At the rallies, the placards tell a story of victimization and political oppression:
I will not wear others’ fear. Oxygen is essential. Keep your laws off my face.
Some conspiritualists describe real or imagined terror when masked. QAnon-boosting holistic coach Bernhard Guenther offers this snowflake-y account about having to wear a mask while taking his puppy to the vet:
I feel tremendous compassion for any workers in the public who “have to” wear a mask. Wearing a mask for longer periods is completely restricting O2 flow to the brain and the entire body. Even after only 5 minutes, I felt a bit dizzy and nauseous. I also felt my fight & flight nervous system getting activated, sensing a slight panic response in my entire body, my muscles tightening up and I even started hyperventilating from my upper chest since I wasn’t able to take deep breaths due to lack of clean air and not an efficient amount of O2. It also started to get me out of body.
Guenther also fantasizes that masks are doing the opposite of what’s intended: “Let’s not even get into the bacteria and microbes people keep breathing in that are accumulated on the mask they’re wearing,” he writes, adding to the genre of masks equal “face diapers.” This inversion is similar to the flip now made by anti-vax activists who claim that the COVID vaccines are poisoning them, even though they are not taking them.
Children are routinely used as pawns in the anti-masking argument. The signs go from the sentimental: Let the children smile, to the excessive: Masks are child abuse.
When the #savethechildren rallies boiled over in the summer of 2020, bringing QAnon fever dreams into the mainstream, protestors asserted that masks were part of a conspiracy to facilitate child trafficking. No-one would recognize or care about a masked child, they said, and no-one would be able to track a masked predator.
Ominously, some influencers infantilized their peers with an adjacent argument: that grown adults donned masks to “fawn to their abusers.”
The summer and fall of 2020 also saw several conspirituality influencers take a more political tack, using the term “submission signalling” to denigrate mask-wearing. The term dates back to a May 13th 2020 tweet from libertarian Ron Paul advertising a podcast appearance where he disputed the science of mask wearing. “They want you to obey,” he said of the public health measures. “They want to intimidate you.” In comments reminiscent of 4chan, Rand’s co-host went on to suggest that mask wearers are paranoid simps of the state.
For those who grasp the necessity of public health recommendations during a pandemic, anti-mask sentiment seems nearly impossible to understand.
Is it blind privilege? Do some people really have so little to be outraged about that they must invent something? Is masking a litmus test for religious belief? The easiest way to express individualistic defiance? But why take a chance on being wrong about the science of transmission?
What are the feelings behind this chaos? One feeling is under-recognized, but in my opinion, central to the passion with which some of these protesters pursue utter irrationality:
Why shame? Because the entire alt-health and wellness industry is built on two religious commitments they cannot break, but that COVID forces them to doubt:
- An enlightened and virtuous person is completely self-aware. They know themselves. They know when something inside them is not right. They can detect “imbalances” down to the level of the “energetic”. The principle of asymptomatic COVID infection is an insult to the perfect intuition and self-knowledge upon which all of their health practices are based. It is intolerable for them to be told that they might be sick or contagious without knowing it.
- The breath of an enlightened and virtuous person is life-giving, pure, healing. It is continuous with the winds of nature and the breath of God. It is something they have worked on with care and devotion, imagining light flowing into and out of them with every inhale and exhale. They can even use their breath in meditation to cleanse the sins and sickness of others. To say that their breath might be a danger to others is to suggest that their internal essence is not holy. It’s an attack on a vision of the soul.
If it is possible for well-meaning, disciplined people to contract and spread a deadly disease without knowing it — or worse, while offering prayers for the world through meditation and song — the promises, products, and existential gravity of New Age spirituality and wellness are bankrupt.
Sayer Ji discloses a version of this New Age / wellness shame — albeit aggressively— in a Telegram post.
Ji, proprietor of the pseudoscience alt-health clearinghouse GreenMedInfo, is a member of the “Disinformation Dozen”, a group of alt-health influencers identified by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate as being responsible for almost two-thirds of the anti-vax propaganda that circulates online. His wife, COVID-denying holistic psychiatrist Kelly Brogan, is also on the CCDH’s list. His Facebook and Instagram accounts have recently been deleted for violating Terms of Service.
Ji’s reference to“Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another” illuminates a core New Age fear: that an outside authority — except for the New Age healer himself — might transgress the person’s intuition and self-knowledge to diagnose them as ill or contagious. In a projective flip, Ji suggests that the public health expert who seeks to mitigate infection is creating a fictitious sick person out of someone who is fine and whole.
Ji’s entire business model depends on this argument. His DIY alt-health “research” site is based on the notion that anyone can use their intuition and consumer power to enhance their self-healing skills. They can eat blueberries to kill cancer cells.
Conspirituality wellness devotees have limitless miracles at their disposal. India’s celebrity yoga guru, the homophobic nationalist Baba Ramdev, says that breathing deeply can both treat COVID, and keep it away. In the US, televangelist Kenneth Copeland used an incantation to summon a COVID-destroying wind. The Japanese “Happy Science” group sells “spiritual vaccines”.
Snake oil? Yes. But what’s hidden in these promises is the assertion of magically empowering law: that a sacred action undertaken with devotion, by a pure soul following their intuition, will overcome anything.
To the New Age wellness devotee, there is nothing more sacred or natural than the breath. Lauded in ancient yoga and Daoist texts, the breath is their inspiration (Latin for “breathing in”). It’s their seamless connection with the divine. They cannot — must not — entertain the thought that it could kill them, or others.
Masks manufactured by medical techno-capitalism? They are not just inconvenient, or signs of political oppression or globalist social control.
They are blasphemous. They suggest the saintly inner person might be fooling themselves. Or that God has betrayed them.