Frank Lindh and Marilyn Walker are the parents of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. John Walker Lindh was released from prison in Terre Haute, Indiana on Thursday after serving a 17-year sentence. Frank went to law school in Washington, D.C. and was a lawyer for the Department of Justice before moving in 1991 to San Anselmo in the Marin County Suburbs of North San Francisco. Frank became the general counsel for the California Public Utilities Commission and oversees a sixty-five-lawyer legal division and Marilyn is a stay at home Mom. The couple has three children together, John, his older brother Connell, and his younger sister, Naomi.
Frank says John became interested in Islam after seeing the movie Malcolm X. He became interested in the faith at 12 and converted fully to Islam in 1997 at the age of 16. John became more active in the local San Francisco Muslim community and eventually traveled to Yemen to study Islam and Arabic. Frank and Marilyn received a lot of criticism for their decision to let him go but say it’s no different than traveling to Israel to study Judaism. In an interview with GQ, Marilyn describes their decision, “That was one of the hardest things for me,” Marilyn remembers, “letting him go. But we did a lot of research. How many people let their kids go abroad at 17?” she asks. “A lot of kids go to Europe or spend time in a kibbutz.”
John was a fervent believer of the Muslim faith before 9/11 and the popularization of the term “Jihadist”. His parents say a combination of bad timing, ignorance, and bad judgment on the part of John led him to the position he is in today. John has claimed that he never supported terrorism and regrets his decision to join the Taliban. He’s currently living with Frank and Marilyn in Northern Virginia following his prison release.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Frank and Marilyn Tried to Send John Letters After He Was Captured
Back in 2001 after John was first captured, his family was desperately trying to get in contact with him any way they could. They were sending multiple letters through the Red Cross that were failing to be delivered. Under the Geneva protections for prisoners of war, prisoners are allowed to send and receive letters and cards which are not allowed to be withheld for “disciplinary reasons”. At the time, Lindh was not an official prisoner of war, which made it hard for his parents to get in contact with him.
The war on terror was still new at this point in time and the definition of “enemy combatant” was murky which created a lot of gray areas. For almost two months, Marilyn and Frank knew he was alive but not what condition he was in and were unable to speak to him. They reunited when John returned home on January 23rd, 2002.
2. Frank and Marilyn Encouraged John to Pursue His Interest in Islam
John’s interest in Islam began when he was 12-years-old and his parents encouraged him to pursue it. They were worried when he traveled to Yemen to study the Muslim faith and learn Arabic but supported him because it was his passion. John traveled to Yemen for 9 months before returning, Frank told GQ in a 2009 interview that nothing seemed amiss, “There was never any suggestion of a personality change, or any indication he was becoming militant or adopting any point of view that was becoming worrisome.”
John returned to San Francisco for a few months before leaving for Yemen again. His parents were still supportive of his decision. John emailed Frank during his stay and asked him for permission to travel to Pakistan to study at a madrassa run by a mufti named Iltimas. Frank told him to have a great adventure.
John started to develop his more extreme views in Pakistan and joined the Taliban. Still, Frank Lindh insists that it was a confusing time and the lines between good and evil were blurred. “He was naive and idealistic. He thought the world was divided into good guys and bad guys, and since the Northern Alliance were bad guys, the Taliban must be the good guys.”
3. His Parents Visited John Every Month While He Was in Prison
Frank Lindh and Marilyn Walker traveled from San Francisco to Terre Haute, Indiana every month, alternating monthly visits for the 17 years that John Walker Lindh was in prison. John was allowed 4 hours of visitation per month, limited to weekdays. Each parent would travel and spend a weekend in the area then spend the entire 4-hour block talking to John. Frank told GQ they spent most of their time “laughing”, adding “I feel like I bring him oxygen when I visit.”
4. Frank Divorced Marilyn and Remarried to a Man
Frank Lindh and Marilyn Walker were divorced in 1997 when Frank came out as gay. Frank met his partner in 1999 and the two were later married in 2009 when before Proposition 8 passed in California which temporarily banned gay marriage statewide. Marilyn and Frank are still close as are their families and children.
5. Frank and Marilyn’s Other Children Are Growing up to Be Responsible Adults
During John Walker Lindh’s arrest and trial, Frank and Marilyn were harshly criticized for their parenting. One New York tabloid called them “California airheads unfit to raise lettuce.” Their first child, Connell Lindh, is a mapping technician at his Dad’s old company, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and their youngest daughter Naomi Lindh is an actress living in Brooklyn, NY.