I didn’t know who Amanda Sutherland was until last week. As usual, I was wandering through YouTube when I should’ve been finishing homework or writing an article. However, in a rare stroke of luck, my procrastination allowed me to find one of the strangest and most saddening news stories I’ve seen in a long time.
Exact details are few and far between, but here are the indisputable facts. Amanda Sutherland is a 36-year-old former LSUS (Louisiana State University-Shreveport) student. After posting videos to YouTube in which she threatened members of the faculty at the college including its president, F. King Alexander, she was arrested in Seattle, Washington, this past February.
If you were to go onto YouTube and search “Druid Focket,” the first result to appear is Sutherland’s channel. Her videos are unusual, to say the least. Even taking into account the context I hope to establish through this article, there’s no clear explanation behind her behavior, due to the lack of information regarding her background and mental state.
Before her arrest, Sutherland posted over 160 videos onto her YouTube channel over the course of 10 days. The sum of these entries clocks in at approximately 846 minutes or 14.1 hours. Together, they tell a bizarre, disjointed and incredibly disturbing story.
According to a video titled “BOSSIER NAZI 8TH REICH ABDUCTS STARVES,” the former LSUS student was abducted and detained in a “Louisiana sterilization camp for 15 months.” She claims that the camp took her children away from her and experimented on her because she was a “scholar.”
As outlandish as these claims are, a fraction of this claim is based in reality. The Shreveport Times reports Sutherland was arrested in November 2016 for assaulting a bus driver — in addition to at least one deputy who responded to the incident — and imprisoned in Bossier Maximum Security Prison in Louisiana.
After serving 15 months, Sutherland was released. However, this is where the corresponding truths end. The remaining details are ostensibly the constructs of Sutherland’s mind, which are rarely coherent and frequently alarming.
To be completely transparent, I cannot state Sutherland is a victim of mental illness with absolute certainty, due to the absence of public record indicating that she’s been clinically diagnosed with any disorders. I don’t mean to be insensitive; I simply don’t wish to make any claims without knowing the full context.
Nonetheless, Sutherland is unquestionably far from stable; her channel is a living testimony to this statement. The videos are a mish-mash of incomprehensible ramblings, rants and conspiracy theories, and if she’s doesn’t have a disorder, her attempts at seeking attention are among the most convincing I’ve ever seen.
As I went through the channel, I went down into the comment section to find what other viewers made of the videos. What I found was just as disturbing as the videos themselves.
A select few expressed sympathy or concern for her situation and/or possible mental issues; however, the majority of the commenters either taunt Sutherland or remark on how they find her sexually attractive. Some of these comments are meme-like and jokey, while others seem scarily sincere. Regardless of their nature, most viewers perceived Sutherland as some sort of spectacle — an individual who exists for their entertainment.
This attitude towards mental illness is rampant throughout internet culture; it’s been around almost as long the web itself. The examples are too numerous to list, although certain instances mirror Sutherland’s situation.
One infamous example is Christian Weston Chandler — also known as Chris-Chan — the creator of the notorious web comic “Sonichu.” Self-described as a high-functioning autistic, the 36-year-old found his life forever changed after attracting a “fanbase” whose only purpose was to bully him.
A tame example involved viewers posing as women or potential girlfriends to persuade Chandler to reveal intimate information to his audience. Consequently, one can easily find far more malicious, disturbing examples of Chandler’s torment online.
A slightly more benign example is that of Marina Joyce. After spotting bruises on her arm in a video, viewers made Joyce the center of the internet’s attention. The hashtag #SaveMarinaJoyce took Twitter by storm in 2016, prompting an investigation by viewers into the YouTuber’s personal life.
Viewers formed dozens of theories, ranging from an abusive relationship to ISIS involvement. Similar to Sutherland, Joyce’s mental state has been the cause of concern for viewers to this day, though the overall attention has died down significantly.
The internet lives and breathes sensationalism. It thrives on scandal and seeks to scratch the part of your brain that can’t turn away when you see a train wreck.
The videos documenting Sutherland’s detachment will presumably remain on the internet forever, readily available to anyone. For many, they will be their only frame of reference for Sutherland. This is how people will remember her: a crazy woman speaking into a webcam for 14 hours.
It’s easy to forget that individuals like Amanda Sutherland are, in fact, real people. Maybe this sense of authenticity lends to the humor for some; personally, I couldn’t find it any less funny.
In one of her entries, titled “Malachi,” Sutherland directly addresses her adolescent son in an uncharacteristic moment of coherency. The video consists of her showcasing a pair of light-up Sketchers and speaking softly to her child. Her demeanor is quiet and gentle, and the video is an altogether saddening display of vulnerability.
In addition, the video “Mother’s Day Out” reveals the humanity behind what many perceive as a rambling lunatic. Published on Nov. 9, 2016, not long before Sutherland’s arrest, the video shows her in a vibrant, more articulate state of mind.
This “personal video diary,” as she calls it, presents a lonely, clearly troubled and possibly abused single mother. There’s nothing funny or entertaining about that.
The most recent report concerning Sutherland’s status claims she is currently detained in King County Correctional Facility in Seattle, Washington, on $500,000 bail. The article also reveals that the public defender’s office of Bossier, where Sutherland lived, called for a sanity commission to determine Sutherland’s mental capacity in 2017:
“‘There is good reason to believe that your Defendant, Amanda Sutherland, does not presently have the mental capacity to understand the proceedings against her or to assist in her defense,’ the document reads. It goes on to state there is reason to believe ‘the defendant’s lack of mental capacity is the result of a mental disease or defect.’”
The results of this test, however, have not been released to the public.
Sutherland’s story is an endless maze of questions. Does Sutherland truly have a mental illness, or is this an elaborate ploy for attention? What can one do to help those suffering from mental illness to ensure that they don’t continue to go unnoticed? Should I even be bringing attention to Sutherland’s story in the first place?
One can easily become desensitized to stories such as these. I am no exception. YouTube takes individuals like Sutherland, turns them into spectacles for a brief moment, and then forgets them as soon as the joke gets old and the allure of sensationalism wears off. It’s a bizarre cycle.
I don’t know Amanda Sutherland, and I can’t speak with any authority about her situation. However, I truly hope she finds help and escapes the downward spiral she’s trapped in.