real life

What it's like to grow up with a father who's a radical survivalist.

Tara Westover spent her childhood preparing for the End of Days. Her father, a radical survivalist, raised her and her six brothers on a farm in rural Idaho; away from school, doctors, authority, away from the ‘corruption’ and dangers he believed had overrun American society.

In the latest episode of Mamamia’s No Filter podcast, the ‘Educated‘ author and academic takes Mia Freedman inside this isolated existence, and shares how she made it out.

MIA: I want to take you back to 1999 New Year’s Eve. Some people listening to this will not be aware of the significance of that date and what everyone thought might befall the world on that day. Where were you and how how did your family spend New Year’s Eve in 1999.

TARA: You know, my dad, he was a was a big survivalist; he was always preparing for the end of the world.

He wanted a 10-year supply of food, because he thought that part of the second coming of the apocalypse would be 10 years of devastation, and if you were left standing at the end of that 10 years you were one of the chosen, you were prepared, and then you would be one of the righteous. And so that was the idea.

So it was always coming and Y2K was a theory that when it turned over to the year 2000 all the computers that are programmed with a two-digit year date wouldn’t know how to function. Of course, they had taken care of that; you know, they saw that coming and they fixed it. But my dad was convinced it was going to be the end. But I mean, it was kind of every couple of years my dad found a date and thought that world is going to end, for my whole childhood really.


MIA: Was that scary?

TARA: You’d think so. [But] in a lot of ways, no, because we were so prepared. We had a lot of food, we had everything that we needed. We had water we had fuel.

You know, my family lived in this tiny town and we were radical, we were extreme. I’d never had any friends who went to school. The kids that I saw at church on Sunday, I had never been to their houses and they’d never been to mine. We were that kind of weird family, that weird home-school family, and this was going to be a reversal of that. You know, when the world ended we were going to suddenly be the people who other people looked up to, as we would have food, we would have everything we needed. So there is a kind of way in which I anticipated it almost with eagerness, I think, most of my life.

MIA: Was there also an aspect of sort of excitement and adventure about it?

TARA: Yeah, absolutely. You know we had this beautiful mountain that we lived on and I remember just thinking a as a child when the end came if we had to hide from the feds or something, we could hide on the mountain and we could survive on it forever and they didn’t. We knew where all these caves were, we knew where the streams were, we knew where the wild onions were. We would be fine, and they wouldn’t. That had been a pleasant thought to me as a child.

MIA:So back in 1999, it was one of the times that he’d predicted that the world was going to come to an end. How did that night play out?

TARA: I remember we were just watching TV, and we just thought the world’s going to end and we waited, and it just didn’t.

MIA: Was there relief? Was there disappointment?

TARA: I think for me there was a bit of disappointment, then there was also you know just seeing my dad’s disappointment. I remember feeling a little bit sad and, not angry with God – I don’t think I was capable of at that time – but very sad and frustrated. Why, why would God deny him this? He’d been so faithful in preparing, and it just seemed cruel.

So for me it was complicated. I didn’t know what I wanted to happen.

To hear what happened next – including how she escaped her insular world – listen to No Filter…

Want to hear to more? Listen to No Filter in iTunes or on Mamamia.

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