Dr. Robin Stern: Welcome to The Gaslight Effect podcast. I'm Robin Stern, co-founder and associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of the bestselling book, The Gaslight Effect. I'm an educator and a psychoanalyst, but first and foremost, I'm a wife, a mother, a sister, aunt, and healer. And just like many of you, I was a victim of gaslighting. Please join me for each episode as I interview fascinating guests and explore the concept of gaslighting. You'll learn what it truly means to be gaslighted, how it feels, how to recognize it, and how to understand it, and ultimately how to get out of it.
Dr. Robin Stern: Before we begin, I want you to know that talking about gaslighting can bring up challenging and painful emotions. Give yourself permission to feel them. Some of you may wanna go more deeply with your emotions. While some of you may hold them more lightly, no matter what you're feeling, know that your emotions are a guide to your inner life. Your emotions are sacred and uniquely you respect and embrace them for they have information to give you. If you want to listen to other episodes of The Gaslight Effect podcast, you can find them at robinstern.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for being here with me. Welcome to this episode of The Gaslight Effect podcast. I'm really thrilled to have with me today, very special guest, Dakota Adams, son of Tasha Adams and Dakota. I'm gonna ask you to tell us about yourself and, um, say hi to your mom when you next see her. Uh, Tasha was a guest of mine, uh, here on the podcast a little bit ago, and I just, um, so enjoyed meeting her and appreciated her vulnerability and honesty about her life and gaslighting experiences. And Dakota, take it away.
Dakota Adams: Alright, well, thank you for having me on and I will carry that with me when I go up the driveway to the main house. After this interview is done, I am Dakota v Adam, uh, son of Tasha Adams and somewhat more nationally, well known for now, son of Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers national militia leader and ring leader for the January 6th insurrection. That about sums up why people are interested in hearing me talk about myself for the most part.
Dr. Robin Stern: And, um, thank you for that introduction. I am very interested in, um, talking with you about what it was like to grow up, um, in, uh, I think you and I were talking about it as a gaslight bubble. Um, and even more interested now that we've actually had some time together and I really enjoyed, um, talking to you and heard your story and appreciated your vulnerability and your very generous willingness to tell your story to, um, continue your own journey of healing, but also to help other people who might be growing up in a gaslight bubble and not know about it. And so, uh, thank you. I invite you to tell your story. What was it like to be growing up?
Dakota Adams: Oh, thank you very much for the very kind phrasing. Um, one thing is that I don't expect, and well I'll get a little bit deeper into later on, is I don't expect that for people who are very hard line still indoctrinated and fully immersed, especially in the social system and in the cultural bubble of these movements to be available, to be persuaded even by an interview with somebody else who was in the same shoes. It's very easy to disregard the words and apostate, but, uh, what this kind of thing is very useful for is for people who are already questioning and on their way out of a high control environment or a high control system or a particular way of thinking. So when they're already open to contradictory information, finding somebody else who was on that same path can be extraordinarily helpful. And that's what I hope to do, aside from getting my own personal catharsis out of it.
Dakota Adams: So my family, my family grew up in a bubble of the militia movement as it began the second phase revival of the constitutional militia movement after it collapsed following the Oklahoma City bombing. And we were right at the epicenter of it where for a brief window in time, groups like oath keepers in the 3% movement were trying to make the right wing militia movement, a semi resectable and legitimate force and component in national politics, factoring the energy off of the 2008 wrong Paul movement and the coalescing of all these different anti-government group and ideologies around a vague kind of right-wing, libertarian big tent. And so that is the environment that I came up in and it's an environment that was perfectly suited for Stewart as somebody who came from a family background of effectively fraudsters. And also, uh, that's sort of weird space occupied by people who are part-time religious leaders and part-time salesman where you get the, uh, the info worth crowd a lot where my, uh, paternal grandmother was a pastor at a weird little crystal, kind of amorphous crystal healing church in Las Vegas, but was also constantly in mesh in multiple different multi-level marketing schemes and Katy real estate deals that would've gotten hers sent to prison if she hadn't been actively dying of breast cancer when the indictments came down.
Dr. Robin Stern: So, can I interrupt first? So you had a dad and a grandma? Yeah. And um, and a sister and who else was around your dinner table?
Dakota Adams: Oh, yeah. So very basic background information that I tend to skip over. So I'm the oldest of six siblings and between Stewart, my mom and the younger five, that was basically the bubble in my early childhood. We spent a lot of time in the sphere of my father's very large extended family all throughout Las Vegas. And sometimes my mom's large extended family all throughout Las Vegas. But even that contract gradually dwindled as we got more and more immersed into militia world.
Dr. Robin Stern: Mm-Hmm.
Dakota Adams: No, I didn't have any nicknames until I was an adult man. And then I was constantly surrounded by people who could never remember my name and acquired very many nicknames.
Dr. Robin Stern: Did you like any of them?
Dakota Adams: Nah,
Dr. Robin Stern: You have a pretty cool name and I can remember it so we'll just,
Dakota Adams: I've been called, uh, COTA Cota, Corey Casey, um, Idaho, Nevada, Utah. Oh. And one was, uh, Dakota from when I was working at a, uh, dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant for a little bit, and the line coach shorten at the taco. And sometimes there's still people I worked with who will scout taco at me from across like a gas station parking lot. Yeah. But as a little as a little kid, uh, I might have picked up a nickname if I associated with other children, but we didn't even before the paranoia of militia worlds began to set in, we were very isolated because we were immersed in the old homeschooling movement when there was kind of big tent fusion of hyperreligious homeschool parents and secular homeschool parents who just didn't think that the public education system was successful and wanted to try new wave methods.
Dr. Robin Stern: And did both of your parents feel that way?
Dakota Adams: Um, absolutely. Or at least that was Stuart's rationale. I think there was always, there was always intent for it to be a lever of control behind it, but that was the rationale on that was the version that my mom was built on. So early on in my, in my childhood, like the strains of paranoia were kind of already there. They were always had just a general, very heightened sense of paranoia about attack by criminal. And like some stuff is very basic common sense, like keeping awareness of what's going on around you. But we trained in situational awareness all the time. We, we went on walks with the dogs, it would be a contest to see who could spot another person first. And the rule was you had to be constantly training to make sure that you saw everybody else you encountered out in the world before they noticed you. So you were always one step ahead and would have the upper hand in the OODA loop contest if it came to some kind of confrontation. And, and this is well before Oathkeeper or any of that, this is just a generalized mindset we had to get out of the car.
Dr. Robin Stern: What did you think about that? Like, did you
Dakota Adams: It was, that was normal because we were supposed separated from any other way of life except for my paternal grandmother's house and sometimes my paternal grandmother's house when I was a young child, that there was no frame of reference to compare it to. And any comparison to regular life was filtered through, uh, militia patriots survivalist movement layer of mug superiority that all these people just think that they're gonna continue with life as normal and then they're all going to die when the economic collapse comes. So by the time I, I was old enough to recognize how different the way I was living was from everyone else. That ideological filter had been pre-installed for me to see that through a lens of being in a superior, more realistic subculture to the rest of the world who were dooming themselves by not being the way that we were. And that didn't break down for a long time.
Dr. Robin Stern: How did your dad keep that up with you? Was it like a dinner table conversation? Was it a, um, did you sit down in the, um, in the den or the living room and, and have a teaching by him? Like where, where all of those
Dakota Adams: It was constant. It was, it was daily practice when going out and about it was dinner table conversation and it was like hour long ranting about the state of the world sitting down at like a family meeting to talk about like the NDAA of 20 of 2012 and how that was like, um, America's version of the rights dog fire that the dictatorship was coming. Mm-Hmm
Dr. Robin Stern: When you would be back to back. How would that happen? Would he say, okay, so now Dakota, I'm gonna stand here and you're gonna stand in back of me. Like
Dakota Adams: I would be in trouble if that had to happen. It was supposed to be automatic where the oldest available shoulder would pile out of the car and like optimal was like a triangle formation of myself and my next youngest sister. Um, but if it was just me or, or my mom, but if it was just me, it was just me to make sure that there were eyes facing outward to alert Stewart to danger coming from any direction. And if we had to be reminded we were in trouble because it was supposed to be something that we automatically did every single time, always had to check corners, always had to be sitting facing a door, always had to know where every exit was to a building in case like a street shooter came in. It was daily, it was constant. Sometimes Stewart were, and he kept doing this until I was like a late teenager. There were people in my fire department who remembered this happening at fairs in the county where I live now, where he would separated from us in a store, would try to creep up on us and see if he could creep up on us and startle us. And just like shout, stab, stab, stab and alert, shout from behind a rack of clothing to demonstrate that if someone were trying to kill us, uh, we would've been caught completely off guard and been shiv to death in the Walmart.
Dakota Adams: So it was, it was like the, uh, the, the skit from the Pink Panther where he's constantly de he's demanding that his assistant try to lurch out of hiding and attack him at all times. So he has constant attack readiness. That's what it was.
Dr. Robin Stern: So this was just the way it was.
Dakota Adams: This was how Stewart was, this was how our home life was. This was the shape of the childhood. That's why we always had to have a large aggressive dog. Always had to have pit bull mixes, always had to be very conscious of doors being locked and home security. And it was all used as a method of control, obviously. It was, uh, reinforcing fear, everyone around us and reinforcing that everyone outside the family was a threat and everyone inside the family unit was a little combat unit that could only rely on each other. And that mindset was being steeped in before Stewart became a player in the militia movement to create a foundation to build the rest of my childhood upon and isolate us further and deepen the paranoia.
Dr. Robin Stern: So you, did you feel then safe?
Dakota Adams: No, constantly unsafe. And that was the goal, always unsafe, perpetual, perpetually under threat.
Dr. Robin Stern: And even if you were just with your family, you were unsafe even though he was doing this to keep you all safe, right? But you never felt safe because there was always a threat that somebody from the outside could come in and disrupt or, or attack or something. Is that right? Am I getting it? Yes,
Dakota Adams: It was, there was no such thing as safety. There is only being one step less likely to die. And that was reinforced constantly. So the goal, the explicitly stated goal was that we like going by. And I think this is also something that came out of a whole can, a whole side tangent can of worms where I, that I won't get into, but where I go back and reexamine anything I, I was taught as a child, I usually find that something was actually fake or that someone was a fraudster that Stewart rolled up into his personal mythos. And so this one was like a really heavy cornerstone of how I was raised. Was all of Vietnam fighter pilot John Boyd's teachings about the mindset of a fighter pilot who would survive all about the, uh, the OODA loop, um, the time it takes someone to perceive what's happening, to orient themselves, to observe something happening, orient themselves to the situation, make a decision, and then carry out the action, which is something that happens like in a car accident where you want to stay far enough behind other vehicles that you are not immediately in the multi-car pile up if something happens.
Dakota Adams: But then also the, uh, and I believe this was either John Boyd or Jeff Cooper, the guy who founded the Gunsight Academy, who was one of the founding fathers of modern self, uh, modern American self-defense dogma was the, uh, alert condition system like red. What being, uh, heightened alert where you believe you're in a dangerous situation, you're actively scanning for where the threat is coming from, uh, condition yellow, where you are effectively analogous to like coalition soldiers doing a patrol down a relatively quiet street in an occupied country where you're not under imminent threat of a suicide bomber, but you can't be relaxed either. And then condition white is hanging out around your house or reading a book and not paying attention to potential for threats from the outside. And we were, the goal was to be in condition yellow at all times in public and to never ever be relaxed or never at least background scanning for threats at any time that you were not in your home. That was the, that was, uh, the subject of a bunch of the sit down in the living room talks about the dangers of the world.
Dr. Robin Stern: I know it was your normal childhood. It's, um, pretty intense and, and, uh, must have been just enormously stressful. Did you kids talk about it? Like, why do we have to do this? Did you ask him why do we have to do this? What was the rationale that like they were going to, um, that you were not gonna be safe, that they were gonna attack you? Like what, what was it just that they were, that you were superior and they were, there was like malignant envy or something that they needed to get rid of you? Like what, what was the
Dakota Adams: That came later? That came later on as the paranoia evolved and the militia movement trellis was in place for Stewart's little paranoia vine to grow up, grow up in the beginning it was kind of this background, mostly unvoiced background cultural assumption in a lot of right wing circles that the world is more dangerous than the neoliberal system. And the media is willing to admit that society is slowly degrading and falling apart and law and order is breaking down. And the majority of people are just continuing a sheep like existence of pretending that society is not fraying a part of the themes in the world of becoming more dangerous. And what you have to do is the hyper aware of the ever increasing personal threats as society decays towards the fall. And that just meant that you were more aware of reality and it dovetails nicely with conspiracy theory modes of thought when you start like, well, why is this happening?
Dakota Adams: Or who is at the most risk? Or what is the timetable for society falling apart? It leads into that, but it is the background cultural assumption. And if we were to question that, we would've been stupid. It would've been stupid. And like will not only stupid, but willfully ignorant and cowardly and not wanting to live in the harsh reality and instead wanting to live in the soft fake reality that everyone else preferred of just going, going to the mall and putting your money in a savings account instead of buying gold and pretending like everything was going to be fine. It wasn't just dumb, it would've been morally bankrupt in the weak. So there was a lot of judgment on a, there was a lot of moral judgment for anybody who didn't adopt our lifestyle because they were dumb or they were willfully ignorant, which is worse.
Dr. Robin Stern: So is that one of the reasons that you were isolated, that you had to be isolated because you not only were in danger, but why would you wanna associate with people who are morally bankrupt and and were stupid and, and I mean, it sounds like you, like you, you must have heard those words that you said to me so articulately.
Dakota Adams: I wouldn't say that the exact phrasing happened all the time, but that was the background assumption that informed every single thing. And yes, there was a huge amount of reinforced contempt, especially within, whenever we associate with other homeschooling families, there is kind of a tip on the shoulders superiority complex, even among non-religious homeschoolers to hold themselves and their children as superior. A lot of, uh, if my child were in public school, they would've tried to say he had a DHD and put him on pills, or they would've tried to say that he had some kind of depressive issue or something, or my, or a little fun little fun anecdote. Well, you know, little Dakota is just a child prodigy genius, which a lot of pressure was put on me to be a child prodigy, which is a whole other dimension that goes along with it.
Dakota Adams: But, and it was, uh, sometimes other people ask if he's, if he's autistic, but he wasn't vaccinated. So it must just be because he's a little genius and there's overlap in behaviors between autistic people and people who are very intelligent. Oh my gosh. And, uh, you can guess how you can guess how that one turned out when I became an adult and had to be in charge of my own medical decision. And that was that culture of nearing superiority to maintain separation. And then we had that inside of our family, even for other homeschooling families to a degree because other homeschooling families tended to be very religious. And where that contradicted pure libertarianism because very religious homeschoolers tend to be in favor of legislating morality, like banning gay marriage. And we considered ourselves in our very specific little slice of the, of the Venn diagram to be superior to everybody because we had the purest all around libertarian views.
Dr. Robin Stern: Dakota, did you feel abused by this when you were growing up? Or did you feel abused, um, in some way from the, like controlling nature of your dad's? Uh, um, back to back your dad's, uh, as you said, I think you called them rants earlier, like the rant about, or, or just teachings, um, in a very aggressive way. Um, did was he mean to you guys, um, all of you,
Dakota Adams: He was constantly angry, extremely short views and a component of all the narrative ha conversations and nearly every interaction and all of the sit down teachings was that we had to chime in with the correct responses and answer questions the correct way in order to reaffirm what he wanted us to say, or he would be furious and sometimes he'd be angry for no reason at all, or something that had nothing to do with us and would find some fault with us as an excuse to lash out. So we were always walking on eggshells constantly, but having no frame of reference to the outside world
Dr. Robin Stern: When he wasn't around when it was, was there a time where it was like just you and your brothers and sisters were you, did you talk about what was going on and your stress? Like how did you take care of yourselves? How did you thrive during that time?
Dakota Adams: There was no thriving, um, that happened with me much later, like in my late teen years. And that's when the escape planning start sort of started to coalesce. When I was a young child, I was still fully indoctrinated and just perceived like I was doing something wrong, that we didn't have father son relationship that we were supposed to. And I wasn't making my father proud of me and I was just constantly failing to be this model citizen that he wanted me to be with my self-directed homeschooling and martial arts training. And it was, it was on me to, uh, teach myself ness survival skills out of books in the household while we were living in Las Vegas so that I would've take, learned all the skills while Stewart earned money to go and buy a stronghold property to build a compound on somewhere in the mountain west. And I failed at all that because I was an isolated, depressed neurodivergent child, and that was too much for me, but I didn't perceive any of it as Stuart being abusive. I just perceived it as my personal failings, all my other siblings figured it out and talked among themselves while I was still complete, while I was still
Dr. Robin Stern: Gaslighting yourself
Dakota Adams: Completely in the fold. Yeah.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. And when did things, I'm so sorry for all of it, for all of it, um, and uh, and really in awe of how amazing you are just as a person and human being just in the short time I know you, um, how vulnerable you're being and, and, um, willing to share, when did, when did things start to open up for you? Like when did you begin to see breaks in that gaslight bubble? Like, wait a minute, this is not okay. And like for all of you, when did you start to talk amongst yourself?
Dakota Adams: Well, first off, thank you. And I, I basically see myself as meeting very struggling to meet very minimal standards and just crying to have, um, kind of ordinary life at severe handicap and severe delays all the way around.
Dr. Robin Stern: I can imagine
Dakota Adams: It just, it feels like starting like everybody, everybody else is everybody else dway in the distance and I just, I just showed up.
Dr. Robin Stern: But maybe those, some of those everybody else's can give you feedback about who you actually do show up as in the present moment like I just did. Like you are really relatable and honest and authentic, or at least
Dakota Adams: That's very, that's very kind to say. I'm basically immune to external validation.
Dr. Robin Stern: Of course. How could you be anything but Right, because we're I'm the enemy, right? I I'm the enemy.
Dakota Adams: Yeah. But the, uh, the bubble thing, um, that started as an outgrowth of hitting a very severe depression going into my teen years where I was constantly failing as a child, militia man. And as the paranoia increased, we moved to Montana the second time around explicitly to be out there ahead of the end of the world. This was after oath keepers had started and Stewart had evolved his personal paranoia of criminal attack in a decaying society to the government cartel assassins, white supremacists, individual crazy people were going to come assassinate him, had to, had to drive like a certain way and maintain a certain fall distance behind any cars so that we could drive around a vehicular ambush, like, which is interesting as a brief aside that he was so focused on being ambushed on the road by say, cartel soldiers and yet would constantly pull into fast food drive-throughs, which basically putting your car in a concrete funnel against the building, which is the, with cars ahead of and behind you, and usually an embankment off the one side with nowhere to go. So there was, there was the daily practice of paranoia when it came to things like driving that would immediately go out the window when it came to Stewart's personal comfort, which is kind of a great microcosm of the entire thing and shows that deep down he didn't really believe in a lot of it unless he was going into a manic phase and doing things like ripping down our address signs so that the cartel couldn't find our house if they don't have Google maps, I guess.
Dakota Adams: But the general atmosphere of paranoia was increasing the pressure on me to the crack shot martial artist, uh, self-taught, self-taught scholar in like great western literature. And the self-started classic education to be the Athenian ideal and to live up to like Thomas Jefferson's idea of an ideal citizen, all of that. And then also within the family, like all of the pressure to always do well in martial arts to Bowie steward up when he was having a bad day to do well at survival training so that he wouldn't have something to be off about. It was too much pressure. And when we went into Montana and moved out of the big city and became fully isolated, isolated deep in the woods, I started to collapse on myself because at this point, the absolute lack of social interaction with anyone outside of my family was beginning to tell really heavily, it was no longer possible to ignore just how lonely I was and how isolated we were and just how toxic and unstable and uncomfortable the dynamics were in oathkeepers social circles and in our little compound.
Dakota Adams: And then also the constant barrier of even other people inside the militia movement. Anyone around us could be a federal and informant. So along with Stewart's deliberate have, in my opinion, sabotage of our homeschooling to make sure that we're always behind and deliberate sabotage of the basic running of the household hold so that he could hold the threat of if we didn't conceal our home lives from everyone around us, um, there was going to be an excuse for someone to call CPS and then we were all gonna be taken away and put in different foster homes, we're all gonna be molested or killed and we were gonna be targeted because Stewart was a threat to the new order and the new order runs Child Protective Services and all federal agencies. And we had to be constantly on guard because anyone in oath keepers could be some kind of federal law enforcement mole. And that was a lever to make sure that we were constantly presenting a false face for our home lives. Not everyone was doing, even to other people inside of Hebrew we're always, always keeping up a facade and continuing to treat everyone around us in concentric rings of threatening outsider where no one was fully trusted.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah, so there was no, there was no safe space for you. There was no breathing room for you
Dakota Adams: And there was no safety, there was no stability. Everything was some level of chaos and being under constant external threat and constantly failing to meet impossible benchmarks, which kind of now that like growing up later on, it sounds a lot like what Scientology people are put through when they're out in, when they're out in the world, which is having to deal with constant internal drama within their cadre, but also having impossible and constantly escalating quotas for work to meet so that they're constantly failing and falling behind the ball and perceiving all outsiders as potential threats. It's that same, it's that same structure. And in that I couldn't deal with, the pressure fell into a very deep depression and basically turned into a little internet neck beard puddle up in a trailer on a pile literal, like in a blanket nest and a little literal pile of survival equipment, uh, just on message boards all day, accepting that one of the impossible standards I was set to was that the apocalypse was constantly coming.
Dakota Adams: Six to 14 months from now to collapse was always imminent. I was not going to have a regular life because the best version was going to be the breakup of America into many small warring factions. It was going to look like the breakup of Yugoslavia. The worst was an organized takeover by a totalitarian government without very much chaos so that we could be targeted with the full weight and power of the machine built for the global war on terror being turned inwards on internal dissonance in the United States. And Stuart gonna be at the top of the list.
Dr. Robin Stern: I'm gonna stop you for a minute because I, I really wanna know what, what you believe, um, you were able to gather inside of yourself to allow you to move forward, um, to, I know you all got out, um, he's in jail, but like, what, what do, where did you gather strength from like between then, which was so horrible and so oppressive and abusive and so heavy to carry and stressful for a child growing up. Um, and yet here you are talking about it and I certainly don't wanna leave you in a place when we end this recording of like being in that place. And also I wanna know, um, because it's obvious that you have strength and you are moving forward even if you feel like you're so behind other people who like got to live a normal life and, and, um, you didn't and you certainly didn't. I'm being very long-winded. Um, but where did you find the strength? Was it in your family, your mom, your support system?
Dakota Adams: The, uh, I was taking a very long ways to get there, but that was kind of the greater context for what happened, which is plugged into the internet just to escape the constant pressure and just to make it through the day spec, basically becoming a addict fully addicted to spending all my time on Mount Mount board, like four chan being on Reddit all the time. It did slowly start to expose me to people outside the bubble and I would sometimes get in trouble when we still had the family team meetings for saying the wrong thing in response to a question because I was coming in with knowledge outside of the approved reading list.
Dakota Adams: And that began a gradual breakdown, my belief in the coming apocalypse while I was still very severely depressed and beginning to, in complete denial of that, I hated myself because I was afraid I was going to be like Stewart. And not that I hated myself because I was failing to live up to the standard steward set for me because it was becoming impossible to ignore how abusive my parents' marriage was. Memories from my teen years of being in the back of the car on some trip pulled off on the shoulder of the road so Stewart could just scream and scream at my mom in the passenger seat for two hours. Well, he's just crying and he's just ranting and raving and just suppressing the urge to get out on the side of the road and drag Stewart out of the driver's seat to beat him on the shoulder of the highway.
Dakota Adams: There were a lot of times that, and like later on, hearing third hand from other people in the pager movement about stuff that Stewart got up to that was covered up on different operations or different oathkeepers business trips. On one incident he physically attacked a woman he was staying with and got his beat by his, by her, uh, 14-year-old son reportedly. Um, there were a few times where Stewart very narrowly dodged getting his skull cracked with a crowbar and didn't and never knew it that my, um, no longer putting Stewart on a pedestal as someone approval. I was constantly seeking, even if it came with shading myself because I was afraid I was gonna grow up to be like him.
Dr. Robin Stern: I'd love to know, um, what you relied on going forward. You said the internet and, and I wonder also about the social support of your family and them. I'd love, um, to hear what you're doing now and how you are and, uh, I know you feel that there's still more journey to have and to go through, and I'm sure that that's true and working on ourselves and no matter where we're from is the work of a lifetime, but certainly when you've had the, the background disturbing and abusive background that you had, you have more to work through and uh, it's just a lot, a lot to carry forward and you've learned a lot too. So I'm, I'm gonna stop talking so you can go
Dakota Adams: Stop. Can go. All right. So the, uh, the thing about how the internet was, it was in many ways as harmful as it was helpful because there was also a lot of very toxic online communities that I was immersed in. I basically had one foot in one super crazy right wing sphere and another foot in another one being firmly in like the recruiting pipeline for the new internet alt-right? And all of that, which something I've written out, written about funnily enough is my learning experience from militia world. Um, being trained to see conspiracies in every shadow I immediately saw through like white supremacist groups doing influence operations on image boards, trying to drive recruits lots of neo-Nazis who had obviously never spoken to a black man in their lives role-playing as black supremacists on image boards full of lonely teenagers bragging about how they take over the and steal all being trained to see, uh, being trained to see propaganda and psychological operations around every corner. It was actually very helpful in detecting the real thing when a bunch of other people bought it hook, line and sinker. And that ultimately served me well once I got broader context to look at my entire belief system.
Dakota Adams: But once the doubt of the coming apocalypse started to set in, that opened the door for doubting the existence of the new walled order and the entire conspiracy theory framework I've been living under to begin to see Stewart's behavior as self-defeating paranoia and to begin to question the entire system. And without that external forth holding the structure together, it all started to fall apart once the outside world wasn't all just tentacles of a monolithic conspiracy to destroy us and was just a chaotic world of human action in different people trying to do different things. And there was no preordained end times coming every six months because by newly my newly gained ability to look at that with basic pattern recognition, it kind of seemed like everybody believed in the next apocalypse just as strongly as they believed in the last three that hadn't happened on a personal level.
Dakota Adams: All that got me through was trying to get my family out my, the headspace I was in like going through 2017, beginning to work on my own and wildland fire had been on the, I'd been on the volunteer fire department for a little bit and started to get into a social circle outside of militia world even a little bit. And even through that I believed that I was so inherently damaged by my life and so afraid of becoming like Stewart, that I just didn't believe that I was ever going to be able to have a functioning life, or that at worst I was going to be a threat because I had started to see Stewart's behavior for what it was, especially the grotesque and disgusting hypersexuality, like the, uh, just having porn open on his computer at the family dinner table while he was supposed to be working and constantly pressuring me to, in my extreme social isolation and militia world, I was also supposed to be an alpha male who was going and picking up drunk Canadian women at bars with a fake ID while we were living 30 minutes off the highway at a raggedy redneck mountain compound of, of trailers, of trailers in plywood in a house without functioning plumbing.
Dakota Adams: That whole aspect of it, which the world is gonna be hearing a lot more about, uh, once they start hearing more from mom, like that, did a lot of damage. One particular instance I told you about before was once the escape planning had started going from 2017 into 2000 in like early 2017 before I went on my first run as a wildland firefighter earning money outside the house at the point where we were controlled everything Stewart controlled all money, all transportation, every all access to the outside world went through Stewart. And so we were trying to develop an escape plan but had no leverage whatsoever. All the working vehicles were in his name.
Dakota Adams: At that point, my mom had been breaking into and monitoring a bunch of Stewart's online accounts and found a plot that he was hatching over personal messages on ex hamster with a senior couple out of another city in Montana where they were plotting to spike my mom's drink with MDMA and coerced, her wealthy was drugged into group sex on a family trip. And so I had to know about that because in any other situation that would've been traumatic oversharing and it, and it was, but in this instance, I had to know about that because I had to know about it to watch my mom drink the entire time and basically shift the entire childhood paranoia structure of constantly being on the wash for a threat except reorient it to the actual threat that had been inside our house the entire time.
Dakota Adams: And at this stage in the game, Stewart is a Yale trained lawyer who has all the money, who has a private army and the sympathy of current politicians, at least congressmen and senators from Montana, maybe as far as people in the White House. So with no leverage, no lawyer in place trying to contact the police over that was going to be a disaster and was going to end up with Stewart, it was gonna end up playing our hand early and with Stewart dictating the entire conflict from that point. And so we had to keep that under the radar and keep pretending like nothing was happening. And that ended up being called off like Stewart plotting with these people ended up being called off, um, and being scrapped, which was very fortunate for me because it meant that instead of going on that family trip that would've been, uh, high, a high alert danger zone.
Dakota Adams: I was able to go, uh, on as a last minute replacement onto a contract brush fire engine for my first paying job outside of Oath Keepers, where I was theoretically working for theoretical pay that sewer controlled. And with that I was able to buy a truck that was in my own name and that's when appointments with law firms started. But that was horrible to deal with and that, to be perfectly honest, for about two solid years, my plan was to get my family away from Stewart, get to a point where there was no realistic possibility of Stewart taking custody and having control over my minor siblings and getting everyone to a point where we weren't gonna be like two weeks away from homelessness without me. And then I was going to kill myself. And I was actively suicidal with a plan. I looked up diagrams for the correct angle for shooting yourself in the head with a pistol to avoid, uh, surviving with a debilitating brain injury or just blowing a hole out the back of your mouth and then just ending up in the ending up in the ER with many rounds of intensive surgery to rebuild the back of your head.
Dakota Adams: And what happened was that Stewart and uh, least a soft sympathetic local legal system managed to drag out the divorce and the custody fight for so long that the situation where my family needed me outlasted my suicidal ideation, like my suicidal ideation lost to Stewart, attempt to punish my mom through the legal system with an ongoing non, with an ongoing endless custody fight that in particular, like the extent to which, and like my mom like on her YouTube channel has like videos of videos that Stewart took on trying to position his camera secretly to catch up photos of women sitting next to him on the extent to which Stewart was, in my opinion, allegedly to protect myself from lawsuits, a sexual predator operating under the cover of the militia movement and fundamentalist religious circles. That is a part that hasn't come out, and it's a huge part of why I broke with all of right-wing politics because that seems to be the running theme that everyone covering for Stewart's behavior to protect the movement just created a movement where the status quo is protecting predators.
Dakota Adams: And it's very likely a lot worse than any of us will ever know because the seek the inbuilt secrecy and level of default cultural excuse for sexual predatory behavior by men in right-wing malicious circles. It's a environment perfectly built for predators to operate within and be concealed. And especially like looking back at like a young girl, a young girl like maybe 13, 14, walking her dog on a through a on a crosswalk in front of our car while we're driving through a city. And as a teenager I comment on the dog and Stewart mocks me for commenting on the dog and not commenting on the girl when the girl was barely pubescent and I was around 16. Like stuff like that makes me wonder how, like, how bad things were that people and Oathkeepers were covering up. And that is something that like that and looking back, very likely being exposed to a lot of pornography at a very young age, just from being around in the household, like when I got onto the unrestricted internet as like with no memory of where I picked it up, but I already knew everything about like hardcore at, at like a level of basic background knowledge with no idea where I was first exposed to it.
Dakota Adams: So I have to imagine very early childhood, like I don't remember ever not knowing about any of it and like knew what rape was before I had a clear idea of what sex was. That all dimension of it on top of this severe social isolation has continued to have lingering harmful effects.
Dr. Robin Stern: Of course it did. I mean, it is so not okay, what you were exposed to. It is so not okay the way you were treated. I mean, all of it is horrific and toxic and it's kind of a miracle that here you are trying to help other people get free and, and trying to continue to on your own journey. And, um, we are going to have to stop here. Um, but I do wanna know what you're, what are you doing now and will you come back and do another episode either by yourself or with your sister?
Dakota Adams: Um, yes. I've still gotta talk to my sister about it. I got busy with life and forgotten this week. What I'm doing right now is still a volunteer firefighter. Um, I'm getting involved in more local, uh, volunteering and organizing, getting involved with trying to get, uh, little local nonprofit support network off the ground. We're gonna gonna be trying to get involved in a lot more local community organizing, talk to some people about advocating for affordable housing in particular, and then the very deeply intertwined problem, which is, uh, domestic violence prevention and victim advocacy because there's a very overburdened, uh, volunteer system for that in this part of Montana that needs, that needs extra, that needs extra help in hands and going to be running for office in the next year. And basically using my very, very, very uphill run for a state house state as a platform to spotlight local charities and good and good causes and just raise general awareness for issues and solutions to Montana problem. And just looking at it as the time in the barrel for community service, not too dissimilar from being on the volunteer fire department. And that's about that. And I've rambled on for entirely too long essays
Dr. Robin Stern: And you're amazed here you are, like wanting to help people and making a lifetime pursuit of it and, and, um, good luck with, uh, ramping up to run and uh, and giving to other people and helping other people. Sounds like it's healing for you as well. So I am so happy to know you and I really look forward to your coming back and do ask your sister, but I'm happy to do part two just for us because there's more that needed to be said and we just ran out of time. But thank you very much. And to our listeners, thank you very much. I know that, uh, this hour with Dakota was really meaningful and um, special opportunity to hear from you in this vulnerable and open way. So thank you and I'll see you again.
Dakota Adams: Thank you very much. Goodbye.
Dr. Robin Stern: Thanks for joining me for today's episode. I hope you found it helpful and meaningful. If you want to listen to other episodes of the Gaslight Effect podcast, you can find email@example.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. And please leave a rating and a review. I also invite you to follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. This podcast is produced by Mel Yellen, Ryan Changcoco, Mike Lens, and me. The podcast is supported by Susan Pettit Marcus Estevez and Omaginarium, also by Sally McCarton and Jacqui Daniels. I'm so grateful to have many people supporting me and especially grateful for all of you, my listeners.