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The Conspirituality Report

Algorithmic Charisma

The Online Theatre of Soft-Q Influencers

We’re living in the attention economy, where a lot of eyeballs translates to dollars, and a career. And the problem with QAnon is that it allows you to tap into an instant, massive audience that will worship at your feet if you’re an attractive woman.

So says journalist Travis View, reporting on Q-pilled wellness influencer Krystal Tini, who exploded her social media engagement in March of 2020 when she started sharing QAnon-related horrors and hashtags.

In May, yoga influencer Bizzie Gold posted a video to a private subscription group in which she spoke about “the transhumanist agenda,” and “the satanic agenda,” and referred to “adrenochrome”, the fictional rejuvenation substance said to be siphoned from abused children by New World Order flunkies. (By email, Gold said that she did not endorse QAnon.)

In September, I reported on “holistic psychiatrist” Kelly Brogan’s right-hand turn into COVID-denialism. In a video sermon, she terror-teased her followers with soft-Q references to “vaccine microchipping” and lockdown measures being like the “dehumanization agendas that preceded the Holocaust.” Brogan’s husband, Sayer Ji, was more explicit, inviting his 500K member strong social media following to “take the red pill” and sharing hashtags like #pizzagateisreal. When given the chance to disavow QAnon in a email requesting comment, Ji demurred.

The algorithms these influencers game are the machine-version upgrades of their organic talent for extending evidence-free charisma in frictionless space.

In the online conspirituality space, Tini, Gold, Brogan, and Ji all flex at different power levels. Tini fits the wellness precariat archetype: a yoga teacher who sells magical water and supplements through MLMs, as well as yoga mats emblazoned with slogans like “I am the Creator of My Universe”. Her IG numbers are currently at 37K. Gold has flirted with A-level celebrity, riding her success with her “Buti Yoga” brand to appearances on the Dr. Oz show as “The Millennial Voice of Personal Empowerment”. Sayer Ji is a human firehouse of pseudoscience content for his enormous digital footprint through GreenMedInfo and affiliate networks. Brogan’s history of blatant medical disinformation — HIV doesn’t cause AIDS; polio and smallpox weren’t eradicated by vaccine — now buys her entry onto an endless round of COVID-denialist “expert” panels. Among our small sample here, she alone could survive outside of the social media Skinner box. She still has her MD license in Florida. Like a backup account, in case she gets cancelled on social.

What each of them share, however — as View says of Tini — is attractiveness. This confers automatic media magnetism in an unregulated networking apparatus that seems purpose built for conspiracism. It doesn’t matter that they never substantiate what they say — social media rewards them all for their cocktail of conspiratorial provocations: emotional manipulation, the promise of exclusive knowledge, and the performance of heroic resistance to the powers of oppression.

The algorithms these influencers game are the machine-version upgrades of their organic talent for extending evidence-free charisma in frictionless space.

In 1922, Max Weber, the pioneer of sociology, defined charisma as that “certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” Weber was focused on the religious and political leaders emerging in 19th century nation states. It’s unlikely he could have foreseen this innate attribute upleveled into the cyborg form of the alt-health influencer, who posts about freedom from the technostate from a phone nearly hardwired into them, like a prosthetic.

This is the last of four field-guide type posts on the basic history, structure, and function of conspirituality. (Future posts will dig into more on-the-ground reporting.) “The Spirituality Hijack” covered how yoga and New Age subcultures have always been ideologically vulnerable to the conspiracy theories that tore them apart in 2020. “Nazis Loved Yoga” looked at how QAnon and conspirituality would have naturally been appealing to New Age practitioners, who, whether they know it or not, are already living in the afterglow of a fascist fever dream.

Influencers compete in an ever-escalating, yet ephemeral, arms race for attention, paid to their bodies, their journeys, their dreams.

In “Selfish Care Rituals”, I described a key aspect of the political economy of performance and gig-work in which unregulated wellness professions, including yoga teaching, have become multi-billion dollar industries over the past decades. I argued that these are anxious industries without material products. They exist to sell something that isn’t there: the aspirational self. That aspirational self is dependent upon the influencer’s story of personal development, performed by their body. In the absence of any regulation or metrics for competency, a yoga teacher can only sell the image of their ideal selves, embodying the wellness they hope to offer.

This leads us to the technology of conspirituality, in which influencers compete in an ever-escalating, yet ephemeral, arms race for attention, paid to their bodies, their journeys, their dreams.

Caveat: I am a Gen X cult researcher who grew up writing on a Smith-Corona typewriter/word processor. I suspect I’ll always struggle to grasp the fullness of this theme. Instead of over-reaching or trying to tie everything up neatly here, I’ll offer some connected observations, tweet-style. This is an unfinished list, because it’s staring into the online horizon:

  1. In unregulated wellness markets, charisma trumps competency. Put wellness influencers online, and they will gravitate, as all marketers and consumers do, not towards what is true, but towards what is fascinating. The charismatic attracts magpies, and weaves shiny things for them.
  2. The nature of charisma is boundless. It wants to go viral. It gathers mass through social feedback loops. In pre-digital wellness industries, this momentum was built through network marketing and sales pyramids. Putting this all online is steroidal.
  3. Like a trained actor entering an unfamiliar stage for rehearsal, charisma will assess the size of the space and automatically inflate to fill it. The charismatic speaks to the gods. The closer you get the more maudlin they appear. You can see the stage makeup, cracking.
  4. If charisma is the delivery device of conspiritualist claims, the claims must also expand — into epistemic space. Claims will escalate in grandiosity and urgency. To feel real, the charismatic must exaggerate content to fill their inflated persona. There is no online limit.
  5. If the charismatic content is based on secret knowledge (some of which may be true), the door is open for conspiracism. Sayer Ji knows all about the best turmeric. Kelly Brogan knows the dirty history of psychiatry. Zach Bush knows the secret truth about the “microbiome”. Christiane Northrup knows the hidden truth about vaccines. Ergo, they also know all about COVID, and the “transhumanist agenda”.
  6. The charismatic influencer knows no scope of practice. They are successful to the extent that they pose as experts in everything. Dr. Zach Bush poses as a priest. Tony Robbins has something to say about every aspect of your life: business, self-esteem, health. Of course he can sermonize about masks and vaccines.
  7. “Posing” is the key word here. In the absence of regulated products, or of being able to support their claims, wellness influencers must pantomime the wellness they sell. Given the limitless space, their actions have to be large. Their bodies and personae become their core product. Kelly Brogan’s blog poses as a research site, but is really a diary of personal lifestyle choices.
  8. The posing is anxious and exaggerated by nature because it must distract from the emptiness or banality of the product. This is the substrate beneath the panicky tone of 2020 wellness influencer posting.
  9. The performance of wellness can scale from daily minutiae of perfect smoothies up to heroic feats of individual struggle and triumph. Its drive is to diagnose and treat an escalating series of conditions, from “sluggish metabolism” to “adrenal exhaustion” to childhood trauma, to systemic child abuse, to the organized violence of the technostate.
  10. In a crowded attentional landscape, influencers have no choice but to dig for more impactful, culturally relevant, and more provocative content.
  11. In the feed of the messianic wellness influencer, the hot-take is about more than politics. It penetrates beneath the culture war veneer, into the tissues of the body. The hot-take isn’t a comment, but an essential medicine, in mantra form. For the QAnon digital warrior, each post is like firing a gun. For the conspiritualist, each post is like a repeated prayer.
  12. In 2020, conspirituality and QAnon content offered wellness influencers a devil’s bargain of viral engagement and transgressive messianism in their wheelhouse of bodily fetishes. Suddenly, their products were all crucially important. They could test their magic against a public health crisis. They could sell gong bathing as an antidote for 5G contamination.They could hint at QAnon through #savethechildren, which is plausibly feminist and wholesome.
  13. But 2020 was not just an opportunity for the charismatic wellness influencer. It was also a Waterloo. If they didn’t expand their personae and products to fill the space of a public health crisis, how would they be seen? How could they remain relevant? At what other point would their basic claims about consensus reality in science be so openly tested?
  14. Given that conspiritualist provocations are gold for the algorithm, they will be difficult to forgo in a competitive attention economy. The influencers we’ve studied on the podcast so far may even want to step back from these addictive attentional factors. But to do this they’d have to settle for returning to the banal pretence of changing the world through handstands and smoothies.

Backlash is building against the anti-science propaganda of these influencers, and social media platforms are slowly responding. Last week, the Center for Countering Digital Hate issued the “Disinformation Dozen” report, which showed that 65% of anti-vax posts are originating from just 12 accounts. Sayer Ji, Kelly Brogan, and Christiane Northrup rate in positions 8, 9, and 10. The report was picked up by major media outlets globally, and Imran Ahmed of the CCDH was invited to brief House Democrats in advance of hearings at which they grilled Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey about their disinformation policies. At the time of writing, Brogan’s Facebook account has been banned, as has Sayer Ji’s personal YouTube channel.

In general, the influencer’s response has been to decry “cancel culture” and “censorship”. In a flurry of panicked email newsletters from his pseudoscience clearing house GreenMedInfo, Sayer Ji has been frantically urging followers to follow him into the gopher holes of Telegram. And to donate money.

The limitless online space into which charismatic influence inflates now has some new contours to it. Ji and his colleagues are now free for the moment to expand into Telegram, Periscope, and Bitchute, the backup streaming platform for extremists deplatformed from YouTube.

As the CCDH pointed out in a 2020 report, “The anti-vaxx movement’s following of over 58 million people could be worth up to $1 billion in annual revenue for social media giants.” It’s only under increased regulatory and financial scrutiny that the major platforms are responding. It’s not as if the charismatic expansion of conspiritualists has met some kind of moral limit. Rather, they have run up against the edges of a larger capitalistic power.

What will they do now? Christiane Northrup has already ridden the charismatic wave in New Age networking. She’s already a pro at the MLM game, belonging to “The Million Dollar Club” of the Usana supplements company, with at least 1M in sales as of 2011 (see pages 10–11). Now she’s into online conspiracy-mongering.

This past week, when Northrup responded to being named in the CCDH report as a disinformation super-spreader, one commenter brought up her social media promotion of QAnon themes over 2020. This is not in dispute: Northrup has produced nearly a year’s worth of conspirituality sermons under the QAnon-related series title “The Great Awakening”, and has been a featured guest on the QAnonFAQ podcast, where she spoke about the “vaccine agenda”.

Her response?

And so it goes with charismatic influence. It creates viral interest out of nothing but its own needs and fantasies. Then, just as easily, waves it away. But it’s hard to see how that core impulse to expand, inflate, and be seen, is going away anytime soon.

Investigative journo: conspirituality & cults. Co-host at http://conspirituality.net. Bylines: GEN, The Walrus. More @ http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/

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