Keep up with all the chapters at the book page of Facing Hate: Overcoming Social Smearing, Recovering Relationships, and Rebuilding Your Reputation.
On October 2, 2014, one of our daughters published an article on her blog that accused Wendy and me of abuse. Since we were now “TV personalities,” the story spread quickly through social media and even to supermarket tabloids. “House of Horrors,” one sensational-minded rag proclaimed, labeling our daughter a brave whistleblower who “escaped” from a home of hate. It appeared at first that all of our adult children — four daughters and my first-born son at the time — validated the accusation. Two at least were in full support of their sister’s initial blog post and those that followed.
That first blog post was hideously false, but it changed our family forever. Our beloved daughter insisted we “pulled the curtains” every night, lined all of the children along the wall, and whipped their bottoms with belts, 50 lashings each. Our oldest daughter — the one still estranged from our family — was the first to chime in online, writing, “I’m so sorry, so, so sorry that it didn’t stop.” Nearly every day for the next several months, blog post after blog post continued to detail all sorts of abuses, supported by the band of siblings. The narrative was that Wendy and I fabricated an image of a perfect family in order to hide our sadistic tendencies to abuse our children.
The truth — that we do not nor ever have abused our children — eventually came out, but the initial smearing and the years that followed remains the most painful journey of our lives. The chorus of unison among the adult siblings quickly deteriorated, but it mattered little to the growing online following — the “mob” to those who understand social smearing — who refused to believe anything other than the awful, abusive “house of horrors” narrative of the Jeubs. We were, in their judgment, a secret cult of a family that manipulated little children. And how do you suppose I could have defended my family? I had daughters accusing me of something I did not do, and any attempt to defend our family name was immediately perceived as an attack on them, my own daughters. Why would they lie? And why would a father openly accuse them of doing so? Most people reasoned that there must be at least some truth to the accusations, at the very least hidden dysfunction that would cause such turmoil. Perhaps the Jeubs weren’t always as bad as their daughters claimed, but they’re definitely not the picture-perfect family they think they are. Surely, at least some shame on the Jeubs was justified.
Those who have experienced social smearing can instantly relate to how hopeless such a situation seems. The online world wants swift judgment, and only a seedy headline or two is needed to formulate a hasty condemnation. Of course, life is so much more complicated than any headline can manage to articulate. But no deeper explanation can head off the social mob that comes after you, especially when the fabrication involves whipping little children. The shock of the accusation alone will bring a prejudiced response, and how can anyone blame them? Innocent children deserve protection, so, true or not, accused abusers should be shamed.
We were posting fun photos of our big happy family one day, fighting accusations of felony-level abuse the next. Proving guilt is not required for social warriors, safely sitting behind their keyboards or furtively staring at their phones. The accusation alone does the lasting damage, and the more shocking the claim is, the more damage it will bring. It’s no wonder charges are amped up to make the impossible seem possible. We don’t “pull the curtains” in our home; we don’t even have curtains in our front window. Fifty lashes with a belt for each of 16 children? Eight hundred of them every night? Infeasible. Impractical. Impossible. And we would allow television cameras in our home … to cover it up? A moment’s thought exposes the absurdity of the claims.
Absurd claims are scrutinized and questioned in a court of law, but routinely rewarded online. The damage to our family has never been reversed. The trauma extends to our friends and extended family members, to our neighbors and community, to our business and customers we associate with. It has been six years since the smear, and those who followed the story closely have come around to realize the fabrications behind the claims. But many others didn’t read any further. They wrote us off as a strange, maybe even dangerous family worthy of either indifference or hatred, possibly prosecution; and that’s where we stand in the eyes of many, even today.
Family life even for small families can be complicated, which makes them susceptible to a targeted pounce from inside the fort. For us, a family with 16 children, life couldn’t be any more complicated. In many ways, Wendy and I always sought to bring clarity to the complication by writing books and blog posts and speaking to families who likewise sought order within the chaos of large-family living. Our social smear capitalized on the complication and slandered us as unstable, crazy fanatics who deserved every ounce of shame we faced online.
The purpose of this book is to deal with social smearing, ours coming from those we love. What was going on in our family in 2014 was complicated, but there were, eventually, many blessings that came from it. Understanding our family trauma will not only help you build (or rebuild) faith in our family, but I hope it will also show you that an online smear doesn’t need to be the only narrative for anyone suffering from it.
If you are someone who already holds us in contempt, either from reading about us in the past, or maybe just from picking up this book, I want you to continue reading anyway. The “other side” was never articulated like it will be now. The socially smeared seldom have their day in court. The greater story here is in how we handled this modern phenomenon of social smearing, which is what I hope you end up learning about. We live in a world where none of us are immune, but we all have the power to overcome.
As I mentioned, it appeared our five adult children at the time were all “in” on this. That was claimed early on, but it wasn’t true. My son was solicited by the others, but he bravely resisted. This was important, because much of the original accusation had him as the most abused victim; claims including beatings from his mother, who is half his size. Almost immediately he countered his sisters’ story. They had hoped he would jump in with them, but he did not.
The raw immediacy of a social smear is hard to fathom. Ours was a surprise attack, shocking all of us to our cores. When attacks come from within a family, especially a loving family, your first inclination is not to counterattack publicly. Confused and dazed, you quickly reach out, groping for the meaning of it all, which is what we did. It appeared to some as hesitation or, worse, a silent admission of guilt. And when my son also hesitated, online observers accused him of being weak and revealing. But it was shock and a deep unwillingness to quarrel in front of the whole world, not guilt, that was guiding our actions. So we reached out to our accusers privately. We honestly hoped they would talk with us and abandon the nonsense of this new narrative. We were being lambasted by online strangers so much and so quickly that we were forced to turn off our social media altogether. We were much more concerned for the health of our family than we were about our online reputation, and we assumed that our daughters were, too.
The awkward predicament of social smearing from those we love is that your silence — even when chosen to minimize the potential damage arguing could do to everyone in your family, including those members who are doing the accusing — is perceived by the online world as guilt. What, people asked, did we have to say to the accusations? Were they true or not? Why not just try to clear the air? Do you or do you not beat your children? The online mob sees these questions as reasonable. While your head is still spinning like a runaway Tilt-A-Whirl, the megaphone of online media is demanding that you explain yourself.
We did finally give such a defense a feeble shot. But it did little to convince the online mob of our innocence. I used to run a podcast for academic speakers and debaters, part of my family’s business of publishing debate materials for junior high and high school competitors. The podcast was a small niche, approximately 100 listeners a day. I had been publicly accused of a crime, so I reasoned that my small audience, at least, needed to hear an answer from me. So I asked four of my older children — all competitors in the speech and debate events that my podcast catered to — into my office with microphones. I left the room, and they responded, using their own words, to the online smearing from their older siblings. Hearing it later, I thought their reasoning to be clear, collected and thorough; and I had hoped it would put the matter to rest.
I would soon learn that heartfelt explanation is not on the radar of social shamers, nor is the truth. More than 4,000 listeners tuned into our podcast the only day it was up. And they all heard our eldest son explain his side of the abuse allegations, countering the details and specifics of his sisters’ claims. This helped reduce the magnitude of the claim: We were no longer a family of nightly beatings, but a family that had an embarrassing evening years before. Allow me to reveal our embarrassment: The event that our son explained was from four years prior, on an evening when I was away and Wendy was frustrated over my son’s repeated refusal to help with the dishes. In perhaps her most untempered action ever toward her children — in this case, a husky teenage son taller and much bigger than she — Wendy heaved a tray of silverware in his general direction. The blog made it sound as if she came after him with hunting knives. Honestly, my children laughed when sharing the story, also recalling how Wendy apologized for her lack of civility. Was it uncivil? Of course. Was it abusive? Not even close.
Even that story, though, was reason enough for the full-throated judgment of the online world. In their minds we still deserved the condemnation and the shame. We took the podcast down, but someone from the online mob republished it on YouTube, and the harassment continued. There is no hiding from the online world when it decides to sink its teeth into you.
This is a sad reality of the social smearer, one that I hope you take careful note of. You may be a reasonable person who wishes to resolve conflict and realize the truth in complicated situations, but the online mob does not. I have seen others jump onto the internet and lash back at their accusers. I’ve seldom seen good outcomes, especially when they lash out at relatives or close friends who are smearing them. The result is sometimes a hornets’ nest of outraged haters, and the only ones who have the stomach to keep in the fight are those haters. Reasonable people leave, exhausted and abused.
Social smearing is a rapidly growing reality today, but it was relatively unknown in 2014. Still, the night following our daughter’s initial post, we were visited by friends who had already experienced social smearing in their own way. A year prior, they had lost one of their daughters when she took shelter under a bridge during a flash flood. Recent fires made such flooding even more dangerous than usual, and their daughter became a tragic victim. Yet even they faced online shaming. Rather than expressing sympathy for the mourning parents, online opinionators confronted them with questions about their parental judgment in allowing their teenager to go for a walk in the afternoon. “What kind of idiots” (the actual words of one keyboard warrior) would tell their daughter to take shelter? Such cruelty. Our friends came to comfort us, knowing full well what we were experiencing. They even said they suspected our pain was greater than theirs since the attacks were not coming from strangers, but from our own children.
Comfort also came when some of our friends took it upon themselves to stand up for us. One was like a daughter to us, who grew up as a close neighbor and friend to our family. Online, she sharply criticized my daughters for their fabrications. If anyone knew of abuse, she would be the one, she said. But the online mob cared little for her arguments. She eventually shut it off. Our family counselor, too, came to our defense online, especially after my daughters claimed she knew of past abuse. This was untrue, and she made it clear that such defamation was wrong and illegal. The online mob ridiculed her for surrendering doctor-patient privilege (which she did not). But she, too, eventually shut it off. Countless others who had connections with our daughters attempted to reach out to them online, but they had the mob to back them up as they continued to insist our home was a home of abuse. Sometimes our defenders ended up in my daughter’s next blog post, as she shamed them, often by name, for “enabling” the imagined abuse. In the end, at least in the short term, each of our stalwart character witnesses was forced off the online discussion.
Most brokenhearted were the rest of my children. They were straw-manned as “brainwashed” by their mastermind parents, weak victims who needed to break free from us like their brave sisters had. My second-born son, just a year younger than my first and nearly an adult, was most devastated. He had a strong story of overcoming severe dyslexia and going on to winning national speech tournaments. He’s quite a success story, but his sisters hijacked his story to accuse us of “educational abuse,” making his dyslexia somehow our failure as parents. He hated the misrepresentation and attempted to enter the online frenzy to set things straight. He was teased by his sisters, especially when he would misspell words, and the online community claimed such misspellings as evidence of our “educational abuse,” not his dyslexia. My son, too, withdrew.
I tried to read the posts as they came out. I felt like I needed to, no matter how emotionally exhausting they became. Every time my daughter referenced me as an abuser, which every post did, it was like a dagger to my heart. I kept hoping for her to explain a deeper pain or a reason for her lashing out, perhaps a glimmer of hope for a relationship that could be mended. This eventually came from her sisters, but it never came from her. Our relationship used to be so, so strong, and I couldn’t imagine why she was advocating such a vile narrative of her childhood. I would lay in bed, desperately fighting off deep depression, remembering how we used to travel the country together, enter speech and debate tournaments, share old vinyl records from my youth, and work on developing her writing career and education through her blog. There were so many grand memories, but they were all being wiped away and replaced with a false memory of abuse, neglect and trauma. Overnight, our beautiful life together became an online mockery. We were publicly beaten in the streets of online media.
I also withdrew. I had to.
Today I find it very difficult to justify any social smearing, even smearing that ends up being true. Social smearing is meant to defame, not solve a crime. There is something cruelly unjust about an accusation made public, as opposed to subpoenaed by a state magistrate. Real abusers should be tested in court, not the corridors of online sensationalism. There, they have their day of defense and, if found guilty, are brought to justice. But those of us who are innocent rarely get our day in court. And the defamation we face continues to do its damage as the years unwind. Our accusers know that.
Social smearers live in a surreal online world, while the rest of us reside in reality. So, living in the real world, Wendy and I fully expected our world’s magistrate — who is, in the case of familial abuse, a Child Protection Services social worker — to show up at our door to investigate. Our daughters posted online about how they had called upon such a CPS officer “several times.” We got a lawyer and taped his card to our calendar, and we had his number speed dialed into our phones. Grimly, we braced ourselves for the worst possible interrogation, but I recall secretly hoping to end up in court. At least there my daughters could testify; the rest of my children could, too, along with friends and family. My name would finally be cleared and my family would have the chance to rebuild.
But CPS never knocked. I doubt they were ever called, not by my daughters or the mob that followed them. I now see this as a common practice for those who seek defamation rather than justice: Posting online without following with an investigation does much more harm to the victims than seeking a just trial. In other words, the online world does much greater damage than the legal world, and smearers know it. My daughters knew their siblings were not in danger, so calling the authorities would only bring scrutiny to their claims of such. We faced the audience of online hate rather than the magistrate of the state. I suppose that if we were guilty of abuse we’d prefer to avoid the latter. But we were innocent, so I claim the former as worse.
What would you do in my situation? I wanted so badly for this to end, but every attempt to bring reconciliation or even just an old-fashioned truce was used against me. Would you have reached out? Of course you would have, just as I did. My daughters blocked my phone number, social media messages and emails. Would you have then posted on their social media profiles? I did, but it only served as “evidence” of my so-called control issues. Every attempt to connect was seen as weakness and/or manipulation, and often my sincere words ended up as damning quotes for future blog posts.
Later in the month we celebrated the birthday of our twins. They were young, kept from the drama of the online smear, and we were hoping their older siblings would drop their online guard. I reached out in a private message, sent from an alias email account so that I knew they would receive it. It read:
Hi girls. I wanted to extend an invitation to attend our traditional powwow with the twins tonight. We’re having sherbet floats at 7pm, and you are welcome to join us.
Know that the twins know nothing of your articles or of the emotional trouble any of us are experiencing. We unanimously agreed that you will be welcome for our little private party. We hope you can make it tonight. The twins will most assuredly welcome you.
Same rules apply as already mentioned: no pulling kids aside for any private conversations. It would be nice to keep social media out of this, too. This is merely to honor the twins and our love for them. We hope to see you tonight.
We love you,
I was careful about this, even sharing the email with one of our lawyers. Please understand: We were fearful of social services paying us a visit, of them taking our children away during an investigation. Our adult children were already doing all they could to impugn us of vile crimes. We wanted reconciliation so badly, wanted to try to understand their rage and hatred, and if a simple birthday party would help move everyone closer to that, we were all for it.
One of the girls responded with a terse and cold, “Not interested.”
October 24, the day following our party, the next blog post dropped. It was titled, “I’m Sorry You Lost Your Kids.” In it, my daughter took the role of the “better parent” and started to claim that we were keeping her siblings from her and that we were lying to them about her:
These days, I drive past my parents’ house and there’s a dull ache in me. Those kids were mine. I raised them, and I can’t see them. Sure, I could drop in uninvited, but it would do no good. My little brothers and sisters have been trained to distrust and hate me, just as I was taught to hate my older sisters.
It’s like I’ve lost custody of my kids, except I was the better parent, and the court never asked about my rights. Also the parents who got to keep my kids are abusive, and they tell lies about me.
She wasn’t driving by. None of them were. They were invited, they were welcome, and they weren’t being lied about. The twins were too young to know, and we kept hoping this would all blow over before they ever needed to. We never guessed this would last for years to come.
In the weeks and months and years that followed, Wendy and I largely turned off the rest of the world. She deleted her Facebook app from her phone and refused any attempt from strangers to contact her. For a while I stepped in and filtered her email, deleting the mean ones and showing her the supportive ones. I consider myself stronger in filtering through the trolls, but even I was growing more and more depressed. Even though my business required a strong social media presence, I ended up ignoring it more and more, and then, finally, turning it off altogether. I let all the hate pile up online while I turned my heart toward what was left of my big, beautiful family.
My instincts still told me to defend my family, but experience had taught me it was foolish to do it online. I was ready to give up all of my online presence to save my family from the ongoing trauma of this social smear. I turned inward, seeking counsel from professionals, friends and family, and began to painstakingly decipher a path forward that eventually would make us stronger than ever. It was a long and torturous journey, and we are still walking it in many ways. But the walk has brought about blessings that we would not have realized without the pain. Let me tell you about my family’s first tentative steps toward healing in the next chapter.
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