Ex, mental health, politics

When QAnon brings estranged family members together…

Yesterday, I read a sad article in The Washington Post about how people have lost family members to QAnon. It began with a compelling description about how 24 year old Tyler watched as his mom stocked up for an imagined armageddon. She brought home ammunition, a water purifier, camping gear, and shelf stable food. She started wearing a holstered pistol just walking around her house, believing that there would be days of power outages and civil unrest.

Tyler’s mom told him that on March 4, 2021, there would be massive chaos. That would be when Donald Trump would return to power. March 4, for your edification, is the original Inauguration Day prior to the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1932.

Tyler had been living with his mother since he graduated college in 2019. They were located about an hour north of Minneapolis. As the 2020 elections approached, Tyler watched as his mom became more and more entrenched in baseless conspiracy theories and outright lies. Based on the WaPo’s article, I can assume that she turned into someone he no longer knew. Complicating matters was the presence of Tyler’s stepfather, who is apparently just as entrenched in QAnon.

The confusion in the household and worry Tyler experienced prompted him to seek help online. Last month, Tyler found the Reddit group, QAnonCasualties, which was founded by people who had watched their families fracture over the political climate in the United States. He explained to the moderators of the group that his mother and stepfather have a lot of weapons and are convinced that World War III is about to commence.

Making matters worse is the fact that Tyler hasn’t been working. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a mild form of autism, Tyler had graduated from a local university with a degree in manufacturing engineering. He quit his job in early January because he hoped to find work that would make use of his newly minted degree. As of yet, he hasn’t found new work. As Inauguration Day approached, he watched his mom grow ever more unhinged.

An old friend had stopped by with a wedding present, since Tyler’s mom had just remarried. Noticing the pistol, the friend asked Tyler’s mom if she planned to shoot anyone that day. And Tyler’s mom reportedly replied, “You never know what’s going to happen with the Democrats. They stole the election.” The friend told WaPo reporters that Tyler’s mom had once been a “wonderful” person who had invited her over for tea and gone kayaking with her. But now, it seems she’s gone completely off the deep end. According to the article:

To protect his family’s anonymity, The Washington Post is only using Tyler’s first name. In an email, his mother blamed her son for the tension in the house, writing that he was disrespectful and refused to look for work after leaving his job earlier this year. She added that she “never even heard of Qanon until very recently” and doesn’t “follow it,” but declined to discuss why she had begun purchasing survival gear and whether she believed Trump would return to the White House in March. “My beliefs about Trump are actually none of your business,” she wrote.

Tyler said he and his mother discussed QAnon one time; a bizarre conversation in which his mother insisted that QAnon prophecies were the product of artificial intelligence. He described an atmosphere of growing conspiracy and fear that pervaded his home. “It started a month before the election,” Tyler said in an interview, “and it kept growing until it felt like she was preaching the Bible to me.”

At first she insisted that Trump, not Biden, would be inaugurated on Jan. 20, and for a while Tyler held out hope that Biden’s swearing-in would jolt his mother back into reality. She would put away her gun and life would return to normal. But, the ceremony in Washington seemed to make little difference at his house in Minnesota.

Tyler truly hoped his mom would be more normal once Biden was inaugurated. He even posted online that she had seemed more “normal” on January 21st. But very soon, she went back to her old ways, insisting that Trump would be back in the White House. So Tyler decided to confront his mom, and that confrontation ultimately led to his being ejected from her home. She even threatened to have her new husband “hurt” Tyler.

Which brings me to the title of today’s post… up until this point, it sounds like Tyler’s family fell apart due to QAnon. But he found help from his other parent– his biological father and stepmother. Tyler had lost contact with his dad when he was a child and they had only recently reconnected. And Tyler’s dad and stepmother were willing to take him in, once Tyler’s unhinged mom tossed him and his belongings out of her house. On February 3, 2021, Tyler texted his stepmother, Heather, and told her that he’d confronted his mom, telling her that he didn’t believe in QAnon or any of his mom’s whackadoodle theories.

Half an hour later, Heather picked up Tyler, who was waiting in the front yard. When he got into Heather’s car, Tyler started to cry. Tyler is now sleeping in his 7 year old half sister’s bedroom. She sleeps in her parents’ room. Not long after the confrontation with Tyler’s mom, Tyler was contacted by his new stepfather, who wrote “When your daddy gets sick of you living there (and he will) don’t bother calling us.”

Those of you who regularly follow my blog might already know that my husband lost contact with his daughters after he and his ex wife divorced. A few years ago, one of Bill’s daughters finally reconnected with him. The other one remains estranged, and is apparently hopelessly entrenched in her mother’s sick, culty world. Last year, just before COVID-19 shut everything down, Bill visited his younger daughter for the first time since Christmas 2004. When she opened the door, Bill said the two of them stood there and shared a long overdue hug. And then they spent the whole two days of Bill’s visit debriefing each other about the events of the fifteen years they had spent apart.

I don’t know anything about Tyler’s mom, but although Tyler’s mom’s friend describes her as a “wonderful” person, I have a feeling that she’s another one of those people who hates her exes more than she loves her children. I come to that conclusion, not just because she fell into the QAnon cult, but because of a comment Tyler made to his stepmother. When he texted Heather that his mom had threatened to have his new stepfather “hurt” him, he also explained that he wasn’t actually worried about his safety. He wrote, “I’ve been dealing with this for years. It’s normal for me.

When Bill and his daughter met last year, Bill heard in more detail what it was like to grow up with Ex. There were many threats and promises made. There was a lot of “culty” thinking, not just in terms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which Ex had insisted on joining a few years before she and Bill split, but also in terms of her own mini narcissistic cult. The girls were forced to write Bill letters disowning him and demanding that he allow their stepfather, Ex’s third husband, to adopt them. Ex had reportedly stood over them and made them write the letters, which she sent Bill just in time for his 42nd birthday.

Something tells me that Tyler’s current stepfather is not his first, since he wrote to Heather that this was not a new thing. Tyler’s mom evidently has a history of coming unglued, and probably sees Tyler as an extension of herself. And when Tyler didn’t want to fall in with her QAnon fantasy, she cast him out… the same way Ex does to anyone who won’t play along with her fantasies. I don’t know enough about Tyler’s mom to say I think she’s a narcissist, but my guess is that she has a “high conflict personality”. And as Bill and I have observed with his ex wife, who also has a high conflict personality, these types of people often get sucked into things as they blame everyone else for their issues. With Ex, it was everything from multi-level marketing scams to the LDS church. Granted, the Mormons didn’t turn out to be all bad. They did help Bill’s daughter escape her mother. But the church doesn’t give things without strings attached.

Younger daughter no doubt feels indebted to the church, and believe me, it’s not unlike the leadership to capitalize on that human need for reciprocity— that is, feeling obligated to reciprocate “kind actions”. There’s nothing wrong with that on its surface. Sometimes, however, “reciprocity” can be abused, and people wind up trapped by the need to pay back a solid, even long after the “emotional debt” has been repaid. This is how groups get control over people and stop them from living their own lives and thinking for themselves. Pretty soon, the lovebombing that occurs at the beginning of the relationship can turn into something sinister and toxic.

I have long believed that my husband’s ex wife runs her life like a mini cult. Anyone in her sphere has to accept whatever her conditions are, no matter how nutty or destructive they are. She’s allowed to do anything she wants, even if it’s criminal, because she had a shitty childhood and no one recognized how “special” she is. She’s allowed to abuse her husbands and her children because she was abused, and she’s allowed to take that abuse as far as she wants with no repercussions, whatsoever. Meanwhile, those of us who have been affected by her behavior and dare to speak out about it get raked over the coals and smeared. She went as far as to alienate Bill’s children, but she also did her best to try to destroy his relationships with his own parents!

Like Tyler, Ex has at least a couple of children who are on the autism spectrum, which makes them more vulnerable to her toxicity. Bill’s older daughter supposedly has Asperger’s Syndrome, and younger daughter has said that Ex’s youngest child, a fourteen year old son, is non-verbal due to autism. Bill’s older daughter, who will turn 30 this summer, still lives with Ex and has supposedly devoted her life to caring for her brother, who will likely never be able to live on his own. Meanwhile, whenever Ex gets pissed off at older daughter, she threatens to throw her out of the house, even though older daughter does the heavy lifting involved with caring for Ex’s son. Sounds a lot like what Tyler went through with his mom.

Incidentally, Tyler went back to his mom’s house about a week after he moved out to pick up his stuff. All of his belongings were thrown out on the front lawn, where they soon became covered with snow. He still hopes that his mother’s Trump fervor will fade and he will eventually be able to reconcile with her. He said, “I just don’t see the humanity in this. I wanted my family back, not this hatred.”

For Tyler’s sake, I truly hope he can reconnect with his mom. I hope she is, deep down, a reasonable and decent person who can grow up and wise up, and see what she stands to lose by continuing to submit to the QAnon bullshit. I don’t know what made her fall down the rabbit hole, but it would not surprise me if Tyler’s mom had some trauma in her life that somehow made her feel ostracized and persecuted. And the siren call of QAnon, which is full of butthurt delusional people must have been much too hard to resist– so hard that she’s willing to kick her own son out of her life.

It’s not that I don’t empathize with the abused. I have no doubt in my mind that my husband’s ex wife was severely abused by many people when she was a child. I can understand why she’s so traumatized. What I can’t abide is her habit of throwing away family members and forcing her children and husbands to disconnect with those of whom she doesn’t approve. It’s possible, or even probable, that Tyler’s new stepfather is partly to blame for Tyler’s mother’s actions. However, reading that he has only now reconnected with his father and his father and stepmother, who have apparently been together long enough to have a seven year old daughter, have welcomed him into their home, gives me a feeling that Tyler’s mom has some serious issues. And those issues, like Ex’s, make her vulnerable to falling into cults from which they never escape.

Sadly, more often than not, the best thing to do in such a situation is go no contact and cut all ties. I don’t think younger daughter has gone completely no contact yet, but she has definitely come out of the F.O.G. since she moved away from Ex. As hard as that is, and as sad as it initially was, in the long run, it’s the only way to find peace, autonomy, and freedom from chaos and drama.

book reviews

Reposted review of Wolves Among Sheep: The True Story of Murder in a Jehovah’s Witness Community

I originally posted this review on my old blog in February 2016. I am reposting it for the curious. Controlling religions can really mess up a person’s life.

I just finished reading an incredibly sad book.  It’s yet another one about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a man whose life was dramatically and negatively impacted by having been a member… and married one.  The book, written by Canadian James Kostelniuk, is entitled Wolves Among Sheep: The True Story of Murder in a Jehovah’s Witness Community.  It was published in 2009.

There are a lot of true crime stories where people are members of religious communities and the religion is just an aside.  Jim Kostelniuk’s story is one in which I believe the Jehovah’s Witnesses are somewhat culpable in the horrors of what happened.

The basic story

Back in the 1970s, Jim Kostelniuk met 18 year old Kim at a party held by Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She was several years younger than he was, slender, with a clever way of speaking, and had slate blue eyes.  Kim was looking for a worthy Witness husband.  Jim was looking for a romantic relationship.  In 1972, they got married in a very low key JW ceremony, even though both of their families objected.

Kim was a very devout JW, while Jim was less invested in the faith.  Though they were young and Kim was attractive to Jim, their marriage was never rock solid.  Kim found sex disgusting and would only do it to procreate or because it was considered a “wifely duty”.  She worked very hard to be a good JW, perhaps because her parents had divorced.  The Witnesses, at least in the 70s, only allowed divorce in cases of adultery.  Though her mother later remarried, the divorce had cast a pall over Kim’s home life and she seemed to be very stigmatized about it.

Kim’s and Jim’s marriage lasted six years and produced two children, a boy named Juri and a girl named Lindsay.  By the time they divorced, Jim had lost his faith.  Witnesses typically don’t associate with people who leave the religion, so Kim worked hard to push him out of their children’s lives, even though he was a loving father.  She also accused him of adultery so they could divorce and she could find another worthy Witness to marry.  In 1981, an article in the Witness publication The Watchtower, reiterated that Witnesses were not to associate with people who were disfellowshipped, which Jim was at the time. 

Kim undertook a serious parental alienation agenda and pushed Jim far to the sidelines of their children’s upbringings.  Jim was basically powerless to stop it.  In the 70s and 80s, fathers rarely got custody of their children after a divorce.  The Witnesses would pay for lawyers that would keep Jim out of the kids’ lives.  Jim didn’t have the money or the time to fight his ex wife in court, so he stood by helplessly.  He found a new woman to marry, a non Witness named Marge.  They were allowed to see Lindsay a few times, though Juri completely fell away from his father’s influence and wouldn’t even talk with him on the phone.

In 1980, Kim went on a vacation to Hawaii.  While she was there, she met an American from Texas named Jeff Anderson.  Anderson claimed that he lived and worked in Hawaii.  He was also a Jehovah’s Witness.  He was clean cut and had nice manners.  He appeared to be gainfully employed.  Kim entered into a relationship with this man based on what he’d told her and they got married in Houston, Texas in August 1981. They then began their lives together in Canada.

The marriage was a complete disaster.  Jeff’s claims about his life turned out to be a pack of lies.  He gained a lot of weight because he was addicted to junk food.  He was unemployed and abusive.  It was true that he was a Witness; his mother had been involved with the faith for a couple of months when he was a kid.  Though she eventually fell away from the religion, Jeff became active within it, mainly because of its teachings about marriage and because it gave him a group of people he could exploit. 

Even though the marriage was basically a sham and based on lies, Anderson used Witness teachings to keep Kim from divorcing him.  He would get church elders to “counsel” Kim on the importance of being a good wife and standing by her man.  Because she was such a devout JW, Kim couldn’t consider divorcing a second time.  However, Jeff Anderson became more and more abusive and horrible, and Kim finally considered splitting from him.  On August 29, 1985, Jeff Anderson murdered his wife, Kim, and Juri and Lindsay Kostelniuk, with a shotgun.  Originally, he’d planned to make Kim watch him kill the children first, but decided there was too much of a risk that she’d overpower him. 

Because Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, Anderson did not have to worry about being executed for his crimes.  He was sentenced to three concurrent “life sentences”, which means 25 years.  Incredibly, after he was incarcerated, Anderson began corresponding with Kostelniuk.  For five years they exchanged letters.  As they traded correspondence, Jim Kostelniuk learned what a truly monstrous yet pathetic man his ex wife had married… and how his children suffered because Anderson was in their lives.  Kostelniuk was left with the guilt of how his kids lived and died after their mother remarried.

My thoughts

If you read this blog, you may know that my husband was married before he married me.  He and his ex wife became Mormons.  Though Bill eventually left the Mormon church, his ex wife stayed in it and the church was used as a tool to separate him from his children.  Although as far as we know, the ex hasn’t been murdered and the children (five by three different men) are all still living, I related a lot to Kostelniuk’s story.  I watched as Bill was pushed out of his kids’ lives with the church used as an excuse.  In fairness to the Mormon church, Bill’s ex wife did the same thing to the father of her eldest child and she did that before they were LDS.  Still, there is no denying that the church played a role in pushing Bill out of his kids’ lives.  It was a very effective parental alienation tool, just as it was for Jim Kostelniuk.

Still, as absolutely horrible as Bill’s story is, Jim’s story is so much worse and more tragic.   This guy wanted to be in his kids’ lives, but they were brainwashed against him.  Every attempt he made to see his kids, particularly his son, Juri, was rebuffed.  He couldn’t fight for them because the Witnesses would get involved and help his ex pay for lawyers that would beat him in court.  All he could do was helplessly watch until a criminal– a liar, who had convinced his ex wife that she had to stay with him– literally destroyed his ex wife’s and children’s lives in a very violent way. 

As bad as the murders were, what was even more bizarre and horrible were the details that came out about Anderson’s life in the letters he sent to Jim.  The man was a loser and a criminal who’d failed at almost everything he tried.  The only reason he was a Witness was because the faith is so patriarchal. When he married a devout Witness woman, especially one who had already been divorced, he knew he had someone who wouldn’t leave him because it would mean she would be ostracized.  Since Kim had grown up being viewed as somewhat “damaged goods” because her parents were divorced and then she herself had gotten divorced, she couldn’t risk another split… even though her second husband was much worse than her first had been.  Kim had tried to keep the kids away from Jeff, but never took the final step of divorcing him or having him arrested.  Even if she had done that, though, the end result may have been the same.

Also… because Kim so reviled sex and Anderson wanted it, he resorted to molesting the children.  Lindsay, in particular, suffered when Kim refused to perform her “wifely duties”.  Though Kim did take some steps to protect her children, they weren’t nearly enough.  And she didn’t give her ex husband, a much better man who was not abusive or perverted, the chance to help protect the kids.

This book is written in a somewhat formal style that, at times, is a little dry.  However, I’m glad I stuck with the story because it did eventually did get very interesting in a horrible way.  If you’re interested in reading about deviants and how badly things can go awry for the unaware, Jeff Anderson is definitely a memorable character.  If anything, it drives home how extremely important it is to really know someone before you marry them, especially if you have kids.  And frankly, it presents an example of how very destructive overly restrictive religions can be, especially for children.  It also gives readers a glimpse at the legal and prison system in Canada, which may have many American readers shaking their heads in disbelief. 

Anyway, if you can stomach it, I think Wolves Among Sheep is well worth reading. 

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