When the world shut down in March of 2020, Eva Kohn of San Clemente created a group text to stay in touch with nine other women in the area. Niceties about families and lockdown hobbies devolved over the months into false conspiracy theories: that Democratic elites were harvesting adrenochrome from tortured children to use in satanic rites, that the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was perpetrated by antifa, that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility.
Kohn, who studied engineering, pushed back again and again. What’s the evidence? What are your sources? Here’s a scientific study that disproves the theory.
“I have a pretty analytical brain,” Kohn said. “No matter what evidence I would present, they would not hear it. They have gone through a rabbit hole and they won’t come out.”
By the end of the year, seven of the 10 women in the group chat had embraced QAnon. Kohn eventually excused herself, but one of them still texts her anti-vaccine propaganda. She estimates that she knows of more than 30 people who’ve embraced Q-related conspiracies. For some, she said, “the influence of natural wellness is what has driven them to this type of thinking.”
Last spring, extremist researchers began to note with alarm that bigoted, far-right ideology was being laundered through vivid sunset photos and slickly designed “educational” slides on Instagram. That recruiting tactic, aimed largely at women, has since been dubbed “pastel QAnon.”
“Instagram is the platform where yoga and QAnon intersected,” said Cécile Guerin, a yoga teacher and extremism researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London. She said the ideology was a clear fit for a community that has long been taught to search for and decode hidden meanings and patterns.
Federal officials have classified the conspiracy theory as a domestic terrorism threat. An intelligence report released this month suggested that while some adherents will pull back as false prophecies do not come true, others will shift from “serving as ‘digital soldiers’ towards engaging in real world violence.”
The theory’s promised “Great Awakening” echoes the yogic views of ascension and consciousness. The anti-mask and anti-distancing rhetoric focused on bodily autonomy and sovereignty, themes embedded in New Age practices, too: that you are your own guru, that you know your body better than anyone else.
Those who have embraced the conspiracy belief and search for hidden clues often describe themselves as having been “red-pilled,” a reference to the 1999 film “The Matrix.” In a famous scene, Keanu Reeves’ character is offered a choice between a blue pill that will keep him in a clueless but contented dream state, and a red pill that will reveal the world’s harsh realities.
Yoga teacher Laura Schwartz saw that rhetoric rear its head last year, when one of her acquaintances in the yoga community in Alexandria, Virginia, began to rant on Instagram that the COVID-19 vaccine, which was still in development, contained aborted fetuses.
Then came a flood of even wilder conspiracy theories: that Bill Gates was using the vaccine to depopulate the world, that the Rothschilds were controlling the world’s banks, that Donald Trump would expose and arrest a global ring of elite pedophile Democrats.
“Every talking point QAnon had, she checked them off,” said Schwartz, 41, who has a master’s degree in public health and watched in horror as the posts piled up.
Schwartz eventually severed ties with the acquaintance and moved to Carlsbad in San Diego County. Over the next year, as she watched more New Age clients, peers and acquaintances venture down the rabbit hole, Schwartz coined her own term for the phenomenon: “Woo-Anon.”
“People aren’t taking QAnon as seriously as they should, given how pervasive it is in these worlds — evangelical Christians, yogis — that otherwise have very little in common,” Schwartz said. “They’re creating a world where truth is whatever you feel like it is.”
The extent to which influencers are consciously embracing QAnon belief systems, or just picking and choosing the types of details that will do well online and attract a wider following, is “still a mystery,” Remski said. “Nobody will give you a straight answer.”
Jen Pearlman, a certified life coach who has dabbled in holistic healing for years, also watched the conspiracy theories growing last year.
First, theories that COVID-19 was caused by 5G wireless technology. Then an explosion of posts sharing the viral anti-vaccine movie “Plandemic,” coupled with criticisms of mask rules. In the summer, the embrace of the “Save the Children” campaign, an anti-sex-trafficking campaign co-opted by QAnon. By November, Pearlman said, people were talking about their Second Amendment rights and Trump’s reelection campaign.
Most alarming, she said, was that many of the posts seemed antisemitic, with allusions to a New World Order and comparing the United States’ public health shutdowns and vaccination policies to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
It felt “terrifying,” Pearlman said — a reminder that “even though as a community we’re really peppy, we love everybody, and it’s all very ‘kumbaya,’ there is a dark underlying worldview.”
Abraham, the energy healer from Trabuco Canyon, is Jewish. She said she struggled to reconcile the creep of extremist ideology into her inner circle, especially among people whom she had “put on a pedestal” when she first entered the New Age world.
She unfollowed her dear friend and her reiki master, removed their photos from her home and took down her own training certificates from her walls.
“I had to let go of really close mentors,” Abraham said. Her heart hurt so intensely, she said, that she designed and began wearing a bracelet made of crystals that are supposed to cure heartache.
Ultimately, she realized that both women had been key parts of her journey into the metaphysical world. The certificates bearing their signatures are up on her wall again — this time, in a less prominent place.
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