Greta Thunberg, the world’s most polarizing young activist, has found herself in stormy seas lately.
In some ways, Thunberg seems undeniably impressive—having successfully channeled the most crippling features of her autism spectrum disorder to speak with authority on the climate crisis. After being named Time‘s “Person of the Year,” Greta seemed at her zenith as the youthful face of the School Strike for Climate movement. She was in Turin, Italy, addressing a large crowd that had come to her press conference, when—in a radical departure from her usual nation-shaming speeches—she uttered what was perceived as a call to violence against world leaders.
“We will have to put them against a wall” Thunberg thundered. “They will have to do their job!” The apparent dog whistle generated a swift backlash, much of it from a previously fawning media.
Forty-eight hours later, Thunberg apologized for her remark. Then she announced she would be taking a “break” from her activism for an indeterminate time. Many critics applauded her unceremonious exit from the stage. While one can’t be sure her stepping back was voluntary, the remarks that led up to her departure certainly weren’t a mistranslation, either. (Thunberg’s second language is English.)
Ultimately questions surrounding what led to Thunberg’s impolitic remark become irrelevant. At the moment, Thunberg is no longer of use to those entities behind her movement. So, for a while anyway, there will be no more yacht trips, no adulation from throngs of people around the world.
One wonders how a 16-year-old girl with a diagnosed developmental disorder absorbs and processes that kind of rejection so close on the heels of adulation. For that matter, how would any child?
Remember Joan of Arc
Like too many children today, Thunberg has become a martyr for her parents’ cause. Opera singer mother Malena Ernman and actor father Svante Thunberg were both coping with careers in decline when their then 11-year-old daughter’s Asperger’s Syndrome impaired her ability to function. Both had been active in Sweden’s leftist causes.
Two books and a couple of world tours later, and magically Greta was heralded a saint of the environment, her proud parents glowing from the sidelines. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaids Tale, described her as the Joan of Arc of the environment during a November 1 podcast of “The Extinction Rebellion.” Atwood’s description could not have been more tragically apt. An unwavering commitment to virtue, even a secular and controversial one, carries the risk of extreme sacrifice.
For comparison: The Maid of Orléans was burned at the stake in 1431. The French heroine had been captured by Anglo-Burgundians shortly after she saw King Charles VII ascend to the throne, thanks in no part to her military victories. In a spectacular display of ingratitude, and fearful of Joan’s growing power, Charles refused to negotiate for her release from his opponents. Abandoned by her own sovereign, Joan faced her fiery execution bravely. She is said to have uttered “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as the flames enveloped her.
If Thunberg’s superpower is her autism diagnosis, Joan’s source of strength was the angelic voices she frequently heard. But as Thunberg just learned, these supposed mystical abilities could not save her from the machinations of adults advancing their own interests. Joan was 16 when she led her regiment into Orléans; by 19 she was dead. Thunberg should consider herself lucky.
Child Conscripts for Grown-Up Political Fights
Thunberg is a proxy for adults who are not brave enough to fight their own battles. Her youth and disability make it tough to criticize her without seeming to be bullying. Trump would have been wiser to direct his mocking criticism toward her parents. As a teenage girl, Trump is quite right that she should be at movies, reading books, and most importantly, going to school.
Greta’s parents, reputedly linked to Antifa, have had her pose in a t-shirt that promoted the violent anarchist organization. The photo was widely circulated. After receiving blowback, they claimed the photo was doctored, but made no such claim when their own photos, with them wearing identical shirts, surfaced later. Thunberg is too young to grasp that wearing an Antifa shirt is different from wearing a shirt promoting a favorite band.
Now that Thunberg’s advocacy is detrimental to Antifa’s cause, what will her support of that group mean for her future?
In our overly politicized society, “Agenda Moms” are quickly assuming the role once held by stage mothers. Sometimes they are one and the same.
For all the criticism and ridicule Melania Trump receives, she is a contrasting example of a conscientious mother. While President Trump’s adult children are more than capable of defending themselves, 13-year-old Barron is not. Melania knows this. She intervenes, as a mother should, when necessary. Children are not to be mercenaries for adult ideology.
Nor are parents the only ones who press children into service in this way. After the Parkland shooting, schools all over the country encouraged students to join in “The National School Walk-Out” in support of gun control.
Clearly, many teachers abused their in loco parentis authority. Children too young even to know about the Second Amendment or why it is in the Constitution were making placards they could not yet read. Many others “walked out” with little or no formal instruction beyond the opinions of their teachers (and the knowledge that skipping class in this instance was encouraged rather than punished).
Neutrality in the classroom is no longer the norm, and it is becoming commonplace for a parent to call a school district over political diatribes and electioneering in courses not even tangentially related to the subject matter.
Provocative Statements, Appalling Attacks
The exploitation, conscious or unconscious, of children for political agendas is not limited to the Left. Some of the president’s supporters can be called out as well, for using their children as surrogates.
Case in point: a video showing the violent beating of a 14-year-old boy, allegedly for wearing a MAGA cap to school on November 21 of this year, went viral. The child’s mother released the video on the advice of her attorney after the school district failed and the district attorney likewise refused to charge more than a misdemeanor for an assault so severe that the boy had to be hospitalized. The attack was appalling, and many were angered that the school’s tepid response might empower further attacks on Trump supporters and their children.
But that was not the end of it. Not long after, a Trump-supporting mother posted a public complaint on Facebook that because she wore a MAGA cap to the school pickup line, other mothers wouldn’t invite her son to play dates anymore.
Her motive is suspect. She is free to support the president; nevertheless, a sensitive parent would think twice about so vocally doing so in a school setting, because the impact on a child is all too predictable. Adults can assess choices and consequences, and should be capable of self-defense. A 14-year-old or a preschooler is not, nor should a child be forced to bear the consequences of an adult’s lack of self-awareness. The MAGA cap, like it or not, is a provocative statement often worn precisely to elicit the attention it gets.
Where Is Child Protective Services?
Children are natural magnets for attention. This magnetism is seductive for parents. The attention a child receives can create a glow in which parents are all too happy themselves to bask. In our overly politicized society, “Agenda Moms” are quickly assuming the role once held by stage mothers. Sometimes they are one and the same.
Prepubescent drag queen Desmond Napoles was the toast of New York City in 2018. Billed as “Desmond Is Amazing,” he performed on several morning talk shows. He was interviewed and praised by local media and by much of the LGBTQ community.
During his time in New York, he was videotaped at a Brooklyn gay bar, 3 Dollar Bill, dancing as Gwen Stefani. He wears a crop top, a blond wig, and heavy makeup. He gyrates in a stilted manner. The adult men in the bar hoot, throw money, and applaud almost too enthusiastically for comfort.
Let’s stop enabling the substitution of adult agendas for adult responsibility and common sense.
Desmond’s mother, Wendylou Napoles, repeatedly has claimed that Desmond is autistic. He was 11 when the Brooklyn video was recorded. During a “Good Morning America” interview, his answers appeared scripted: rife with buzzwords about artistic expression and being a representative of the gay community. Wendylou and her husband do not work: Their sole source of income is their 12-year-old son. Desmond has been performing in drag since he was 8. His mother claims that drag helps him cope with “autism’s symptoms.”
The Daily Wire called out the abuse, and hundreds of concerned people called Child Protective Services. Ben Shapiro’s criticism is right on point: Had this been a little girl, the parents would be in jail.
Astonishingly, despite the outcry, CPS would not stand against New York’s powerful LGBTQ community, which showered Desmond (and his parents) with praise. It was a sobering reminder that self-appointed leaders of political movements do not always represent the true best interests of all their members and that our government can and will fail in its most critically important role of protecting the weak whenever politics trump basic common sense and humanity.
In June, convicted pedophile Tom Carroll applauded Desmond’s erotically charged performances and made sexual comments on his blog. Wendylou pretended to be appalled and incredulous that a pedophile would sexualize her son even though she and her husband choreograph his lewd performances and write the suggestive jokes he tells. Autism advocates have shamefully remained silent, even as Wendylou posted photographs on the “Desmond Is Amazing” website—photos that include convicted murderer and former “Club Kid” Michael Alig. Desmond’s exploitation should have merited a protective agencies intervention long ago.
Children Don’t Need to be Weaponized
One of the joys of parenthood is that of occasionally getting to live vicariously through your children. But as parents, we need to remember that the responsibility of caring for children supersedes the joy of our reflected glory. In this emotionally charged climate, personal political beliefs seem to be trumping our parental instincts.
If adults have trouble distinguishing personal identity from ideology, why do we think children can?
Political action committees and political organizations, much like the entertainment industry, have only one objective: the promotion, profit, and advancement of their short and long-term goals. Political agendas make lousy security blankets and teddy bears.
Let’s stop enabling the substitution of adult agendas for adult responsibility and common sense. Children need unconditional love and the firmly grounded guidance of their parents and guardians who are charged, above all things, with protecting them. What they don’t need is to be politically weaponized by the very people who should stand tall between them and exploitation—especially as the nation heads into what seems likely to be the most contentious and potentially violent election year in our history.