Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
QAnon, the viral pro-Trump conspiracy theory alleging that world is run by a band of satan-worshipping pedophiles, is gaining steam in the yoga and wellness community.
On social media, some teachers and influencers are posting QAnon-related messaging—although it doesn’t always explicitly mention QAnon by name. On pastel backgrounds and in pretty fonts they call COVID-19 a hoax, encourage gun ownership, warn about human trafficking, and celebrate Donald Trump as a “light worker” in his quest to “save the children.”
Yoga teachers including Hala Khouri and Seane Corn—cofounders of the yoga and social justice organization Off the Mat, Into the World—started seeing posts like these in their feeds near the beginning of the Coronavirus lockdown this spring. Khouri has said she believes the debunked viral documentary Plandemic, which spread misinformation about COVID-19, was an entry point to QAnon for many in the wellness community. (The documentary was removed by both Facebook and YouTube in May.)
In March, celebrity OB/GYN Christiane Northrup, MD, started sharing QAnon-related “save the children” messaging, along with videos and memes that disparage vaccines and mask-wearing and encourage distrust of mainstream media. Northrup also shared Plandemic with her more than 750,000 followers on social media.
In an interview with Jezebel, Khouri discussed how she was “slammed” by many members of her Facebook community when she questioned the veracity of the documentary. Soon after, an explosion of posts pushing back on mask-wearing and a proliferation of memes warning of a government-led holocaust via vaccine flooded her feeds.
see also Do Politics Belong in Yoga?
Yoga Teachers and Wellness Leaders Respond to QAnon
Khouri, Corn, and other high-profile members of the wellness community like Jeff Krasno, the creator of the yoga festival Wanderlust and now the director of Commune—a wellness video and podcasting platform—were so disturbed by QAnon’s allegations that they were moved to publicly denounce it.
On September 13, Corn posted this statement, created by a concerned group of yoga and wellness leaders, to her 108,000 followers on Instagram:
Corn told Yoga Journal that she believes QAnon messaging is manipulative and exploitative—designed to incite chaos and division in the lead-up to the upcoming presidential election. “I just wanted to alert people that QAnon is a cult and it’s dangerous and it’s got its roots in white supremacy culture,” says Corn. “People should be aware of misinformation that is being targeted directly at the wellness community.”
By the end of September, Corn’s post had around 10,000 likes. After accruing thousands of comments, many from QAnon supporters spreading disinformation, Corn decided to disable comments on September 24. “As much as I may have helped people to gain awareness, I may have also introduced people to QAnon theories and beliefs,” she said.
The Roots of QAnon
According to believers of QAnon, the leaders of the cabal consist of top democrats and liberal entertainers; dark forces who threaten humanity. “Q” is the name of a supposed high-clearance intelligence officer who drops cryptic messages about the cabal on various websites.
According to The New York Times, Q has “dropped” almost 5,000 messages so far, many repeating warnings about satanic rituals that have previously made their way into mainstream culture: If you lived through the 80s, you might remember evening news stories claiming Satanists were infiltrating daycares and schools to abuse children. Another QAnon claim, that cabal members kill and eat children to gain special powers from their blood, is a recycled Blood Libel conspiracy theory rooted in anti-semitism from the turn of the Twentieth Century, which helped to fuel Nazism across the world.
Why are some members of the spiritual community putting stock in this conspiracy theory?
Two of the issues QAnon distorts—child abuse and human trafficking—are legitimate concerns, and many in the wellness community, including Corn, feel passionately about stopping them. (Corn has been working to fight human trafficking for decades. She recommends a few organizations that she’s personally cooperated with in both the United States and India: Children of the Night and Apne App.)
More generally, spiritual seekers are attracted to the idea of hidden and secret knowledge, and the existence of a grand cosmic plan, according to British writer and philosopher Jules Evans, who’s written extensively about the intersection of mysticism and conspiracy theories. “People prone to spiritual experiences may also be prone to unusual beliefs like conspiracy theories, which could be described as a paranoid version of a mystical experience,” Evans says.
“Conspirituality” is a term that was used by academic Charlotte Ward in 2011 in the Journal of Contemporary Religion. It is described as a “a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fueled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews.”
Conspirituality is also a podcast, hosted by Derek Beres, Julian Walker, and Matthew Remski, that explores the cult-like behavior of QAnon and its theories.
How to Spot QAnon, Protect Yourself from Disinformation, and Respond
In an interview with cult survivor and researcher Remski on the Conspirituality Podcast, Corn warned of the dangers of “Pastel QAnon” and their pleas to “protect children.” If you look closely, you might see QAnon hashtags attached to the posts, mixed in with other hashtags used by anti-trafficking campaigns: #savethechildren, #endsextrafficking, #eyeswideopen, #thegreatawakening, #dotheresearch, #followthewhiterabbit. (See a list of QAnon terminology here, compiled by the Conspirituality Podcast.)
According to Evans, “We need to learn how to balance our intuition with critical thinking, otherwise we can fall prey to ideas which are bad for us and our networks.”
If you see QAnon-related posts in your social feeds and want to start a conversation with the person who posted, Krasno recommends avoiding posting in their comments, as that can give the post more weight and help it spread further. He also recommends avoiding using words like ‘conspiracy’ or ‘conspirituality.’ “[These words] immediately cast any sort of skepticism in a negative light, and many conspiracies have been proven through hard-nosed journalism, including theories about Jeffrey Epstein, Watergate, and child sex trafficking,” he says. The word conspiracy can put people on the defensive and erode the common ground you are trying to create in an effort to bridge your worldview with others’, he explains. “You also have to be sensitive to the fact that some folks who support QAnon are survivors of sex trafficking and abuse,” says Krasno. “And now they feel heard, and have agency and community.”
When Krasno does engage with members of his community posting QAnon messages, he tries to frame his responses around discernment and media literacy, asking them if they know the source of the information they are sharing and whether it is reliable—whether it meets journalistic standards, has come from multiple expert sources, and was fact-checked.
“I remind myself that we are all susceptible to being imperceptibly influenced by misinformation, and then I ask others to be aware of that as well,” Krasno says. If your own opinions have changed over the last several months, he suggests asking yourself why. “One of the hardest things in the world now is to differentiate fact from fiction,” he says, especially when misinformation is prolific online.
“I also challenge people to get off of social media for a day, or even a week, to see how they feel,” Krasno adds. “The goal of QAnon and other similar movements is to propagate chaos by constantly agitating people, tapping into sympathetic nervous system responses that inspire you to fight. When people get off of social media for a while, they usually feel better, more relaxed, and happier.”