From Wellness to Alt-Right Conspiracy TheoryThe Strange Marriage of New Age & Far-Right
Sian Norris investigates the sickness at the heart of a wellness community captured by far-right conspiracy and pro-Trump support
At first glance, Heyokas Hideout’s Instagram story in the week following the attempted insurrection on the US Capitol seems to be your typical wellness ‘New Age’ chat.
An “astrologer first and foremost”, she talks about how Saturn is in Gemini and Mars is close to Uranus, how recent events have been “triggering”, and that we need to put love and compassion into the world.
But Heyokas Hideout, the alt-account of Coyote Star Astrology, represents a dark side of wellness culture – one that is caught up in alt-right conspiracy, pro-Donald Trump support and a flirtation with white supremacist ideas about individualism and sovereignty.
Among the astrology chat, Heyokas Hideout praises QAnon followers – those who believe in the baseless conspiracy theory that posits a cabal of Satan-worshipping liberal elites is trafficking children and taking their blood – as “true patriots”. They include fellow Instagrammer Krystal Tini.
The “actress, holistic wellness, stylist, yogi” who makes yoga mats that combine “affirmations and imagery” has 147,000 followers on Instagram with who she now shares content laced with anti-COVID, anti-mask and anti-vaxx conspiracy theory, references to the 1766 Forever Free movement, and warnings of a left coup against President Trump.
Krystal Tini also repeats white supremacist conspiracy theories about black children attacking white children “simply because they are white”. She claims that ever since “this Black Lives Matter movement grew in power there have been hate crimes against white people” which is all part of the “globalists’… plan to have an all-out race war”.
This is the sickness at the heart of the wellness community, where a movement of people who often share very real and understandable concerns are merging with a far-right conspiracist culture that is harming health and democracy.
“The anti-vaxx movement was one of the main bridges between the ‘woo-sphere’ and the far-right movement,” explains Katya Weiss-Andersson, a holistic wellness practitioner whose podcast, Kumbaya Confessional, explores the overlaps between what she calls the ‘woo-sphere’ and issues around white supremacy, capitalism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.
“In the woo-sphere,” she continues, “anti-vaxxer has gathered so much steam that when it was mirrored back in the far-right movement there became more and more crossover between ideologies and practices from one side to the other. Now they have become closer to one big circle than a Venn diagram.”
These ideologies and practices range from a scepticism about Big Government and Big Pharma, to QAnon conspiracies that the COVID vaccine is an attempt at mind control, or that the “plandemic” is a hoax designed to trigger division.
This latter issue runs through the messages Krystal Tini sends out to her followers. She merges the common tropes of wellness and New Age rhetoric with far-right conspiracism, commanding her followers to “live fearlessly” in the face of a mainstream media and politicians who want to “put fear and anger in your heart”.
Krystal Tini claims that the Coronavirus is a “crime against humanity” and public health measures to protect people from the pandemic are a form of “mind control” to keep populations in a state of fear and at war with one another.
A warped notion of truth is central to her message – she tells her followers to “never allow someone to take your truth away from you”. Such rhetoric gets to the heart of some of the overlap between wellness and alt-right conspiracy: a belief that there is no empirical truth and one’s own intuition is more valid than, say, data, science or medical fact.
“There’s this idea in the wellness community that your truth is a valid truth,” says Seyward Darby, writer of Sisters In Hate which looks at women on the far-right. “On the surface this is not a bad thing. But it gets perverted by people who are trafficking in false equivalences.”
Weiss-Andersson agrees: “There’s a lot of doctrine and ideology in the woo-sphere that intuition is the one and only thing we need to be using in order to determine what’s true and in order to make decisions about our lives. Intuition is a very valuable piece of the puzzle. But it can also encompass our own cultural programming. We need to practise discernment and acknowledge when we make decisions about things that maybe it’s intuition and maybe it’s our own internalised prejudice.”
A faith in one’s own truth and intuition links to a wider issue of individualism within the woo-sphere. Such an attitude has definite resonances with the far-right and white supremacists who, as Weiss-Andersson explains, “foster this value of individualism above all else”. Krystal Tini tells her followers, for example, that “we need to stand on our own as individuals and not as a society. We were brought here to be different and to think on our own.”
Her videos can feel like watching Thatcherism in yoga pants.
This has profound implications for attitudes towards the Coronavirus. Rather than wearing masks, getting the vaccine and engaging in a collective public health endeavour, the focus on the individual excuses the community’s adherents from having to follow the same rules as everyone else.
“There’s this really big obsession with individual agency,” Darby explains. “This idea that you can control your own wellbeing, it’s up to you. This turns people away from thinking of themselves as being part of a community or a collective in any meaningful way.”
“They say you can get enough vitamin D and your Zinc and your colloidal silver and you’ll be fine and if you get COVID you won’t get a bad case,” Weiss-Andersson explains. “But if you aren’t following health protocols you can still go out and spread deadly cases to anyone you encounter. Just because you have a mild case doesn’t mean the old lady at the grocery store is going to have a mild case. And there’s no cognisance of that. There’s no realisation that it’s not all about me.”
Victim Blaming and Eugenics
Once this individualistic stance is embedded, it is not a huge leap to start victim-blaming those who do fall seriously ill from the Coronavirus.
“There’s almost a eugenics quality coded into it,” Darby says. “Because the second obsession here is one of purity. This idea that you can cleanse yourself from negative influences. When you are immersed in these communities you start to see these influences everywhere. That can spiral into thinking about conspiracies and thinking there are forces behind these toxic influences you can’t see.”
Here is where you see another overlap with the far-right, where the idea of not being polluted by those deemed ‘other’ is a hugely important concept.
“It’s not so many mental leaps of thinking ‘I don’t want these toxic influences in my life’,” Darby explains, “to ‘what are the other ways I am being polluted by people who aren’t like me.’”
Both Darby and Weiss-Andersson share a frustration that the conspiracist end of the wellness community is undermining concern with very real issues that require our attention – including healthcare provision, government corruption and food production.
“I’m all for midwifery, doulas, eating organic and supporting small farmers,” Darby says. “What becomes problematic is when people can’t differentiate between what is progressive and what is retrograde.”
White nationalist Ayla Stewart offers a salutary example of how the woo-sphere can lead its adherents towards the far-right.
Stewart was aligned with the Goddess feminist movement before becoming a white nationalist figurehead and was billed to speak at the far-ight Charlottesville rally in 2017 (although she didn’t, in the end, appear).
“Within the Goddess community, there’s just so much overlap between this notion of the divine feminine and the idealisation of mothers by the far-right,” Darby explains. “If you believe your ultimate power is rooted in your femininity, it’s only a few steps to join a group that literally says you are the key to the future, you can have the babies and raise the children, your maternal feminine energy is important to the future of the white race.”
Weiss-Andersson has hope that things could be starting to shift back to a healthier, more inclusive and collective woo-sphere – not least because discussions about these darker aspects are now taking place.
“I am so happy that more people are having these conversations,” she says. “I think from there we need to be able to engage with nuance and complexity. We need to really consistently engage with critical thinking and discernment. Also we need to be able to engage with humility because we get wrapped up in this egocentric space of I am right, my truth is right. We need to acknowledge where we have been wrong and be willing to learn.”