The Private Life of Bradley Manning

Interview Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis

Davis and Bradley Manning were close friends when they were growing up together in Crescent, Okla. They reconnected after Bradley returned from attending high school in the U.K. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on March 7, 2011.

Tell me about the first time that you remember meeting Brad. ...

I met him in kindergarten. I didn't sit at his table, so I didn't talk to him much. We didn't start talking till around third grade, because we were in a class together, the advanced class. ... We started talking and kind of becoming friends/rivals. ... We both kind of started these pretend companies -- we'd hire people on at recess -- and came up with kooky ideas that never really panned out.

“Bradley talked about joining the Army in third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade.”

That pretty much lasted third and fourth grade, and it was some fun times. We just hung out in fifth and sixth grade. Well, we didn't really hang out; you know, we'd talk at school and stuff. He didn't really get to go anywhere. Lived out in the country, and so --

Did you go to his house much?

No. I don't know that anybody did, though. Around fifth or sixth grade, he introduced me to ... Command & Conquer. So we had that to talk about, because I had finally got a computer. ...

Go back and describe the Command & Conquer a little bit for people who don't know what that is.

It was probably, definitely the most popular real-time strategy [game] of that era. ...

Well, it's an army game, right?

Right. And so -- and it spawned lots of other games. It was pretty cool. It was made in, like, '95, so we were a little bit late getting to it.

Did Brad talk about the Army?

Oh, yeah. Ever since, yeah, he was a kid. He made up a story about oil and the military saving the oil from, like, this crazed dictator guy. Basically kind of a bigger version of the Gulf War scenario, I guess. And that was in third or fourth grade. He liked playing Army. ...

Did he show or express political beliefs or anything like that? Did you ever talk about them?

I don't remember exactly. I just remember he's always been, as long as I've known him, very much a capitalist through and through. I mean, we started businesses -- oh, they were supposed to be "corporations," is what they were supposed to be. Let's see, his was Bradcorp, and mine was Jordanics.

He was atheist as long as I can remember.

You guys talked about that? Tell me about those conversations.

Well, he just said that he didn't believe in God or whatever. At one time -- and I don't remember how old we were -- but he said that he still considered himself Roman Catholic or something.

Talk more about elementary school with him. ... What was he like back then?

... Mostly he did his work and turned his homework in and was that kind of kid, and I was kind of the same way. If the teacher said something that wasn't right, he would correct her, that kind of thing. ...

How often did that happen?

At least a few times a week, probably. ...

How would you describe his intellect around that age?

Very high. I don't think that there was any question that he probably knew the most, with me not far behind. Well, it was hard to say back then. But, I mean, he and I were both definitely the most knowledgeable. He's pretty good at math and that kind of thing. ...

What was that like in Crescent? ...

Well, there's some resentment sometimes, but for the most part, the biggest problem is Bradley is not very tactful socially all the time, and that got him in bigger trouble than -- I know one time, he tripped over this kid's bag a few times. ... He made this guy pretty mad, and he told him he was going to beat him up or whatever. And after school, the kid had Bradley by the shirt, so I went over there and got the kid off Bradley. And then I ran from the kid, and Bradley ran to the bus.

Did that happen often?

Well, he was just opinionated. I don't remember him being outright rude. Just he was a little bit smarmy. I think sometimes he came off as arrogant, which I can relate with, because I've had my moments.

But mostly everybody got along, and everybody liked each other for the most part. I mean, I would never call Bradley popular, but he wasn't mistreated, either, for the most part.

What did you know about his home life?

Not a whole lot. I knew some more in fifth and sixth grade, that it wasn't good, and that his dad is very controlling of him. ...

It's interesting, because his dad, when we interviewed him, says that he didn't have any rules; that he wasn't a strict dad; that Brad could do whatever it was that he wanted.

I don't know. But that's what Bradley told me. ...

Around that age, did Brad talk to you a lot about what was going on in his home life? Did he confide in you often?

I think Bradley's always been kind of a secretive guy. I don't remember him telling me anything specific. But I always got the feeling that he was, you know, scared of his dad, like, in some unnatural kind of way, like, more scared than he should be, you know what I mean? Like, everybody's kind of scared of their dad. I mean, that's kind of the familiar dynamic. I was certainly scared of my dad, but not overly so. ...

What is your sense of what was going on at home?

I think he was probably very controlling and wanted things a certain way, and that people didn't come over. It's weird. And I'm weird, but there's different kinds of weird. And that was the kind of weird that makes you wonder.

Did you ever ask him about it?

I'm sure I asked if I could come over, and he would give me some kind of excuse or whatever, because let me tell you, as soon as his dad left and stuff, Bradley was never visibly upset about it. If anything, he seemed relieved. He started, like, doing his hair, and he got different clothes, and he did different things. He was more open and more, I guess, himself. So you tell me. ...

At one point he tells you that he's going to move to Wales. Can you describe that?

He just said, "I'm moving to Wales." I said: "OK. Well, that sucks." And he was like, "Well, I'm kind of excited." ...

Did he ever tell you about what his relationship was like with his dad's new wife, Susan?

He didn't like her either.

How come?

She wasn't very nice. He thought she was a bitch, basically. ...

Do you remember when Brad told you that he was gay?

Yep.

Can you tell me about that?

Me and [another friend] Zack were spending the night. I went down to get a Mountain Dew or something because we were about to go to sleep. I was in my bed, and Bradley was on the couch. Zack was on a mattress on the floor. And [I] came back, and he told me he was gay. And I said, "OK, well, you know, it's whatever floats your boat, man." And that was pretty much it. ...

How old were you guys then?

I guess I would have been 14. He would have been 13.

And did he talk about how his family was going to take it?

He wasn't going to tell them.

Why not?

He just didn't feel like it was necessary.

Did he say that he thought that they would have a negative impression, that they'd be mad at him?

He just thought it might be uncomfortable and weird, and he just didn't want to bother with that, which made enough sense to me.

And so he moves to Wales. Tell me about your relationship when he is abroad.

For some reason, we just lost contact. I don't really remember what happened exactly. ...

And then he calls you one day and says, "I'm back in Oklahoma," or what happened?

He messaged me on Facebook. I guess it would have had to been '05.

What did he say?

He just said, "Hey, man, I'm back." And I said, "Cool, let's hang out some time." And I think we hung out for the first time in a long time on New Year's. ...

Did he change at all in between?

He was less interested in games, for sure. He was probably a better programmer, more into programming and things of that nature. ... He liked computers and still very intelligent. ... Still not very tactful. (Laughs.) Always very straightforward and direct.

I think he really was someone wanting to really do something with his life. He felt ambitious. Things, I don't think, always went as planned for him. I think he really wanted to feel a sense of adventure.

But he was sort of drifting around for a while.

Within like a year and a half, two years, he came from Wales to Oklahoma City, to Tulsa, to Chicago, and then to Maryland.

But you described him as ambitious.

Yeah. He wanted to make something. He would ask me for business ideas.

One thing that we would kind of try to work on that didn't really pan out is like a website -- kind of what MySpace Music is today, but a little bit more advanced -- where a band could load up songs and then sell them for whatever price they wanted to, and that it could be downloaded in any format that you chose, and that it could have copyright protection or not, or that there would be band spaces and fan pages. And that, based on what these fans liked, they'd make suggestions that if all these people like this band and you like all the same other bands that they like, so you might like these guys.

But it didn't work out?

He made an online converter where you could pretty much upload anything and then download it as anything, even Ogg, I think. But we just never really got anywhere past that. Probably just life and stuff kind of caught up with him.

What were his political beliefs?

Very pro-business. Still very capitalist. When he was younger, like in the 2000 elections, he was very pro-[Sen.] John McCain. ...

Did he ever talk about wanting government transparency?

Nope, not really. The weird thing is that, as a kid, Bradley was very pro-America. ... He was always obsessed with America. He wanted the United States to be the most powerful country.

It was just like when Sept. 11 [happened], me and Bradley were freaking out much more so than the other kids. They understood it was a big deal, but I don't think understood as big a deal as it was. We probably made a bigger deal out of it, actually, than it was -- (laughs) -- because we, and him especially, didn't want the United States weakened in any way, shape or form. ...

Sept. 11, you said that you guys were freaking out. Did he talk at that stage about wanting to join the Army?

Oh, yeah. Zack and Bradley talked about joining the Army all the time. I mean, Bradley talked about joining the Army in third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade. He didn't talk about it as much when he came back.

Why did he want to join?

He wanted to experience that. Beyond just serving, you know, his probably patriotic motivations, he thought he'd be good at it. He thought that it would be exciting and fascinating and interesting and all that stuff.

His dad says that he twisted his arm to get him to join and that he didn't want to.

I can't say that he didn't do that. But I tried to talk Bradley out of doing it, ... just because I was like, "Well, I don't know if it's a good idea." But then I was like, "Well, maybe it would give your life direction or something." But I wish I would have talked him out of it now. ...

What do you think he expected to get out of it?

Direction, money, stability, excitement. You know, serve the country. Probably all the stuff that he was interested in [when he was] younger, plus the more practical concerns.

Do you think that he got what he was looking for when he got there?

Probably not. It probably just really stressed him out. Bradley didn't handle stress very well.

His dad said that, too. Can you talk more about that? What makes you say that?

When stressful things happen, he freaks out sometimes. ...

What would he do?

Oh, just yell and shake and get flustered, that kind of thing.

There are reports that when he was in the Army, when he was at Fort Drum in upstate New York, that he'd thrown chairs and had hit a superior officer?

It's not impossible. I know one time, when I hired at the pretend company his love interest, I guess you would call it, his crush, he did try to fight me once, so -- it made him pretty mad.

But that was when you guys were in, like, grade school?

Right. But sometimes I think some of that stuff just never goes away. It gets less -- it's more controllable. But if you up the ante, you know what I mean, to me, it's like your barriers get stronger. It's like you can handle more. But once that's broken, you're right back to where you were. You freak out and do whatever it is that your natural self would do.

So he moves to back to his dad's house in 2005, 2006?

It's '05. Definitely '05. Absolutely.

And what does he tell you about being there?

That he doesn't get along with his dad very well, but that he was excited to be back. And he was working at Zoto [a software company] or whatever that place was called, and that he's trying to meet people. ...

But living with his dad?

Was not fun. He didn't like it, but it was a place he could stay. The practical concerns overcame the emotional concerns, I guess.

The practical concerns in the sense that he had to have a place to live even though he didn't want to be there?

Right. ...

Did he tell why he stopped living at his dad's house?

Because they had a fight and he just couldn't take it anymore. He couldn't stand it anymore.

That they didn't get along?

Yeah. That he had gotten in a fight with his wife or I don't remember over what.

Did he tell you what kinds of things that they fought about?

I'm sure he did, but I don't remember.

How did that affect him?

Well, it stressed him out. He didn't want to have to deal with that kind of thing. ...

How did you find out [about Manning's arrest]?

My friend's mom told me. We were at a wedding, a good friend of mine's wedding. I started looking into it and reading about it on the phone. And just crazy.

What did you think?

I couldn't believe it. Didn't seem true.

How upset were you?

I guess part of me probably believed that this would turn out to not be anything. And well, I guess I was wrong.

And then I had the Army investigators come to my house, and they asked me some questions -- just like, if I got any packages or anything like that. And I said no. And I didn't. ...

How would you describe him, for somebody who's never met Brad? Brad is --

Smart. Sometimes funny. Always straightforward. Doesn't beat around the bush. Patriotic. Always supportive of the military. Not very tactful, as part of being very straightforward. Opinionated. Hardheaded. But genuine. Generally a good guy.

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Posted March 29, 2011

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