What can you really tell about someone by a picture or a video?
Can you determine what kind of person they are? Their values, beliefs, and goals? What about a photo of a presidential hopeful on the campaign trail? What kind of crowd would he assemble around the podium to send the message that he's the "other" guy—the progressive, antiestablishment choice? Wouldn't the proximity of two white moms and their six black kids help make his case?
You may remember a particularly iconic moment from a March 2016 rally for then presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. It happened in Portland, Oregon, where Sanders was mid-speech when he a tiny bird landed directly in front of him, inches away from his notes. "I think there may be some symbolism here," Sanders ad libs, "I know it doesn't look like it, but that bird is really a dove asking us for world peace."
There were more than 11,000 attendees that particular rally, and the Hart family were among them. They were standing directly behind Sanders, jumping up and down in matching blue Bernie T-shirts. And this wasn't the first time the Harts had publicly supported the Senator; days earlier, the family had attended his rally in Vancouver, Washington. Afterward, Jen posted about it on Facebook, saying she'd made the kids stand for four hours in the pouring rain. According to a family friend of the Harts, a member of the Sanders campaign team approached the Harts that day and invited them to come to the Oregon rally.
That's where they became part of the bird moment. The video has over 2.3 million YouTube views—and counting.
Jen claimed that the family had been approached about doing a reality TV show, but that "no amount of money would ever be worth the trials and tribulations that would surely come from media/producers manipulating our lives on a TV show." Fair enough. But how could one family—especially one interested in living off the grid—become virally famous by accident?
For photographer Zippy Lomax, the family was the perfect visual symbol for the very transformational music festivals they attended together. One video posted to Jen's YouTube page shows the family enjoying the 2012 Project Earth Festival in Minnesota. Devonte and Jeremiah, both under 10 at the time, are dancing with flowers around their necks; at the 45-second mark, Jen asks Jeremiah: "You going to give Nahko a hug?" He does.
Some might see her question as proof that Jen coerced the kids into performing. Others might see it as a gesture of encouragement. Either way, if the Hart family seemed off, festival onlookers didn't notice. They were perceived as the perfect people, living the perfect life.
Nowhere was this more true than Jen's Facebook page, where her lengthy, intimate posts landed hundreds of likes from people who believed they knew her well enough to call her a friend. From 2007 through 2018, Jen consistently shared fantastical stories: of the family's adventures on the road, of homeschooling on the beach, of little moments with the chickens the Harts kept in their backyard. At some point, this fantasy world appears to have eclipsed reality. So what was that reality? We'll get into that next time, on Episode Four of Broken Harts.
Subscribe now to our new podcast, Broken Harts, from Glamour and HowStuffWorks and based on this story from the October 2018 issue of Glamour. New episodes will air each Tuesday; find them on Apple, Google, Spotify, or wherever you like to get your podcasts. For the full transcript of this episode, click here. Have any tips, feedback, or questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Johnny Huu Nguyen