Mom struggles to reach her son, a man with a Buddha tattoo who turned to hate

(CNN) – The first sign of trouble was brief. Just a few remarks in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Karen Amsden was chatting to 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 like, ‘That’s not even real. The Holocaust is not real,’” Amsden recalled.

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

Amsden is many things: A grandmother of two boys; a longtime social worker, and now in her late 40s, she’s also trying her hand at being an actress in the theater in her small Utah town. And she says she is also the mother of an extremist.

It wasn’t always like this and Amsden says she still hopes to get back the son she saw growing up, the one who seemingly disappeared.

“It’s complicated,” she said of how her son slipped from her, from someone she described as everyone’s friend, to an arrest and charges of plotting to disrupt a Pride event as a member of extremist group Patriot Front .

RELATED | 31 Patriot Front members arrested near a Pride event in Idaho

“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 hatred

It used to be different between Amsden and her 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 of 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 was strained, although it largely ceased to exist after his father left.

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

“I don’t blame his father for what Jared decided, but he struggled to find acceptance,” Amsden said.

“At some point he got into Buddha. And pacifism. He even has a Buddha tattooed on his arm,” she said, adding that he has another tattoo that reads, “Don’t give in to hate, rage, and anger.”

But hate and rage and rage seems to be where he finally found his place.

Turning to the internet in recent years as his marriage was falling apart, Amsden said her son was drawn to a group that radicalized him and made him feel the need to act to protect people from evil to rescue.

When CNN reached out to Boyce to ask his views, he responded by writing a video of a drag queen dancing publicly in front of a large audience before tearing her costume and exposing genitals.

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

Acknowledging this is a bigoted, false trope, she says she believes he learned it from Patriot Front, a white nationalist hate group that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, formed after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, formed .

RELATED | Patriot Front leader among those arrested near Idaho Pride

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

She said he tried to convert her with the group’s manifestos, but she kept telling him she had no interest in people who spew hate against gays, immigrants, blacks and more.

But she doesn’t know what to do.

A turning point for mother if not for son

Amsden had hopes Boyce could break away from Patriot Front after he and 30 other men allegedly linked to the group were arrested after getting into a rented truck carrying shields, flags on long poles and stacked up in a smoke bomb. Police charged all 31 with conspiracy to riot on the day of a gay pride march in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

RELATED | Local man reportedly arrested in Coeur d’Alene involved with white supremacist group

CNN has reached out to the attorney listed as representing one of the men, but has received no response.

Boyce spent the night of his arrest in jail, and his mother hoped this might be a wake-up call to him that the group he was involved with was no good and could keep him away from his young sons, ages 3 and 5 .

Amsden was watching her grandchildren this weekend as Boyce said he was going on a camping trip. But when he came back and she rebuked him about the arrest, she found his attitude had hardened.

Instead of coming to his senses, he was more determined than ever that he and his staff were doing the right thing. And that brought Amsden to the end of her strength.

She says she tried to love Boyce. She tried patience with him. She tried to help him. She gave her adult son a home when his marriage fell apart. She gave him gas money 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 leave her basement where he was living.

“I’m not kicking him out of my house because I want him to suffer and be miserable and homeless. I just want him to see where the love and support is really coming from,” she said.

“It’s not from them. He feels like this. But they won’t take him in and help him and find a job,” she added of the men in his group.

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

Stay connected but set boundaries

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 valuable.

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

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

But he warns those who reach out to someone engulfed in hate or lies should set boundaries on their own sanity to avoid becoming involved.

“I think sometimes you can say, ‘Look, let’s go get some coffee, but we’re not talking about whatever the (stressful) thing is, right, let’s just talk about other things,'” Pierre said.

That 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 is not just faith. It’s the ‘I define myself based on that belief,’ and then it becomes very difficult to undo,” Pierre told CNN. “At that stage it becomes very dangerous (to argue) because then people see the threat to ideology, to belief, as a threat to themselves.”

Earlier in a person’s radicalization, when perhaps they’re what Pierre calls an “infidel” who isn’t really connected, or a “limiter” when someone is flirting with new ideas, other approaches might work.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as each circumstance brings different sets of circumstances that lead people to this point, the psychiatrist said. Do you feel lonely, angry, worried or anxious? Might Professional Mental Health Help Be Needed?

And while questioning beliefs can corner people more, if someone is at an earlier stage, it can be worth offering alternative views and evidence.

Pierre suggests that those dealing with a loved one who is in trouble find a support group for themselves where others will understand them and maybe even have people who have left hate and extremist groups who can talk about why were attracted to and how and why they changed their minds.

“If we’re going to expect them to ever get out of the proverbial rabbit hole, we need to understand what got them in in the first place,” Pierre said.

When I travel America, I find families tense

For most families, it is not extremism that has invaded their family, but rather political polarization that has entered the equation and begun to tear at their relationships.

I’ve heard many versions of this scenario in homes while traveling across America reporting for CNN.

People whisper to me that they don’t talk to their aunt anymore because she’s a “crazy socialist liberal” who rejects any idea that has anything to do with conservatism. Others tell me that they stop inviting their grandfather to their children’s homes because he has turned into an “angry far-right Trump cult nutcase” spouting “xenophobic nonsense.”

Americans have also cut off longtime friends. They have removed acquaintances and friends from feeds on Facebook and other social media. You invited colleagues to parties. All because she’s too stressful to have around when it comes to politics or religion or anything substantial.

Perhaps you have felt the strain at social gatherings yourself. Many people don’t know what to do and just walk away. It’s too exhausting and too toxic to fix this part of a world that already feels overwhelming.

One of the things that makes dealing with extremism and polarization difficult is the massive amount of misinformation and disinformation that is now available to the public.

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

Again, there are ways to bridge the gap, such as agreeing to disagree on issues that cause friction and moving on to other issues that can inspire understanding and bring back the joy of being together.

pass on hate

But in any relationship that has gotten difficult, there may come a point when walking away may be the only way to keep one’s sanity, Pierre added.

For Karen Amsden, that’s not an option yet. She says she will always love her son, but he’s not the only one she’s worried about.

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

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

But she is heartbroken when they parrot her father’s extremist beliefs.

“We’re going to drive out and (he) is going to see a rainbow flag and go… ‘My dad hates the rainbow flag. The rainbow flag is bad.’”

The CNN Wire
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