When I woke up that Wednesday, flicked on my phone and read the local news raging like a California brushfire across my Facebook feed, my heart sank. Eugene Antifa had unmasked a wolf among us. Bethany Sherman — local cannabinoid queen, the business darling of the local media, founder, owner and CEO of OG Analytical — was, and in fact still is, a white nationalist.
My partner lay back in bed, incredulous. An acquaintance of Sherman, he could barely believe that someone who frequented the same progressive circles, who was a leader and something of a socialite in the hippy-dippy biosphere of the Whiteaker community had crossed city lines to bake swastika-styled cookies for the likes of a white supremacist with the Twitter handle titled GenocideJimmy.
Had she always been one? How had this facet — this glaringly huge and horrible aspect — of her identity escaped the notice of friends and family, not least of all her co-workers and co-owners? Bethany Sherman had laughed among us, hosted parties in the stronghold of the far-left anarchic neighborhood, and tested the medical efficacy of cannabis for a wealth of Eugene people hailing from all shades of the rainbow: black, brown, white, queer, Latino, Jewish, cis and straight.
Not once did anyone suspect that she had fed and supplied the hateful rally on April 24,where her boyfriend, Matthew Combs, threw a sieg heil from behind the safety of a balaclava. I wished I shared in the collective shock that was shaking everyone else to the core.
As I surveyed the photos of her boyfriend with his outstretched arm raised high, eyes defiant, a familiar feeling — a feeling of dread laced with shame and anxiety — settled in my stomach. The last time I had seen a sieg heil performed by a real person, I was lying on the carpet in my bedroom.
The person performing the salute was my husband. I curled up on the floor shivering, trying to understand what just occurred: My husband had forced me to the ground and performed a hate symbol over my naked body. His salute was not ironic. And after years of denial, reality came crashing down.
My then-husband of six years was a Nazi sympathizer. At first the slur was a joke, then a tease and, finally, a taunt. How did he become a Nazi? All these questions and more were hurled at me from across the dining tables of restaurants and cafes as I attempted to date in the aftermath of our divorce. His fascination with pre-war Germany took on a spiritual tone as his research began to delve into the occult side of Nazism.
I married a white supremacist
My ex was not in love with Hitler. Goebbels, Evola, Blavatsky, Henry Ford, Charles Manson and even Martin Luther were thinkers who radicalized my then-husband, both philosophically and spiritually. The man was beyond experimental. He was seeking something and, in so doing, floundering through the dark abyss that is the deep web. On the surface, my ex-husband was a paragon of civic virtue, an upstanding Eugene resident seemingly immune to the radical potholes of far-flung ideologies espoused by racial theosophists. Up until then, everything I knew about my husband barely scratched the surface of his.
Similar to Bethany Sherman, he was educated, successful and smart. He remarried me underneath chuppah and ed a ketubahwhich stipulated that our children would be raised in the Jewish faith. He even allowed me to pick an apartment on the edge of south Eugene so that I could walk to the nearest synagogue on Shabbat. Nothing in our courtship had alerted me to the fact that he would fall prey to a pile of manuscripts written by dead men on the wrong side of history.
In the wake of his military service he sought answers. What really precipitated the Iraq invasion? Why were soldiers endlessly sacrificed in a war that took place halfway around the world? Where conventional answers failed to provide comfort, alt-right conspiracies staved off his sense of helplessness. And white supremacy gave more than mere answers: It imbued a sense of meaning.
One some level, he went insane.
Like a sleeper agent, he led a double life in which he said one thing but lived another. With all of these social attachments to women, how can a sexist be a sexist when he loves his women so? In his ideal world, there were white communities for white kids and all-black boroughs for blacks.
Jews would have a Jewish community where they could raise families, far away from everyone else, ad nauseam. After all, my ex reasoned, he was an older brother to a set of adopted orphans from West Africa, so how could he possibly be racist? I wish I could say that I was as oblivious to the one fact as I was to the other. Like a frog in a frying pan I stayed in the simmering water until it boiled over, turning my eye away from the obviousness of his habits, subtle and slow growing at first — hours upon hours frittered away on video games that spilled over into real life, chat rooms and gamer boards where he brushed shoulders with the seedy side of Reddit subforums and wound up on sites like 4Chan and 8Chan, embroiled in a conspiratorial rage that absconded with his good sense.
His descent into Nazism was a slow slide, and I almost got sucked into the undertow. He tried to red pill me. But, in recent years, red pilling has become synonymous with gaslighting the unsuspecting political opposition in most cases, a woman to your point of view. Red pilling is nefarious because it takes advantage of the preexisting proximity in the relationship — in my case, the trust a wife places in her husband and vice versa — and uses it as a springboard to introduce radical ideas that the victim would never entertain.
Swiping while black
Yet my ex-husband tried to do just that. Months after the divorce, I was still mystified how my smart, SoCal ex had stumbled into Nazism. I researched white supremacist groups and visited the same sites that my husband frequented. After a month of clicking on platforms that ranged from The Drudge Report to The Daily Stormer and reading about the alleged takeover of Illuminati Elite, my computer turned into a Nazi.
The that normally filtered through my Facebook feed were preoccupied with celebrity gossip, yarn sales and timely reminders from Chabad. As it turned out, becoming a Nazi was not unlike catching a common virus like the flu, and then having it spiral out of control as it hijacked your immune system and ultimately your common sense.
My ex-husband wasted no time recruiting others to his ideological army. When his attempts to lure long-time friends failed, he studied mesmerism and surrounded himself with a posse of younger men, all of whom fit a social profile: awkward, alienated, angry. He loved-bombed them with my home-cooked food, small gifts and, above all, lavished them with male attention.
He invited them to play video games and drink beer, get high and, afterwards, when their defenses were down, plied them with his ideas about God, race and supremacy. He led meditations and taught them about male chastity and other esoteric liturgies espoused by obscure and fascistic occultists like Julius Evola. In one such case, my ex performed a Reiki-like energy transfer on a devotee who was clinically diagnosed as a schizophrenic with a history of attempted suicide. The boy began to laugh hysterically and experienced what he claimed was an overwhelming sense of joy, followed by waves of peace.
This peace, however, did not last. The young man returned to our house two weeks later, yet again on the verge of killing himself. In the kitchen. Like Bethany Sherman, I fed the would-be army that my husband aspired to raise.
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The rabbi was quick to point out that my experience paralleled generations of conditioned self-loathing that Jewry had appropriated from their host countries in order to survive. But what was my excuse? I had remained married to my husband out of love and not by force. The divorce came about in the same manner as the marriage.
He announced his intent to leave on. The majority of his family supported his decision on the grounds that I was infertile and both a non-Christian and a Jew. He promptly moved to Springfield and got engaged.
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But there are no easy answers. Even as I write this, mutual friends apprise me of his ongoing efforts to draw in and proselytize others into his fold. Some of my Facebook acquaintances exposed my guilt. I was guilty of supporting Nazism through marriage.
They reasoned that I, like Melania Trump, carried a shared culpability. They told me that, if I frequented the coffee shop where they worked, I would be refused service due to my prior marital association with a Nazi. My community of friends, accrued through synagogues and knitting bees, welcomed me with open arms. I cried my eyes out, face down on the bed of my acupuncturist and on the sofas of several therapists who listened without judgment.
No one is safe from their own predilection for power, love, meaning and, above all, acceptance. I loved my then-husband and wanted his acceptance. My ex-husband wanted power, and accrued a following of needy individuals seeking answers but, above all, a sense of ificance.
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The desire to be a participant in something greater than oneself is a formidable urge embedded within every human being, regardless of his or her religion, race or creed. All I can manage to do is shake my head in recognition. That could have been my name in the headlines. She could have been me. The identities of the writer and her ex-husband have been concealed to protect the writer, her family and the community. Jacob Laskey was recently arrested on charges of assaulting an acquaintance with a knife.