- QAnon, the baseless far-right conspiracy theory, has jumped from anonymous message boards into the mainstream — even finding its way into the world of yoga.
- Yogis’ interest in the conspiracy-theory movement, which is focused on the notion that a “deep state” cabal of child traffickers runs the world, comes amid QAnon’s shift to an anti-human-trafficking “save the children” guise.
- While the yoga-QAnon intersection may be surprising, a confluence of factors, including the rise of medical misinformation amid the pandemic, has made it possible.
- “People are drawn to yoga and spirituality who have felt marginalized and let down by the medical system. For many women, it’s that they’ve felt patronized,” Julian Walker, a yoga instructor who’s researched cultism in wellness, told Insider.
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It was in March when yoga instructor Jennifer Davis-Flynn noticed her Instagram feed starting to change.
She saw fellow yogis expressing doubts about the severity of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, challenging government-mandated lockdowns and mask-wearing regulations, and positing whether natural medicine and meditation could best protect us from the viral threat. Their claims have been proven false by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as both agencies have repeatedly asserted that the best defense against the virus is social distancing and mask-wearing.
Then, in late April, the tone of the posts became increasingly ominous, Davis-Flynn, who is also a freelance journalist, told Insider. Yogis she followed suggested baseless conspiracy theories, including that the virus might be a hoax caused by a shadowy high-tech influence of 5G, or a cover to inoculate every citizen with a vaccine hiding a tracking device.
Suddenly, accounts that previously served up “fitspiration” or glossy messages about light and love were peppered with posts baselessly referencing an insidious underworld of child exploitation, sex crimes, the devil, and a coming war between good and evil.
“All of a sudden Satan would come in and I was, like, ‘What?!’ I’ve never seen a yoga teacher talk about Satan before,” Davis-Flynn said. They had been red-pilled, and had fallen down the QAnon rabbit hole.
QAnon has long been focused on Trump, but some yogis consume the theories without the politics
QAnon is the baseless far-right conspiracy theory that alleges Trump is fighting a deep-state cabal of Satanic pedophiles. It has seen huge surges in popularity in recent years.
It originated on far-right message boards. The anonymous “Q” figure has been leaving cryptic messages (or “Q drops”) for followers since the fall of 2017, pedaling conspiracy theories linked to dozens of alleged crimes in the US.
The FBI said in 2019 that the movement posed a domestic-terrorism threat. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter have announced attempts to shut it out of their platforms.
And yet it has entered mainstream culture, fanned by flattering comments from the president himself. Now it has taken hold of less politically charged communities, such as the yoga, wellness, and lifestyle influencer spaces, where it’s becoming more appealing to women.
While QAnon’s core is made of Trump-loyal followers who are posting baseless theories of voter fraud, yogis who espouse QAnon messages have adopted the movement’s general posture without any mention of the president.
Yogis use veiled language about ‘the awakening’ and human trafficking to spread QAnon
The phrase “Save the Children” has been part of QAnon’s successful pivot into mainstream culture. It started with QAnon believers spreading false claims that Hillary Clinton trafficked and abused children and consumed their blood.
Now, though, it is being used in captions on pastel-colored Instagram posts by yogis, who write about their “awakening” — another QAnon phrase — to the movement against human trafficking. But they do not espouse the conspiracy theory explicitly.
One yogi, Jane Allen Chaisson, posts about “the truth” and “the awakening” on Instagram. She told Insider she did not identify as a member of the QAnon community, despite having recommended “The Fall of the Cabal,” one of QAnon’s top recruitment videos, to her 1,450 followers.
She wrote in a post in July: “Some extremely dark, horrific and unspeakable things have been coming into the light recently. Information regarding our precious children. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, be courageous and get informed.”
Stephanie Birch is a yoga influencer with 56,000 followers. On August 24 she posted a picture of clouds in front of a dark-blue sky.
“We are experiencing a spiritual warfare against mastery manipulating puppets that go back years,” she wrote in the post, “through kill tactics of separation, delusions, safety, and survival.” She added the hashtags “great awakening” and “purpose over popularity.”
The post previously included the now deleted phrase “wwg1wga” — a QAnon slogan which stands for “where we go one, we go all,” according to screenshots obtained by Conspirituality, a podcast that traces the rise of QAnon in the yoga and wellness world.
Buti Yoga founder Bizzie Gold, who has 56,000 Instagram followers, has shared videos about a “Satanic agenda” in the US, mentioning “adrenochrome,” a chemical related to the human stress hormone adrenaline. In QAnon’s fictional lore, adrenochrome is consumed as a recreational drug by Satan-worshipping elites who harvest it from the fear of children.
Gold told Insider that she doesn’t identify with the QAnon movement, and that attempts to categorize people as such “feels like a witch hunt.”
Chaisson, Birch, and Gold were featured on Conspirituality’s list of yogis endorsing QAnon. Birch did not respond to a request for comment.
Marc-André Argentino, a doctoral candidate at Concordia University who researches extremism, has dubbed this phenomenon of women spreading QAnon in the wellness world “pastel QAnon” because they use pastel colors and softer language in their social-media posts.
“We’re in a different phase now, kind of a second wave” of QAnon, said Marc Tuters, a lecturer in the University of Amsterdam’s media-studies program. He researches radical political subcultures online.
Tuters said that in the “pastel QAnon” world, people aren’t looking for Q drops on fringe forums. They’re discussing the movement among themselves. “As far as I can tell, it’s become something else now,” he said.
This “normiefication,” as University of Amsterdam researchers have dubbed it, has made the movement easily digestible to folks whose beliefs aren’t quite so extreme.
The ‘Plandemic’ video was hugely popular in the yoga community
The QAnon community was instrumental in the spread and popularity of “Plandemic,” the debunked “documentary” that fueled misinformation about the coronavirus.
“The video spread from YouTube to Facebook thanks to highly active QAnon and conspiracy-related Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members, which caused a massive cascade,” Erin Gallagher, a social-media researcher and multimedia artist, wrote in an article sharing her findings based on data from CrowdTangle, which tracks public Facebook interactions.
For many in the yoga community, it became an entry point into QAnon.
The filmmaker, Mikki Willis, was well known among yoga and wellness influencers, particularly in Los Angeles. The film drew on undercurrents of mistrust for mainstream medicine that have long been present in yoga, according to Julian Walker. Walker is a yoga instructor who has researched cultism in the wellness world and co-created the “Conspirituality” podcast earlier this year.
“I would say the anti-vax sentiment is really strong in the yoga community already,” Walker said. “It’s not super fringe for people [in yoga] to be doing a raw vegan diet, or juice cleanses or fasts, or not ‘believe’ in Western medicine.”
“People are drawn to yoga and spirituality who have felt marginalized and let down by the medical system. For many women, it’s that they’ve felt patronized,” Walker said.
But seeds of doubt from legitimate complaints can bloom into more extreme beliefs and opposition to established science.
Anti-vaccine thought, for example, is based on the incorrect notion that vaccines are risky. It is rooted in conspiracy theories and ignores established evidence showing vaccines to be safe and effective.
Conspirituality: What We Have Learned So Far Misinformation, Trauma, Fractured Culture, & New Age Vulnerabilities to the Red Pill On September 17th, we had our friend, prominent yoga teacher, Seane Corn, on the Conspirituality Podcast. She had joined forces with a group of wellness influencers to make a stand against the QAnon messaging that has been steadily growing in influence amongst that tribe. The social media post this group created went viral and ended up generating coverage from Rolling Stone, The New York Times, WNYC’s On The Media, and other outlets. We started this journey 19 weeks ago with some questions, some ideas, and a boat-load of alarmed curiosity. What we have found via our own journalism, discussions, study, and interviews with experts has been by turns surprising, predictable, banal, fascinating, heartbreaking and, most often just plain mind-boggling. In the information age, misinformation is ubiquitous. As Jonathan Swift famously noted “falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after.” Never before has this been more true, given the now total algorithmic balkanization of our social feeds, and the prioritizing of click-bait sensationalism for driving online ad revenues. With everyone at home, anxious, resentful and experiencing a once in a lifetime level of mass uncertainty and enforced sacrifice, what has bubbled up to the surface of our collective psyche is messy to say the least. Like many just becoming aware of it lately, we started off asking what could turn light and love healers, compassion espousing yogis and raw vegan female sexuality and empowerment coaches into evangelists for the gospel of Q. ?link in bio
Schuyler Grant, a prominent yoga instructor with decades of experience, said she appreciates that the community offers a forum for skepticism. But Grant, who describes herself as vaccine-skeptical, said she has now found herself in the unexpected position of defending legitimate advice and guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.
“I think skepticism is valuable, when it’s questioning the people in power in a functioning democracy, but not when the endgame is dangerous and militarized, leading to the dissolution of our democracy,” Grant said.
I stand firmly with a group of leaders in our community that are spreading the word about this rot which is spreading on and offline. . You’ve probably heard something about QAnon. This cultish group originated in the dark web where hate and white supremacy flourishes, and they’ve re-packaged their message to appeal to spiritual communities. They are targeting well intentioned people with conspiracy theories, mind control and misinformation. . Some in our community have actually joined this group, and others seem to be veering in this direction. And it’s deeply concerning. Do not underestimate the dangers of QAnon – their true intent is to spread misinformation and to sew division and conflict in our country. . I’m asking all of you to please source your news from reliable places, to use your platforms to be vectors of intelligent debate, and, perhaps most importantly, be in contact with anyone in your extended network who might fall prey to this lunacy – and educate and support them. Evil prays on lonely and scared people. . Our democracy is so fragile right now. Please share this message in whatever way feels authentic to you. On the Commune podcast this week, there is an excellent episode on the Origins of QAnon. I highly recommend it. . (And of course you can always join the cult of Kula. We promise not to red pill you…) . #unite2stopQ #standagainsthate #stopthemadness #qanoncult
‘Horseshoe theory’ may help explain why QAnon and yoga intersect
The isolation and extra free time brought about by lockdowns have driven many to search for a sense of community online. There, algorithms can drive people toward more and more extreme ways of thinking.
As a far-right conspiracy, QAnon might seem an unlikely endpoint in the stereotypically left-leaning yoga community. But it’s an established phenomenon that extremes of ideology can curve so far into their respective philosophies that they end up intersecting, according to Jeff Taylor, a professor of political science at Dordt University.
“We usually think of the ideology running from left to right in a line,” Taylor told Insider. “Horseshoe theory is that if you go far enough to the left or the right, you almost cross that boundary between the left and right.”
Horseshoe theory is controversial in political science, with some theorists arguing that the intersections of far left and right are superficial, with few true similarities in underlying ideologies or political goals.
According to Taylor — who ran for and won a seat in Iowa’s state senate in last week’s election — populism and mistrust of those in power are the major points of connection between the far left and the far right.
“This combination of big money and big government, whenever these things collude with one another, you’ll have skepticism,” Taylor said. “So despite differences on social and even moral issues, you’ll have far-left and far-right people agreeing on some of these things.”
The result is people on the far left end up questioning the establishment, protesting mask mandates and shutdowns with as much vitriol as their conservative-leaning counterparts.
Pressure to reopen yoga studios and resentment of regulations can fuel conspiracy thinking
For many wellness professionals, this tendency toward doubt and extremism is exacerbated by the fact that the boutique fitness industry — of which yoga studios are a part — is facing serious challenges amid the pandemic. Businesses have struggled to pay rent or have been forced to close permanently. Many studio owners have clashed with government officials, arguing that regulations are overly restrictive or unwarranted.
For yoga instructors hustling to make a living and pay health insurance, the threat of continued restrictions on studios spells disaster, Walker said.
“For the most part, you’re on your own. The drive to get back to work and start bringing in money again is pretty strong in this community,” he added.
In this environment, theories that the coronavirus is a hoax could seem very appealing.
“For a lot of people there is intense impatience and intense resentment,” Walker said. “We want to open back up and don’t want to be told what to do. If you combine that with the urgency of not having something to fall back on, that’s a piece of it.”
Prominent yoga instructors are uniting against QAnon
The above message is a joint statement written in collaboration with various leaders in the wellness community. No one person is to be solely credited. Please share widely and freely if it speaks to you. I do not support QAnon and their underlying message of hate, fear and division. They are an alt-right movement of conspiracy theorists working to spread misinformation, confusion and paranoia. They are deliberately and strategically targeting the wellness communities appealing to peoples interest in alternative health practices and mistrust of the government. Please don’t tell me to “do the research”. I have. Please don’t tell me that I don’t care about the eradication of child human trafficking. Of course I do. I have spent much of my career speaking about this publicly. Sex trafficking is not a new phenomenon. There are many global organizations that have been doing this work for countless years who reject QAnon’s manipulative messaging. Please don’t tell me COVID is a hoax. Not when almost 200,000 people in the US have died. Please don’t tell me Donald Trump is a “light worker”. Not when his words, actions and policies stoke fear, hated and injustice. Please don’t tell me about the “great awakening” or a “paradigm shift”. That comes from within. I understand that some of you may “unfollow” me. I’m okay with that. My self-worth is not determined by follows or likes, but by integrity and truth. That is why I am sharing this message with you. I must. I care deeply about the yoga and wellness communities and don’t want to see anyone exploited or manipulated by an organization that has its roots in white supremacy culture. Too many folks, including many of my dear colleagues, have bought into their divisive and outrageous messaging for me not to speak out. Please be aware of QAnon’s ill informed, sensational and exploitative posts on your feed and educate yourself about QAnon’s history before you share these posts with others. If you want to learn more about the concerning marriage that’s happening between alt-right conspiracist and the wellness world then check out the podcast Conspirituality on Spotify for more insight. ?? #revolutionofthesoul #unite2stopq
In September, Instagram’s wellness community started circulating a statement in opposition to QAnon ideology. It was created by top wellness figures including Seane Corn, the cofounder of the yoga activism group Off the Mat, Wanderlust festival cofounder Jeff Krasno, and highly influential yoga instructor Susanna Barkataki.
Using the hashtag #unite2stopq, they urged fellow yogis to be aware of the exploitative, chameleonic nature of QAnon claims, and to resist sharing misinformation related to sex-trafficking, child abuse, and the pandemic.
A key strategy is pushing back against the idea that yoga should stay out of politics.
The yoga turned QAnon front argues that being engaged in politics is to uphold the elites who, they believe, corrupt the world. The yogis fighting QAnon insist that pretending to be wholly disconnected from politics is futile.
“There’s a tendency in the spiritual community to want to be apolitical, and above it all, which I don’t agree with,” Davis-Flynn said. “I think yoga is inherently political if you care about other people and making their lives better. You have to take a stand.”
Whether Davis-Flynn and her peers are having any success in curbing the spreading influence of QAnon in yoga remains unclear. It’s a “work in progress,” she said.