What started out as a simple, feel-good story about a Tennessee middle-schooler and the throngs of celebrities, athletes and other supporters who rallied around his anti-bullying plea, has recently become more complicated.
Keaton Jones, 11, was invited to movie premieres and sports games and donors contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a GoFundMe account set up to support Jones after his mother posted a video of him tearfully begging school bullies to stop tormenting him and his classmates.
That all changed after it was revealed that Jones' mother, Kimberly, had posted two photos of herself and some of her family members holding confederate flags. News reports also revealed that Jones' estranged father -- who is currently in jail -- is a white supremacist.
Well let's look into Keaton Jones's life;— DJ ROD BELL (@djrodbell) December 13, 2017
Here is a photograph of keaton's family; a young girl's holding a "gun", keaton's holding the American flag and his sibling's holding a Confederate flag 🔴🤔. Dad is a white Supremacist doing time... Mom's holding a confedarate flag 🤔🤔 pic.twitter.com/d4oMyPIF73
In an interview with "Good Morning America," Jones' mother apologized for posting the images and said they were meant to be a joke. She called the photos ironic.
Messages of support and encouragement were quickly replaced with criticism on social media. Even some celebrities who had supported Jones quickly took down their social media posts. Many on Twitter have speculated that Jones was being bullied for making racist remarks at school, although there is no evidence to support that.
Okay i’ll be honest this whole keaton jones story is giving me so much anxiety. Hearing that his mom was in it for the money / is a racist ruins everything if true. The internet mentally tires me out I swear.— RyansAverageLife (@RyanAbe) December 11, 2017
If Keaton Jones was getting bullied for being racist I have NO sympathy for him.— ✈ Mel Vega 👑 (@Gmel_Genuine) December 11, 2017
Frank Meeink, a former neo-Nazi skinhead recruiter says he's not buying Kimberly Jones' excuse.
"If you're sieg heil-ing and holding a confederate flag, that's not a joke, that's not funny," said Meeink, a co-founder of Life After Hate, a nonprofit dedicated to helping guide and counsel members of far-right extremist groups.
But, Meeink said the positive support Jones received from black people could keep him from eventually turning to his parents' supposed racist ideologies.
"The real important message that I think people are missing out on here is that these parents might have these thoughts and these feelings, but humanity stepped up to the plate and people like Lebron James, who these people probably talk about how much they hate people like Lebron james, here’s someone who just genuinely cares about someone as a human being," Meeink said.
"So many people stepped up the plate that hopefully this kid, later on as his mom or dad speaks these views, he can say ‘well, these people stepped up for me,'” Meeink added.
Meeink and other former members of hate groups whom I've spoken with have all said that people who turn to far-right extremist ideologies often do so because they feel alone or unloved. The hate groups fill a void for them, and give them a sense of belonging.
That's how it happened for Meeink. He was abused by hist stepfather at home and bullied at school, eventually driving him to join a neo-Nazi, skinhead gang when he was just 14 years old.
Read more about Meeink's story here.
"I know what it feels like when you hate going to school because you don't know what's going to happen to you today," Meeink said.
According to People Magazine, Jones has not returned to school since the video went viral.
But, Meeink said he thinks Jones is "now seeing a different way of looking at human beings on this planet because of what happened" and that could be what helps him later change his parents' alleged ideals.
While many people have continued to support Jones, acknowledging that his parents choices shouldn't impact his message, Meeink warned that if more people lash out against him on social media or abandon him over his parents' views, that Jones could wind up following in their footsteps.
"We need to let this kid know that no matter what he believes, that we still do care about him because once we start saying ‘Well if you do this then we don’t care about you no more,’ then we’ve lost him," Meeink said.
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