of color experience it every day and are not surprised by the fact that this couple turned out to be white supremacists.

Unknown said...

Your blog struck a cord with me. I am a multi racial, 30 something mom of two. And you would think, that I would agree with your statements. Or applaude you whole heartedly. Well, I do not! Let me explain, you knew your friend for how long? You did all these things with her, children played together, you went camping and countlesss other activities. Yet, you NEVER knew about her personal beliefs. She never once brought it up to you nor tried to impose it onto your belief system. So then when you do find out that she and her husband are apart of something, you shun her. You, too, become what you abhorently disagree with. No, you aren't judging her for her skin color or her religion but you are in fact, still judging her. You create a blog to make yourself out to be the victim, instead of going to your friend that has done absolutely nothing to you but be a friend, and you just cut her out. You could try the empathy card and try to understand why she thinks that way and then possibly show her other ways of thinking. But you dont do that, you run straight to your keyboard to find validation for you feelings, as if you are a victim.None of you bloomington folks knew anything about it which tells me, they werent flaunting it nor trying to "recruit" any of you. This country is full of hate, full of racism, and full of evil. What have you done to try and change that? Oh thats right, you stop being friends with a woman. Exactly what what I would want to teach my children. Maybe what you did was for the best, best for you and for her. I'm not quite sure she needs a "friend" like you in her life.

Mulvey said...

"The time I accidentally made friends with a Jew"
"The time I accidentally made friends with a Catholic"
"The time I accidentally made friends with a Muslim"
"The time I accidentally made friends with a Communist"
"The time I accidentally made friends with a homosexual"

This is what the old hippies from the 60's and 70's have become. The new Puritans, the Orwellian Thought Police. You have become exactly what you railed against in the 70's.

Mulvey said...

Excellent reply. This woman must not be able to see the rich irony and hypocrisy of what she has done. The woman she is smearing and black balling was nothing other than a good and kind friend. Never once in the 9 years that this woman has sold her produce at the Farmer's market did she attempt to impose her views on anyone. Her products are of the highest quality. This do gooder and moral arbiter Linda Chapperson is like the priest in confession that wants to know if you have ever had any impure thoughts. Most certainly Linda Chapperson has never had an impure thought and her soul is as pure as the wind driven snow. In reality she is a hypocrite of the first order.

Robyn the Slug said...

Since apparently people aren't aware: Identity Evropa is a well known hate group. When you find out your friend is in a white supremacist hate group that's not something you can "tolerate" or "ignore".

Karl said...

I believe it is better to try to engage people with problematic views than to simply write them off. The chances of changing someone's mind or heart are low, but they are absolutely zero if you do not engage them. I was personally inspired by the story of the black man who befriended KKK members, many of whom ended up giving up their robes:

Feral said...

...really? REALLY?? Your are seriously comparing WHITE SUPREMACY ETHOS... with JEWISH PEOPLE?!? And other folks who were born a certain way rather than outright CHOSE BIGOTRY!?! UNFUCK YOU INTO THE SUN YOU AWFUL I CAN'T EVEN!!!

Feral said...

Also that racist POS has been ACTIVELY RECRUITING at events; hence why she got kicked out of the other FM

Cato the Younger said...

Precisely. Get off your moral high horse. Try to practice some of that tolerance you preach about. Puritanical. Leftwing. Hypocrites.

Taken said...

All these people are narcissists and psychopaths and are great liars! They groom you!!!!
Truth comes out though!

Unknown said...

We live and learn.
People hurt our faith in ourselves and others. I hope you find peace.
And if you want to look me up on Facebook..i have sheep and goats and cows and like hippy stuff too.

Lucille Parsons said...

You are arguing that we should tolerate white supremacy, an ideology that advocates genocide of those it deems "unworthy." When you call for "tolerance" of white supremacist thought, you are throwing away any "tolerance" you might have for the people who are directly hurt by it - people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, people living with disabilities and mental illnesses. Shunning white supremacists is not morally equivalent to contributing to the oppression of marginalized people. There is no moral equivalence between existing as a person of color and actively cultivating an ideology that advocates subjugation and genocide. These people are doing real harm to marginalized communities. A person who would see people you care about subjugated and/or murdered isn't a "good friend." Criticism and shunning is the bare minimum of what they deserve.

Tracy Hall said...

I am reminded of a story from the Washington Post that starts out in a very similar way: Rumors are confirmed of someone in the group who is actively white supremacist.

Not many people are willing or able, and no one can be expected, to take the kind of risks that Matthew Stevenson did in fostering an apolitical, expectation-free friendship that may be the person’s only link to warmth and human connection outside of an insular hate group. But those who are willing to take such risks can sometimes (if rarely) facilitate happy endings of a sort that seems otherwise not to exist at all. We assume, naturally and unconsciously, that hate and exclusion of the hateful and exclusionary is the correct response, and in many cases it is—but it is also the easy response. Sometimes the stakes are high enough to be worth risking the far more difficult response of love and inclusion.

Unknown said...

Not true.

Unknown said...

So all you have to connect her to a White Supremacist group is a quote where she says "race is sacred." Dont blacks echo that sentiment all the time?

julie said...

Interestingly, since I first posted this, Volkmom self-identified to a news outlet, so this post is no longer speculation but fact. The article, itself, is behind a paywall, but here's a cut-and-paste while it remains:

Her actions have since made me feel better about not approaching her for a heart-to-heart; based on what I've seen her see and do since, and her public associations with other white supremacists, that interaction would have been futile and upsetting--I was among the last to know about her conversion, it seems, and she was fully entrenched in her hate group before I knew anything about it.

I'm leaving up all Comments for now, even the overtly racist ones, as a record for my kids when/if they want to know more about our history and interactions with Volkmom. I think they'll be interested to see the way that useless "whataboutisms" are lobbed at me, and the varying ways that racists attempt to mask their hate speech. Hopefully, this experience will help us all learn to better advocate for those who are marginalized, and to stand firm in our vow that we do not tolerate intolerance.

incandenzak said...

I dont understand why her "interview" with red ice isnt more reported on. Seems like an unbelievably damning thing for dye to do.