More Stories from Real People Who Have Lost Loved Ones to the Far-Right Media Machine
A dear friend from our punk rock days now introduces me to new acquaintances as "my friend, the liberal
The hard part about growing older is losing friends to illness and old age. Not seeing nieces, nephews, and the children of friends for the same reason. I grew up with a Republican father and an apolitical mother. My earliest memories of politics were the assassination of JFK, the desegregation wars of the American South, and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. Watching the film of Nikita Kruschev pounding his shoe on the table, duck & cover drills, radioactive snow was informing me by the time I was 7 years old.
I feared the creeping threat of communism. As I got older those worries were tempered because hey! The Beatles. Elvis. And my father's Christianity led him to salvage school books at the white school. I rode with him to take those books to the "Negro School."
My parents fretted over the influence of rock music, but they were Southern enough to relate to early rock'n'roll. Just avoid the blues! Jokes about black nannies who took a nightgown and a razor in their purse on their night off lessened as the sixties went by. But I don't think the opinions changed, they just stopped being told as much.
My friends and I embraced the music and attitudes of late sixties caring, sharing, open-minded hippie culture. Accepting Jim Hendrix and those blues guys was easing me into understanding that skin color was not an issue. The summer we lost Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King was a heartbreak for all of us. And my friends, we objected to the war, to Nixon, to all of corruption even as our men friends enlisted or got drafted to serve in Vietnam.
My father voted Republican and so did some of my friends. But it never became a hot topic, voting was just something citizens DID. My friends didn't especially hate the military and most of us identified with John Lennon's message much more than Sweet Home Alabama.
Now, in 15 or so years since Fox took off the gloves, and ceded the liberal cable position to MSNBC, the change inot my friends is shocking. A high school reunion is marred by old friends who sneer and call me out because I vote Democrat. I point put that they have a pension thanks to their lifelong membership in a union and they call me a commie. Men my age who dodged the draft religiously in the sixties and never volunteered for service now say any disagreement about American military strategy is an attack on the "fine men" in the military. There is no pleasant sharing a beer and conversation. Social events are minefields, as if the cheerful optimistic nature of our youth has been drained out of them.
A dear friend from the punk rock days now introduces me to new acquaintances as "my friend, the liberal," with a tone that implies she has to hold her nose to tolerate me. It is bizarre.
The common thread in this shift from laid back tolerance is talk radio and Fox News. The seismic shift seems to have been Iran Contra hearings, when some of us saw Fawn Hall and Oliver North as sneaky, lying, seditious right-wing creeps. But others saw them as loyal to Reagan, Kissinger, and Haig. Cable News and Fox especially. The folks who listened to Rush Limbaugh for laughs, like me, turn out to have friends that bought his entertainment shtick. Now the divide is so wide, social events require warnings, quick whispers to watch out for the moment they get drunk enough to start in on the evil Clintons or whatever.
It's a lonely world for a Midwestern older liberal.
MY FATHER DISOWNED ME BECAUSE i’m not not like he is
My father has always been a racist liberal-hater, since I was a kid in the 60s - he took me to John Birch society meetings when I was 6 years old, and he's been a hardcore Dittohead since Rush first erupted. Needless to say Fox was like manna from heaven for him, and he adores tRump.
Christmas eve, 2014, I made the mistake of visiting him, and within 5 minutes of walking in the door he unloaded on me, telling me he hated me, and had always hated me, because I stood for everything he hated. I took the opportunity to confront him about his decades of alcoholic violent abuse of me and my mother [RIP], and to tell him that he was a pig-ignorant bigot and that the feeling was mutual.
It was a great feeling to re-open all those old wounds and let the truth come out. I have since retired and moved to Thailand, and probably won't go back. The USA is broken, and we can thank the fossil fuel / pharmaceutical corporations for doing it. It's heartbreaking, to watch the whole thing, to see the planet being destroyed before our eyes and humanity being degraded, but I've lived with it all my life, so I'm used to it. I have a little garden and my piano, and soon it will all be over. Thanks, Fox! Apologies for not ending on a happier note....
Rafi from Denver
A NEIGHBOR ASKED THEM TO LEAVE THEIR PROPERTY AND NEVER COME BACK
I was positive that once Hillary Clinton won and became President in November of 2016 that the madness that I had seen descend on my fellow Republicans and fellow Conservatives would finally be lifted. The 2016 election cycle had strained many relationships that my wife and I had built up over the years. I was shocked that we were in the minority of the people we went to church with and our neighbors. How could people be accepting this as the new normal?
When I ran for office, first for Congress and then for Justice of the Peace I expected that the vast majority of my friends, neighbors and church members would put away their politics to help a friend. I was thinking that people I would need to help block walk, phone bank and write postcards would come from friendships I had built over the years. None of them did. A few of them even campaigned for my opponent even though they would have loved to vote for me if I were still a Republican.
There were a few Republicans who had personally been sued by my opponent and had vowed to vote for and even campaign for me if he won the primary. When he won, they changed their mind because, and I quote “voting red is more important than what happened to me personally”. It was at this point that I realized that there is a lot more than ideology at work with these people. It is like they have joined a cult.
Since the election of Donald Trump this cult-like mindset has even gotten worse. We had a neighbor of ours who we have known for years ask us to leave their property and never come back because of our political/religious views. Just to give you some context, when the wife went into labor early it was my wife who delivered their baby.
Over the course of two years, my wife and I have lost many connections we thought were unbreakable. The good news is we have made so many newer ones and have been so blessed my run for office as Democrat when I had only been one for two days. The irrationality, the anger and the tribalism that is so actively promoted by the right-wing media has done tremendous damage to this country. I am hopeful that we are able to reverse it.
Michael C., Fort Worth, TX
WHEN SHE SAID SHE LIKED AOC SHE RECEIVED DEATH THREATS AND INSULTS
I managed 15 community Associations in Florida. The Trump supporters started really misbehaving. I had to buy a gavel just to keep control of the board meetings. I ended up in the hospital with high blood pressure and chest pains. I had to have blood pressure meds increased. I have a lot of funny stories. They were stressful at the time though.
Then, online I just made a statement that I liked Alexandria Ocasio/Cortez, and received a lot of threats including death threats and many other insults. I made copies and screen shots of all it.
For a while I would deliberately antagonize them just to see what they would say. I got quite a few to apologize.
”Oh, you mean all those economist’s with their bought
and paid for fake Harvard, Yale, Oxford phd’s that
never saw it coming, yeah everything will be just fine”
OR THIS LOVELY ONE:
“Me V you are just another comic pinko fagot traitor who
deserves to be put on your knees and executed for treason!
I’ll give you the best advice you ever got: take your liberal
socialist nonsense to church and beg God that you
never run into me! You’ll get a real close look at the
barrel of my 45. etc.” (I can’t put it all here but he ends with:)
“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!”
Kelly from Florida
HER PARENTS WERE HIPPIES. NOW it’s like someone body snatched them
I feel the same way about my parents. They raised me to be accepting of all people. We were raised in the Bay Area and they had very liberal beliefs and were both hippies in the 60's. In the 80s that all changed. I know those were hard times and especially in that area. The crime wave of that time scared them and they moved us to Alaska to be near to relatives. Ever since then, they became Christians and everything changed.
Now, they are increasingly closed off, closed minded, and say stuff that shocks me about other people. They live in a constant state of fear that the apocalypse is coming. They've started to stockpile. It is deeply saddening and scary. I don't know what to do. Every time I try to talk to them about it they get angry and start to yell. So, now we just avoid all political conversations just to keep the peace but it is there simmering. It really is like someone body snatched them. I know some of my friends feel the same way about their parents too. You are not alone!
Anonymous from Washington State
HER BROTHER, A Ph.D, IS BRAINWASHED
My brother and I are estranged. We have been for many years. I’ve often thought that if I were to legally “divorce” him, I’d name Fox News as co-respondent and perhaps add right wing talk radio and Rush Limbaugh. We grew up in a Republican household, but when JFK became president and I began my career as a public school teacher, my political views shifted and I registered as a Democrat. That didn’t cause any ripples in my relationship with my parents or my brother. Sometimes we’d engage in playful banter, but never anything unpleasant. That changed with the dawn of the 21st century. My brother turned into an angry old man. Our political discussions grew heated and when I’d post a well thought out and carefully researched political articles on my Facebook page, he’d leave caustic comments. We eventually agreed to “unfriend” one another and avoid talking politics.
During the last presidential campaign and in more recent emails he called Trump an asshole and a twitter jerk, so I assumed he didn’t think much of Donald J. Trump. After Trump had been in office for 6 months, my daughter came for dinner and our conversation turned to my brother, her uncle. I said I thought, considering his comments about Trump, that he wasn’t one of the president’s loyal base. “You obviously don’t see his Facebook page,” she said. "On Facebook he’s a 100% behind Trump.” The next afternoon my curiosity got the best of me and using my husband’s laptop I snuck in the backdoor of my brother’s Facebook page. There I saw an image that’s burned into my brain and haunts me still—one those placards you can lift from political sites. There was Donald Trump in his military school uniform looking all polished and proper juxtaposed with a photo of young Barack Obama clowning around wearing a jaunty hat at a careless angle and smoking a cigarette looking degenerate and a bit dangerous. I don’t know what the words on it said because I clicked out of there before I could read it.
My brother’s an intelligent man—an all but dissertation Ph.D. physicist—yet he’d posted something so illogical, so obviously propaganda. I thought ‘he can’t know why Donald Trump’s wearing that uniform. He can’t know Donald Trump’s father shipped him off to military school because as a teenager he’d become incorrigible. He can’t know that for years before that young Donald had been in trouble in his neighborhood for bullying and harassing other kids. He certainly can’t know he misbehaved early on hitting one of his primary school teachers.
Posting that placard insinuating that Trump was the straight arrow kid and Obama the feckless fuck-up seemed beyond irony. Then it dawned on me. Of course he doesn’t know about Trump’s past. He watches Fox News. He thinks the NY Times and the Washington Post are liberal rags and NPR is left wing propaganda. Fox tells him so. That’s how “alternative truths” take hold—people just don’t know and are easily misled when they dwell in the fog of Fox. In the process, families like mine are torn apart and so is our nation. In this case, one of Trump’s overused expressions fits. Sad.
DISABLED COUPLE ON ASSISTANCE HURT OVER FOX WATCHER DAD'S ANGER AT THOSE PROGRAMS
I love my dad but he LOVES and sadly believes Fox "News". Thing is, my family only survives with the help of assistance programs. As you can guess, Fox news viewers kinda hate said programs. While he agrees we deserve and need the help, he still talks in general about them and it’s hard to not take it personally. Plus, if they cut those programs we will be hurt.
I hate having this big wedge between my dad and I. My parents divorced when I was super young, and I was always really close with my mom. She was my best friend until the day she died. After I lost her, I realized how much I wanted to have the same kind of relationship with my dad. And I got that. I don't want this to drive us apart again, and honestly, it might.!
HER THERAPIST GOT LOST TO THE RIGHT-WING CULT
I have lost so many good people in my life to this phenomenon you depicted. I had a therapist for years that suddenly became a right wing advocate. I noticed anti-Muslim rhetoric on her Facebook page (yes I was snooping) and she keeps saying I'm being lied to by the liberal media, that Hillary has a kill list, etc. I have heard so many others like her repeat similar phrases and sentiments. It is heartbreaking and scary. Especially with our current political climate. A friend at work gave me your documentary. Thank you for bringing light to this terrifying cult like madness going on. I'm grateful for the sane voices out there right now!
Whitney from St. Louis, MO
A SHOCKING CHANGE TO A BELOVED COUSIN
I am writing to thank you for your wonderful film, I am sorry to learn of your fathers passing, but you have shared him with all of us, and made him a hero to everyone who has lost someone to this rabies of the airwaves.
I hope you don't mind if I take the opportunity to tell you a story. My cousin grew up in a Quaker family that sees political involvement as a matter of course. She grew up in the extraordinarily liberal enclave of Tacoma Park, a place that lovingly embraces it's nickname, The People's Republic of Takoma Park, and where you can buy olive drab T-shirts emblazoned with a red star reading the same. Her father is from an upwardly mobile African-American family of pioneering surgeons, pilots, and chemical engineers. He attended art school and had friends in the Black Panthers. Her mother is the kind of Quaker who is a little suspicious of political movements and really makes skepticism into a kind of art. She is a bit of Elizabeth Warren and a bit Cherry Jones. (I assure you all this is important for context.)
Four years my cousin was normal, she watched John Stewart, adored Bill Maher and hated George Bush. But as you have said in your film, something changed. Maybe it had something to do with Obama, or maybe it was her interest in NASCAR. Before you know it she was picking fights with people because they didn't want to hear about Alex Jones, she had InfoWars stickers on her car, and the mention of Hillary Clinton would send her into a rage. Most of her family is exhausted, for some reason I can sometimes challenge her rants without escalating them. Perhaps my familiarity with Jones' conspiracies gave me credibility or had a soothing effect. Perhaps it was my assertion that there could be a deeper conspiracy, one in which Alex Jones is the agent rather than the passive reporter. (Did I mention that it all got worse after my cousin got a new job as a driver?)
I just wanted to share with you that there is an African-American woman from a radical Quaker family in Takoma Park Maryland who has gone just as crazy due to prolonged exposure to these people. It puts the lie to the long held notion that a lost (white, male) privilege, rather than cynical exploitation, explains the rise of these treacherous demagogues. And your film, and your father's story, gives us all hope for our loved ones.
Anonymous from Maryland
HER DAD BECAME A STRANGER TO HER, THREATENING TO KILL HER
Dear Jen Senko,
I just wanted to thank you for your documentary. I'm sure you get your fair share of fan mail, and I have no doubt it rivals some of the hate mail in your inbox. Please know this is being written in gratitude.
Had I known this film was being made, I would have loved to have been a participant. Prior to seeing this film, I had felt all alone, having witnessed the very same metamorphosis in my own family, in particular, my dad.
He and I always had a bit of a strained relationship, but he drastically changed when he quit drinking and moved away from the hippy persona he once possessed, finding comfort in the arms of the born-again, evangelical Christian community. Slowly but surely, the car radio helped incite his fear, then the TV incited his hatred, before I knew, I stopped knowing him, the guitar playing, rock music loving jokester.
He's gone now. Two and a half years. But about three months before his death, he actually did kick me out of his car in a fit of rage I had never known simply because I mentioned Sweden paying their citizens to go to college. I felt like you and I shared a dad when in the first few moments of your movie, you discussed your dad threatening to kick you out of his car. My dad became a racist bigot who cursed me and disowned me even though I was the only person driving him to his cancer treatment appointments. He often cursed me and threatened me on the way to those appointments. He kicked me out of his house for reading a book on meditation.
Since his death, I've become more of an activist who now works with several organizations that fight for the Separation of Church and State and Womens Rights. I do this with my father in mind and know if he were still alive, he would hate me more than anyone in the world.
I felt like I told my story while hearing everyone else's. Abuse from my dad, threats from the man who I once loved and admired, a man who had become a stranger over time, threatening to kill me, to kill us both while driving like an enraged lunatic screaming inaudible conspiracy theories. I was brought back to it all while watching your film.
Unfortunately, I see it happening to many of my family members now. But every person who can see this, maybe, hopefully it will help.
Thank you again for your work. Though it reopened some wounds, it reminds me why I fight. I'm so grateful that you've shown me that I'm not alone.
C. from NJ
DEMOCRATS ARE EVIL TO HER HUSBAND.
I just heard about your documentary. Someone shared an interview you did about it on FB. My husband has been taken over by first, Rush, and then Fox News. He is convinced they are the only fair and balanced news, that everything they say is the gospel, and that anything sounding remotely different is the “liberal media” brainwashing us. He is a farmer, uneducated, older white guy…just Fox’s prey. While he has always been conservative, he was not spending every spare minute listening to Fox or Rush. I am not conservative and have a Master’s degree in sociology (history, political science undergraduate degree) so I am well educated on propaganda, fallacy, racism, sexism, and the effects of SES in influencing our point of view. My husband was so convinced that Mitt Romney was going to win the last election that he became VERY angry and wouldn’t speak to me. He left the house at 4:00am and was just so blown over by it that he couldn’t cope for a while. Fox News had him.
No matter how much information I bring him regarding the slant of Fox News, he waves it off as liberal agenda and all lies. To him Republicans are “good” and Democrats are “evil”.
He was always a little racist and sexist. Now, he is a full-blown racist and agrees with Trump on nearly everything he says.
So, we often watch TV in separate rooms and fight over the radio station when traveling. It is really horrible what is happening in our society because of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
Father cut daughter out of will for being a liberal.
My dad died two years ago at age 92. His only companions were his dog (whom he neglected), the neighbor across the street, and FOX News.
I was left out, as I was "the other". That means I'm an atheist, Democrat, anti-American, and dangerous person in his mind. I tried to look after him if only for the sake of my deceased mother. Instead of recognizing my contributions, my father verbally abused me, sometimes belligerently. I knew better than to discuss politics.
However, I was serenaded by my father repeating eagerly the last thing he heard Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity say. And he had a man crush on Newt Gingrich. The volume of the TV was at 10; it couldn't go any higher. The walls rocked with FOX News. There was no escaping it. It was torture to be in the same house with my father.
I said nothing as I recognized that my father had died spiritually while his body remained in the green Lazy Boy chair from the time he got up to when he retired. And I said nothing as my sister warned me that he would change his Will out of spite. So I was quiet.
Like I told you, he died almost two years ago.
And you know what?
The idiot neighbor across the street inherited $35,000 from Dad.
I inherited a Life Estate in the house. I don't own it. I have to pay for the municipal taxes, upkeep, and repairs. When it is sold, I will not get a penny from the proceeds; that money goes to four charities. I didn't inherit a dime from my father.
I'll always wonder whether my father was independently cruel and malicious or whether he just picked up some bad attitudes from all that RW BS he accumulated for 15 years.
Government agencies have Fox News on their TVs.
My father, yes. He's obviously brainwashed, along with my father-in-law who lives with us.
But I was brainwashed too. It all started on 9/11 when I was living within walking distance to the Pentagon. I was always a channel-flipper, but now it was just FOX News.
A decade later I was living in Tucson, Arizona and decided to get rid of Cable TV. I was always outside and just wanted to save a few bucks.
No Cable TV = No FOX News
A few months later, Gabby Giffords was shot. She was being treated for her injuries at a hospital just across the street from where I lived and the news vans were beginning to pile up. So I found a TV and flipped on FOX News...
I was expecting to be drawn in again. I swear, turning on FOX News again had me feeling as if I was lighting up a cigarette while trying to quit.
Instantly, it was like the ghost of 'FOX News Past' reminded me of how many years I wasted watching Fox News.
I have 20 years with the Federal Government, and you would be shocked to know the high percentage of TVs within these buildings constantly tuned to FOX News. So you might as well start your next documentary, because it's just the start of the brainwashing.
His Dad was always Republican but didn’t become radical until he started watching Fox News.
I am so sorry I did not know about your documentary work when you were interviewing people who have suffered the same dad brainwashing affliction caused directly by Fox News, right wing radio, etc. Sadly, my father was one of those transformed men who just never came back. We were hardly on speaking terms when he passed suddenly in 2013.
But here's the bizarre part for me. He was a brilliant, highly educated New York City orthopedic surgeon (and pretty famous in his orbit), and I am an attorney who, for most of my life into adulthood, loved and adored my father. Had him be my best man at my wedding, even though I had and have several very close male friends who could have been.
Yes, our politics were always contrary. He was a Republican, more Rockefeller New York moderate than conservative (as best that label can be understood today), and I have been a mostly left leaning progressive. BUT WE ALWAYS COMMUNICATED AND DEBATED IN FRIENDLY AND LOVING WAYS, UNTIL FOX NEWS CAME ALONG.
And then it all changed. He had it on all day and night. He was constantly angry; he lost his ability to argue rationally. Facts as a doctor and scientist seemed to all but disappear. It was really something to behold.
And then we stopped talking for the most part. And then he was gone...