My sibling’s children are being radicalized. How do I intervene?
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Back in January, two of my sibling’s kids made it clear to me that they had adopted a bunch of crazy right-wing conspiracies. I won’t get into the details, but the upshot is that they’re being radicalized.
They’re convinced that the government is going to take away their guns (I didn’t even know they had guns), and they believe that they’re going to have to defend themselves against demon-crats who will either put them in re-education camps, or simply murder them. And since they know my politics, I’m now “Aunt Enemy.”
I don’t think I failed them — for various reasons, they were ripe for this crap — but I’ve tried hard to be there for them all their lives. And I’m trying to maintain some kind of connection with them if they ever decide to climb out of this hole. But in the meantime, I’m agonizing over whether to say something to their parents.
These aren’t kids. They’re legal adults who can make their own bad decisions. So it’s not like there’s anything their parents can do.
If I say something, I’m not sure whether it would be worse to realize that my sibling and sibling-in-law don’t know their kids have gone down this path — or that they do know and don’t care, or worse, approve of it.
If I don’t say anything, I’m worried that they might even be a danger to someone, including their parents. I’m not sure what my responsibility is here. What should I do?
Dear Aunt Enemy,
You note that the kids are legal adults who can make their own bad decisions. Are they 18? Or are they 28? There’s a difference.
And the guns — do they have guns, or not? Because we know there are a lot of old dudes who don’t have a uterus, but are talking about abortion all the time. So maybe they don’t even have guns. How dangerous are they actually? Are they really a threat to others?
Another question for you, Aunt Enemy, is what’s the nature of your current relationship? Do you feel like you have agency in these kids’ lives? What do you want from the other adults? That’s where it gets broader than juicy specifics about reeducation camps and murder and, for all we know, pedophile rings, and pizza parlors, and all that stuff.
Our hunch is that the primal urge that you’re dealing with is trying to find some path of openness and connection in your family.
Try starting with just the facts. It’s possible that saying, “Your children have adopted right-wing conspiracies and think that QAnon is a real deal” will be all you need to do.
But parents don’t usually want to hear that there’s something going on that they’re not aware of. So you might tell your sibling how their children’s beliefs have affected you. Try something like: “There’s something on my mind; it involves your kiddos. They’re involved in this stuff, their worldview has come between us, and I’m not asking you to do anything about it, necessarily, but my interest here is opening this conversation.”
And then you have to find out: Do they know? If yes, are they OK with it? Are they not OK with it? And if they’re like, “Oh yeah, we agree with them,” that’s a different conversation than if they don’t. Then, it becomes not just about the kids, and you’ve opened a different can of worms. Is there a line past which you won’t go?
At the end of the day, you can’t make anyone do anything. So whatever phrasing you decide on, be prepared with a decision tree for all eventualities. Your goal is to open up the conversation and then to get the information you need that will allow you to figure out how you’re going to navigate the situation.
There’s a conversation to be had, too, about what will be the next step after that initial conversation. Do you want to take active measures to try and change their minds? It’s probably going to take outside help and intervention and support.
This sounds sad and maddening and hard. We hope there is a turning point down the road for the adult kids. And if there’s not, we at least hope that there is some sort of path. Even if it’s a narrow one that you can forge with at least your sibling, if not with all of them in some way.
To hear more of our advice to Aunt Enemy, download the second episode of “A Bintel Brief: The Jewish advice podcast” here or on any podcast platform. Send your dilemmas about Jewish-American life, identity, culture, politics or your personal hopes and dreams to [email protected], or leave a voicemail at (201-) 540-9728.