When Jeanette Manning’s husband died, their daughter Lauren seemed to struggle the most. She felt like she didn’t fit in with her family anymore and instead found community inside the white power movement. Lauren spent five years there before finally leaving for good to rebuild her life.
In this interview with Life After Hate, Jeanette talks about that chaotic time in their lives and reflects on what she learned, what she wishes she could have done differently, and advice for parents going through a similar struggle.
Lauren is currently an outreach specialist for ExitUSA—Life After Hate’s intervention program. Mother and daughter are both active in Life After Hate’s online forum.
If you or someone you know wants to learn more about the forum please contact us here.
Life After Hate: Take us back to the beginning of Lauren’s involvement.
Jeanette Manning: After her dad passed away, she felt as though she didn’t belong in the family anymore. It had always been her dad and her, so suddenly she had no anchor. She had no best friend anymore. All the things that made her feel uncertain about herself, that all became magnified. She had a lot of anger and a lot of grief. She didn’t know how to deal with it.
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We didn’t know how to deal with each other and it all spiraled. She started looking for friends and a sense of belonging elsewhere. She went online and got involved with black metal music. The recruiter met her through that.
LAH: Were you aware something was changing?
JM: I had no idea this was happening. I was working, trying to keep the family together. I had a younger child at home to look after as well. The kids were 16 and 14 when their dad died. There was a lot going on. So I didn’t know what she was involved in. She wasn’t going to school. She was drinking. There was quite a bit I wasn’t aware of. It just all kind of boiled up into one big mess just before her 18th birthday.
It finally got to a point where she was spouting off about all this stuff her new friends had taught her—and it was violent stuff. I couldn’t listen to it anymore, and I didn’t want her younger brother listening to it. So finally one day I said, You’re going to have to choose. I just really didn’t think she was ever going to choose her friends. But she did.
So she took off and it was really agonizing. An hour after she left, I sat down crying and wrote her an email saying I’m so sorry.
It was the worst thing in the world for me to do. I just didn’t know what else to do. The email she sent me back was even worse. It was really violent and it was filled with all kinds of white power stuff.
LAH: Where did you turn to for help?
JM: I didn’t have anybody to turn to. I had nothing, I had no knowledge at all. There was nothing out there. We were on our own. We just kind of had to wait it out. And we did. We eventually started communicating more, but she said, White power is always going to be part of my life. So for a year and a half,it was a roller coaster ride. It was a lot of worry, a lot of late nights, sleepless nights.
LAH: When Lauren talked about “white power” at home, did you get the feeling that she was doing it to hurt you or to change your mind, or both?
JM: It was probably more to show what she had learned. She wanted to show me what she knew and that what she now knew was the truth. What I knew wasn’t the truth. So it wasn’t to teach me, it was to throw it in my face, if anything.
LAH: She was enlightened and mom wasn’t.
JM: Exactly. What she learned at school suddenly wasn’t true. So whatever I had told her about World War II and the Nazis and her grandfather fighting on the Allies side, that was all garbage. I didn’t know what I was talking about. She knew the truth. She was enlightened. That’s a very good way to put it.
Enlightenment made her feel that she knew best. She didn’t have to listen to me. She was going to be 18 soon and I didn’t care about her anyway. There was no place for her in our life anyway, so she didn’t have to listen to me. That was her attitude.
LAH: What advice would you give other parents facing a similar struggle?
JM: What you’re going to hear and see from your child, isn’t going to be what you’re used to. They’re going to become a different person. This is going to change their personality and who they are because suddenly they have a whole new set of beliefs. So the child you raised and loved is going to sound different. They’re spouting what somebody has taught them. But in spite of all that, it’s still your child.
Don’t throw them out. They’re not going to sound like your child. You’re going to hate what comes out of their mouth, but try to keep your temper, try to remember that your child is still in there. And that eventually when this passes, because I believe 99 percent of people will eventually outgrow this, that you still need to be there. You can’t let them go.
LAH: A big part of Life After Hate’s online forum is dedicated for families. How do you think parents like you who have already been through this can help?
JM: I’d like to think I could just offer them those words of my bit of wisdom, which is keep the door open. It will pass. This will pass. And the knowledge that we survived it so you can survive it. Your child can do the same as mine did and come out of it and you can be there for them.
I worry that sometimes when people post things on that forum that I’m not giving them enough hope. I’m telling them how it really is as opposed to sugarcoating it. I think they need to know that it’s going to hurt. This is going to be painful.
I would like to hope that the forum can let them know that there is a brighter side. That there are so many more of us going through this than you even know.
LAH: That is one of the things we hear consistently from formers—that when they meet another former, one of the initial thoughts is, I’m not the only one. And it sounds like that’s sort of your experience, that you probably felt like you were all alone.
JM: It was. I haven’t talked to anybody else who’s ever gone through this until now.
LAH: Do you think there is a difference between now and a decade ago? Are kids more at risk today of being drawn into far-right ideology?
JM: It’s everywhere. It’s acceptable, quote-unquote. That’s the sad thing—it’s acceptable to bash gays, to bash blacks and indigenous people. Unfortunately it’s not getting any better and I would love to blame Mr. Trump for the whole thing, but he’s not to blame for all of it. There’s so much more access now to the internet, to gaming, to music than there was even when Lauren was involved. And I think that’s how they’re drawing so many more kids in.
With parents being so busy, we’re not spending the time really talking to your kids. Asking: Who in your life is upsetting you? Who is bothering you? Why are you feeling the way you’re feeling? So our kids are looking elsewhere for that, that sense of love from somebody who cares about them.
JM: Exactly. Self-confidence—that seems to be an overriding theme. I want to be accepted. I want somebody to boost me and make me feel special. And that’s what these people are doing. So is it worse? A thousand times worse now than it was when Lauren was in it. And yet I think they’re using similar strategies that they were 13 years ago.
It’s just easier to do now.