Tue 26 October 2021

The Citizens and Byline Times explore the overlap between the mind, body and spirit community and those pushing anti-vaxx, far-right conspiracy

The entrepreneur Rachel Elnaugh, who found fame on BBC’s Dragon’s Den and set up the companies Red Letter Days and Source TV, has used her platform to spread anti-vaxx conspiracy and to threaten Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty. 

Elnaugh tweeted on 14 September 2021 that “Whitty will hang for this” in response to a news story about giving children aged 12 to 15 the Coronavirus vaccine. After the tweet was removed by Twitter, she took to YouTube and Telegram, saying that “Chris Whitty must be at the point where he knows he’s going to hang, so in for a penny, in for a pound, right?” 

Her tweets and biography suggest that Elnaugh’s anti-vaxx aggression forms part of the strange marriage between wellness, alternative medicine, and the far-right movement.

On her website, Elnaugh refers to going deeper into her “journey of personal healing and transformation” via “natural leadership”, practicing feng shui, taking part in “several spiritual pilgrimages to Peru” to work with Shamans and “experiencing the heartbeat of Gaia herself”.

While there is nothing wrong with having a personal spiritual practice, when it comes to the anti-vaxx movement and the ‘Great Reset’ – a baseless conspiracy theory of which Elnaugh is an “outspoken commentator” – there is increasingly an aggressive and dangerous relationship between wellness culture, New Age spirituality, and antagonism towards public health interventions such as vaccines and mask-wearing.

This is not, of course, to say that all wellness advocates are far-right. There is nothing wrong with paying attention to the cycles and the seasons, to the ebb and flow of life, appreciating our interconnectedness, and having a desire to live more harmoniously with the natural world. Indeed, many see our failure to do so as an existential threat. 

Further, the wellness and alternative spiritual communities are not wrong to call out the vested interests of the food, pharmaceutical and oil industries – drug companies have abused people’s health and politicians do lie. But it is not difficult to see how shared concerns can start to overlap and bring anti-vaxx beliefs and far-right conspiracy into the mind, body and spirit community.

Selfies Meets Conspiracism

The comedian Jimmy Kimmel uses his monologues to talking politics and current affairs with a wry slant. Earlier this month, in September, he raised the issue wellness influencers posting anti-vaxx content.

Discussing the challenges faced by President Joe Biden to persuade people to take the vaccine, Kimmel noted that “it’s not just the right wingnuts who are smarter than science. Lots of the Lululemon crowd is opting out too.” The “lululemon” refers to a brand of fitness clothing.

“These ‘wellness’ influencers, some with big followings, are spreading dangerous misinformation,” he continued, before singling out “certified juice therapist” Evie Kevish. She, Kimmel explained, “once wore a shirt that says ‘VACCINES ARE POISON.’”

Kevish is not alone. In a Washington Post article exploring the overlap between wellness, New Age movements, and anti-vaxxers, Kevish is mentioned alongside Tania Khazaal, a herbalist is accused of “posting vaccine-sceptical content”. Khazaal told the Washington Post she wasn’t against vaccines, but was worried skeptical voices were being silenced. “I’m not anti anything. I’m pro-choice and pro-freedom,” she explained. 

Dr Christiane Northrup, described by Harper‘s magazine as “something of a den mother to the New Age and anti-vaxx communities”, shared energetic affirmations before being banned from Instagram after claiming that Coronavirus vaccines would lower mankind’s “vibrations”. She also used far-right conspiracist hashtags around the “Great Awakening”.

Echoing Northrup’s rhetoric, Yoga Instagrammer StephyNow (Stephanie Birch) shared posts about how “more and more are waking up” to the “spiritual warfare against mastery manipulating puppets”. When challenged in the comments, Birch responded: “If me posting questions and sharing truths makes me a tinfoil hat-wearing and God-fearing lunatic – that’s fine… I’ve not been one to follow the crowd.” 

Birch is not alone in the yoga world. Cecile Guerin, who monitors disinformation online and is a part-time yoga teacher, wrote for Wired magazine about how she never expected to find “anti-vaxxers and QAnon believers in my yoga class.” She mentioned Birch, as well as quoting an interview with Bizzie Gold where the founder of Buti Yoga said we “should stop being poisoned through vaccines.”

The anti-vaxx Instagrammer and pusher of detox water, Krystal Tini, also explores the notion that the vaccine and the Coronavirus is about controlling people through fear. She urges her followers to reject public health interventions and “live fearlessly”. 

Thankfully, some yoga influencers are actively standing against what is called “conspirituality”. Seane Corne, a California-based yoga practitioner, has used her platform to tackle disinformation.

Rachel Elnaugh’s content appears to follow the patterns of the darker side of the wellness community meeting anti-vaxx conspiracism. Her YouTube videos promote “radical self-care” and drinking detoxing smoothies, along with statements about the “totalitarian state”. A video titled ‘Rising in the Spirit of One’ reflected on the moon cycle and the need to shift into a “different modality that is more nourishing, supportive and kind” – only four months later Elnaugh called for Prof Whitty to be hanged. 

Alongside the focus on wellness and spirituality, she shares Telegram posts from far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as ‘Tommy Robinson’); the QAnon ‘Nuremberg’ meme about executing healthcare workers; with her interviews appearing besides those of individuals such as Dr Simone Gold, founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, who is currently awaiting trial for her role in the Capitol Riots on 6 January.

Our Sacred Bodies

Rachel Elnaugh’s attacks on Chris Whitty and the vaccine programme shows the troubling links between wellness ideology, far-right conspiracism and fascist thought architecture. The shared focus on corruption, purity and nature can crossover to push dangerous and sometimes violent ideologies. 

Central to both movements is a belief in ‘purity versus corruption’. This is exemplified by the hashtag #PureBlood, which is used by people who are proud of their unvaccinated status. 

In the far-right, that purity is manifested by race and sex. In wellness, it is partly about protecting the body from corrupting influences such as chemicals, artificial additives or refined sugars, and medical intervention.

This can be seen in a post from Heyoka’s Hideout, an astrologer who recently posted that she is “so in love with every single soul that is using their voices and hearts to stand up for freedom over what’s injected into our sacred bodies”. 

The focus on purity links to ideas about individualism and the belief that not allowing impure forces into the body is a protection from illness. 

However, it also describes a mindset that is common to many esoteric traditions, including the law of attraction philosophy prevalent across these communities, which posits that individuals attract what they focus on and therefore have the power to create their own reality, both individually and collectively. The idea is to ignore or transform the current reality playing out before our eyes and use the tools of creative visualisation and the generation of a comfortable, positive emotional state to imagine and achieve a better outcome. 

The philosophy has been adopted by right-wing populists, such as Donald Trump who was reportedly influenced by minister Dr Norman Vincent Peale, author of the book The Power of Positive Thinking. According to Trump family biographer, Gwenda Blair, Peale was known as “God’s salesman” and would merge “worldliness and Godliness to produce an easy-to-follow theology that preached self-confidence as a life philosophy”.

The flipside of being a powerful creator of your own reality, of course, is that those who do catch the Coronavirus are somehow responsible for their own illness. 

Secondly, the far-right has an obsession with nature and the ‘natural order’ which, in fascist ideology, positions men as superior to women, white people superior to black people, and believes that LGBTIQ should not exist. The natural order can be restored by undoing history and returning to a ‘fascist mythic past’.

Wellness shares a singular focus on nature – a preference for what is ‘natural’ over the ‘unnatural’ or artificial, and the linking of the natural to an idealised past. 

Rachel Elnaugh speaks in her video about how people “don’t have to go with the plan they are trying to bulldoze through for us… I know so many people are going back to nature… going back to the land, going back to basics… tuning back into nature”. 

According to holistic wellness practitioner Katya Weiss-Andersson: “The 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.” 

Within the mind, body spirit community there is a mistrust of the pharmaceutical industry and modern agricultural practices. Frustration develops when legitimate fears are ignored, primarily for reasons of profit. There is also a frustration when holistic approaches to wellness – often associated with traditional female practices – are dismissed as pseudoscience. 

These frustrations, combined with fears of government overreach, can develop into a saviour mentality and a sense of being an outsider compelled to join with other ‘outcasts’ and ‘pariahs’ on the fringes and pull it all down, rather than constructively working with others to shape a fairer society.

Author and meditation teacher Philip Goldberg has written how “perhaps a near enemy of open-minded exploration is gullibility”.

“Perhaps a scepticism about mainstream institutions and conventional thinking has a near enemy in cynical distrust,” he says. “Perhaps reaching for cosmic coherence finds a near enemy in magical thinking and susceptibility to erroneous – and possibly dangerous – assertions packaged as revelation. No one is immune to social media manipulation. We all need to be cautious and discerning, for our own protection and that of our fellow citizens.”

The headline of this article was updated at 16.41 on 23 September 2021 to reflect that Elnaugh found fame on Dragon’s Den


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