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Welcome to a new weekly series about a strange online movement with tangled roots.
In 2020, menacing propaganda began streaming into the yoga and wellness worlds. Charismatic influencers read the room, and poured their talents for emotional exploitation into increasingly morbid themes:
- A pandemic exploited or even created by shady governments.
- Racial conflicts provoked by media elites.
- A PCR test designed to strip your freedom, and a vaccine designed to erase your soul.
Suddenly, all the yoga classes, meditation seminars, sound-healing workshops and magical supplements took on apocalyptic necessity. Desperate times called for divine remedies. Engagement surged.
Not only did this wave of alluring panic face little resistance — something held the door open. “Conspirituality” — an online horseshoeing of right-wing persecution complexes and leftish spiritual hope — had been a feature of this culture for decades. It groomed the vulnerable for QAnon. It also gave QAnon a socially acceptable face.
The Conspirituality Report is an evolving distillation of the past year of my reporting and podcast work on the spirituality, history, politics, economy, and technology of this movement. In the background lies my investigative journalism on yoga and Buddhist cults.
I open the series below with “YogAnon: A 2020 Timeline”. Next week I’ll publish the first of several starter posts that slice and dice core themes.
From there, I’ll explore how yoga influencers and New Age cults were primed to become leading vectors for COVID-era conspiracism. I’ll examine figures like Plandemic creator — and Capitol stormer — Mikki Willis, and how he deploys emotional manipulation tactics that are common in religious cults. I’ll cover body-fascist birth activists, alt-health sadists, doctors who think they are priests, and bro-scientists who bravely monetize their smug, maskless smiles.
I’ll ask: who can right the sinking ship of conspirituality? Who can help QAnons recover? TikTok activists? Citizen scientists? Cult recovery specialists? Marianne Williamson?
I’ll consider your questions as well. My contact page is always open for tips and topics.
YogAnon: a 2020 Timeline
On September 15th, 2020, an American A-list yoga celebrity spoke to the American newspaper of record to break the unlikely story that QAnon was ripping the yoga world to shreds. Seane Corn told Kevin Roose of the New York Times that pastel-hued influencer accounts were mingling COVID-denialism with stories of pervasive child abduction and abuse. She said that the QAnon battle-cry “Where We Go One We Go All” sounded like “classic yoga-speak”, and that her wayward colleagues were using yoga music and visuals to both conceal and beautify QAnon’s demented fever dream. As Yoga Journal, Rolling Stone, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation covered the story, Corn weathered abusive backlash online — not only from QAnon devotees, but from many now-former followers who insisted that their yoga values harmonized with conspiracism.
Corn’s statement had been brewing for months. The yoga world’s fascination with QAnon and its derivatives had grown throughout 2020, and gathered momentum as COVID shuttered studios around the world, forcing teachers and students to capture and consume each other’s attention through glowing screens.
- Back in April, a yoga mat entrepreneur named Krystal Tini watched her Instagram follower count spiral out of control as she laced her COVID-trutherism with QAnon dogwhistles.
- In May, “Buti Yoga” founder Bizzie Gold sermonized about a “satanic agenda” to a private subscriber group. By email, she carefully clarified that “she is in no way associated with QAnon.” She wrote that her lecture content focused on “the intersection of transhumanism and AI with the satanic agenda. That is unrelated to anything Q.”
- May also saw the release of “Plandemic”, a disinfo-mentary by New Age filmmaker Mikki Willis. It found its first substantial audience in a QAnon Facebook group, but then broke into mainstream groups via Dr. Christiane Northrup, a prominent alt-health OB-GYN, who from April has dispensed daily 12-minute soft-Q sermons under the title “The Great Awakening”. Northrup’s post of Willis’s anti-public-health psy-op was shared over a thousand times.
- In June, globe-trotting yoga retreat leader — and MLM rep — Grace Van Berkum posted a rant about “The Great Reset” and a “luciferian” New World Order.
- Alan Hostetter, a former cop, infantryman, and SWAT officer, now a yoga teacher and singing-bowls artist, played a central role in San Clemente’s springtime anti-lockdown protests. In October, he brought his passions to a QAnon convention in Scottsdale, and then it was on to Washington in January, to storm the Capitol. (Dozens of similar examples are featured on the “Redpilled” page of Conspirituality Podcast.)
Over a summer that saw mostly-white crowds of unmasked protestors gathering in cities like Los Angeles, London, and Berlin to divert attention from BLM protests, and to “Save the Children” from the Wayfair hoax, another tragic knot tightened. I’d spent the prior three years reporting on the #metoo movement in the yoga world, and began to notice that some factions of it were aligning with the growing moral panic. As Seane Corn — who has disclosed that she herself is an abuse survivor, and whose non-profit has raised money and awareness to combat abuse and trafficking — finished her anti-Q rounds on major media platforms, she faced accusations of minimizing the reality of Satanic Ritual Abuse.
The theme is central to the QAnon horror movie, but as with the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s, which QAnon has prodded back to life, there is no forensic, law enforcement, or legal evidence that any organized trafficking or abuse of children has ever been motivated by satanism. Tragically, the false claim carries the echo of the centuries-old “Blood Libel” fantasy, dear to anti-semites and fascists. This is the absurd belief that Jews, motivated by demonic forces, ritually kidnap, abuse and murder Christian babies.
As a researcher in the yoga world, it was painful to watch QAnon turn sexual abuse —not its reality in the world, but its causes and solutions—into a wedge issue that divided erstwhile allies. On one side, there were those who seemed to feel the fever dream spoke to their own unheard histories. QAnon resonated with their cause. It amplified mourning for a lost innocence. And perhaps its energy could help smash through the accountability impasse left in the wake of the #MeToo movement. On the other hand were those who feared that QAnon was hijacking a collective trauma, and would degrade the credibility of legitimate justice efforts.
As a researcher in the yoga world, it was painful to watch QAnon turn sexual abuse — not its reality in the world, but its causes and solutions — into a wedge issue.
This infighting was a microcosm of the broader conflict between valid criticism and paranoid fantasy that has given QAnon mainstream longevity. Like any conspiracy theory, QAnon must co-opt something real. In the yoga and wellness worlds, reasonable skepticism towards conventional medicine can be co-opted into a fantasy of demonic medical oppression. Dignified criticism of traditional religions that have failed to address cycles of abuse can be co-opted into social media screeds that read like the script for Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
When “holistic psychiatrist” and yoga instructor Kelly Brogan declared that COVID was a manufactured panic and that germ theory was false, she had credibility amongst her followers, because her prior criticisms of conventional psychiatry were on point. She’d built an elite Madison Avenue practice — and her influencer profile on platforms like Goop — on her impassioned rejection of diagnostic overreach and aggressive prescription, and the history of psychiatry’s complicity with real conspiracies such as MKUltra. Brogan’s COVID denialism was a simple expansion on a tested theme. According to her, psychiatry pathologized healthy people — especially strong women whose symptoms were merely reflections of a sick society. They should be allowed to listen to their bodies, and we should listen to them, rather than silence them. Psychiatry convinced people they were victims of their biology, Brogan argued, and could violate their civil rights with forced injections. Naturally, Brogan argued, this is what public health experts and epidemiologists were up to as well. COVID lockdown measures, by her logic, are akin to involuntary psychiatric committals.
Like any conspiracy theory, QAnon must co-opt something real.
Throughout the fall, the escalating sermons, callout fire-fights, and comment thread pile-ons rode atop a swell of longer-established themes. YogAnons contrasted public health advice with sacred intuition. They posted about breathing as the root of immunity. And in January, Leah Zaccaria, owner of Haute Yoga in Seattle, declared she was re-opening her COVID-shuttered studio under a religious exemption. “We have chosen to be a light in the darkness,” she wrote in a December email to her clients.
The 2020 explosion of conspiracism in the yoga world was really a crest on a larger wave that has rolled between continents and historical periods for over a century. Political, racial, environmental, and even cosmic conspiracy theories have been a constant drone in global yoga, wellness, and New Age spirituality. In the 1930s, they brought European fascism and Hindu nationalism into unlikely harmony. Today, conspiracism forges alliances between anti-vaxxers and crystal healers, between MAGA moms and spirit channelers who sync up their prayers for Trump, their “lightworker”.
In 2011, academics coined the term “conspirituality” to describe this general landscape, and how it was beginning to evolve and accelerate online. Nine years later, as COVID began to surge around the world, philosopher Jules Evans dusted off the portmanteau for a viral Medium piece this past April. Our podcast stuttered to life in May a few days before my co-host Julian Walker’s “Red Pill Overlap” post dropped. Walker probed the psychological tics and cognitive fallacies that both fuel the yoga and wellness industries, and make their devotees vulnerable to conspiracism. Following up, Evans pulled on the historical threads that tangle Nazis and hippies up together. Then, through the fall and into the winter, conspirituality has been a key focus of pieces in Vice, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, and Teen Vogue, examining the spread of QAnon in mother’s groups, anti-vax Instagram feeds, and influencer culture more generally.
All in all, over the past ten months, a growing research community has come to understand conspirituality as a perfect storm of newish religious ideas, old fascist echoes, and postmodern consumerism — all jet fuelled by charismatic influencers shredding on algorithms.
Is conspirituality synonymous with QAnon? Not quite. It’s more like the online Minecraft world out of which QAnon emerges like a pixellated medieval castle. Conspirituality is raw, QAnon is cooked. QAnon is peak conspirituality.
At the same time, conspirituality can brandwash for QAnon. It can do QAnon’s emotional labour. Conspirituality can domesticate and sanctify QAnon, as we can see in this Facebook report from the sidelines of the January 6th Capitol attack. Militant QAnons brought flex-cuffs, but their conspiritualist supporters brought rosaries.
The only explicit QAnon phrase used here is “Trust the plan”. Otherwise, she keeps it high-vibe.
Militant QAnons brought flex-cuffs, but their conspiritualist supporters brought rosaries.
It’s not clear whether Ms. Kumara breached the Capitol that afternoon. While it’s plausible that the conspiritualist is averse to overt violence, she can do the next best thing. She can lend emotional support, grant spiritual indulgence, play field chaplain on the sacred battlefield, and post about it to her followers. She can go home and interpret the stochastic terrorism she emotionally enabled as a transformative event. The FBI won’t knock on her door, because being a “Witness to this Momentous Day in Our Collective Experience” doesn’t track with any criminal code.
So: welcome to the series. Next week’s post, Hello, YogAnon! Part 1: The Spirituality Hijack, will focus on a key theme: how core beliefs of new global spiritualities — which float free of cultural context and pastoral care — mirror and support core axioms of conspiratorial thinking and behaviour.
Here are the (provisional) titles of the columns I’ve mapped out so far. But this space will also be responsive to breaking news.
- Welcome to The Conspirituality Report
- Hello, YogAnon! Pt. 1: The Spirituality Hijack
- Hello, YogAnon! Pt. 2: Nazis Loved Yoga
- Hello, YogAnon! Pt. 3: Selfish Care Rituals
- Hello, YogAnon! Pt. 4: Algorithmic Enlightenment
- How Cults Are Set Up to Capitalize on COVID
- Influencer Culture is Conspiratorial
- Plandemic Director Mikki Willis, Cult Tactics, and Enabling Violence
- 10 Rules of New-Age Sadism in the Time of COVID
- The Fascist Sexuality of QAmoms and Bro-Scientists
- Doctors Who Want to be Priests in the Time of COVID
- Why Anti-Maskers Think Their Breath is Holy
- Can Marianne Williamson Save Anyone from QAnon?
- How #savethechildren Uses The Children
- BlueAnon: When Progressives Mirror Alt-right Conspiracism
- What Does the Recovering QAnon Need?
See you next Tuesday.