Tulsi Gabbard Had a Very Strange Childhood

Intelligencer | 6/10/2019 | Kerry Howley
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She was back in Samoa at a traditional Sunday feast with her mother, her brother Mike, her American sister-in-law, Carol, and three little boys so strikingly beautiful one would model professionally as a teen. They hadn’t yet sat down to eat, Sina remembers, when Mike announced that his wife and boys would not be able to eat most of what his mother had cooked, as they were now vegetarian. Also, everyone needed to stop calling the children by their birth names. Their new names were Bhakti, Jai, and Naryana. They were now devotees of a man named Chris Butler, whom they called Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa.

When Sina next visited Mike and Carol’s house, there was nothing on the walls but pictures of the immediate family and portraits of Chris Butler, a 30-something, tan, sandy-haired Caucasian, an aging beach boy in leis and white linen. Altars to him had sprung up in every room. The children’s lives were filed with ecstatic chanting, prayer, and beach gatherings exclusive to Butler devotees. Sina, who studied Eastern religions and spirituality and taught from the Bhagavad Gita, tried to be open-minded about the fact that they were, in her words, “bowing and prostrating to this white surfer guy — it was bizarre.” It was her Buddhist training to which she appealed in order to remain calm about her nephews attending Butler-focused schools and associating only with children whose parents were in the group, members of what she would come to see as the “alt-right of the Hare Krishna movement.” She said little about it outside the family until 2019, when one of her nieces, the most retiring and introverted of all the siblings, decided to run for president.

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