A few months ago, Shannon Algeo, a yoga and meditation teacher in Los Angeles, was on Facebook perusing his feed when he saw a post from an acquaintance and colleague in the area. “These are my beliefs. Let the unfriending commence,” the intro of the post read. The poster went on to enumerate many beliefs that Algeo himself shared — that he was passionate about animal rights and protecting children from trafficking — before alluding to the need for Satan worshippers to be “removed.” “I was like, ‘Satan worshippers? That’s some intense language,'” Algeo recalls to Rolling Stone. After listing some of his other beliefs, such as that he didn’t believe in vaccines or masks, the poster concluded by saying he would not be voting for Joe Biden in November, but Donald Trump.
Algeo was stunned. This was a person in his community, someone whom he thought shared his values, not someone he would ever have expected to be espousing such bizarre beliefs. “I spent a day in this disoriented despair being like, ‘What is happening here?'” he says. “That’s when I started to become aware of what QAnon is.”
The poster was alluding to some of the main tenets of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that promotes, among other things, the belief that there is an elite cabal of leftists engaging in a child trafficking ring. Though QAnon has existed on the fringes of the internet for a few years, it has become increasingly mainstream, with congressional candidates and prominent influencers, including many in the wellness community, promoting its central beliefs. Algeo is one of a handful of prominent influencers who is attempting to combat the spread of disinformation by taking a public stand against QAnon on Instagram.
“Some in the wellness community have joined this group and we are greatly concerned,” the post begins. “This statement is to warn you about the dangers of this group, which is utilizing tactics that resemble cult psychology.” The post concludes by inviting other influencers to share the message “and take a stand against QAnon.”
The post was written by a collective of teachers and leaders in the yoga community, who asked not to be individually identified for fear of retaliation from QAnon believers. Influencers like Seane Corn, a prominent yoga teacher with more than 106,000 followers, shared the post after watching with horror the radicalization of many members of the wellness community. “Colleagues would reach out to me and they’d talk about things like the Great Awakening, being in the Matrix, the red pill, the blue pill. I’d be like, what the fuck are you talking about? I couldn’t believe they were talking about it with all seriousness,” says Corn. “It occurred to me: am I being recruited by people I know and love?”
The radicalization of many members of the wellness community has been a byproduct of the general mainstreaming of QAnon, particularly in influencer spaces. As researchers have demonstrated, the COVID-19 pandemic has been instrumental to the proliferation of conspiracy theories, with people cooped up in the home and using social media more often. The popularity of the anti-child trafficking movement #SaveTheChildren, which was largely spurred by conspiracy theorists, has also contributed to the mainstreaming of QAnon and related ideologies. Corn identifies the release of the film Plandemic, which promotes a slew of vaccine and coronavirus-related misinformation, as a turning point for inviting the wellness community into the conspiracy theorist fold. “I thought, ‘I see where this is going,'” she says. “It especially spoke to people in my community who felt the government was misrepresenting COVID and trying to control us and take away our rights by demanding we wear masks, or suggesting there’d be mandatory vaccinations.”
Many QAnon supporters have coopted the aesthetics of platforms like Instagram to share misinformation, a phenomenon researcher Marc-André Argentino refers to as “Pastel QAnon.” The beliefs central to QAnon, such as a distrust of the establishment and alternative ideas around health care, are particularly attractive to members of the yoga and spirituality communities, who often have countercultural views. It makes sense to Algeo why so many people in his community would latch onto QAnon. “Spirituality is a belief in the unseen. There’s this sort of mystical curiosity. These are people who are open to unseen worlds, unseen spiritual practices,” he says. Even the motto, WWG1WGA (“where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon slogan) appeals to those in the wellness space. “The idea in yoga is all about unity and oneness, so there is this seeded language that people in the spirituality community were suddenly grabbing onto,” says Corn. There is even a term, “conspirituality,” that applies to people in the spirituality space who are also attracted to conspiracy theories.
Yet as the past few years have demonstrated, QAnon is far from a harmless conspiracy theory. It has its roots in racism and anti-Semitism, and it has inspired instances of real-world violence, most recently when a Texas woman attacked people with her car under the mistaken belief they were part of a pedophile ring. The success of QAnon conspiracist congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene last month also underscored the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other fringe beliefs.
By taking a stand against QAnon’s infiltration in the wellness community, wellness influencers hope to start a conversation unpacking the dangers of QAnon and start the arduous process of combatting misinformation. Yet if the response to the posts are any indication, it may be an uphill battle. While Algeo says he received primarily positive feedback, Corn says she saw many defensive comments from QAnon believers arguing that she misunderstands the tenets of the ideology, or from people upset that she is posting politically oriented content. Yet she has few regrets. “I just didn’t want to ignore it anymore and neither did anybody else,” she says.
© 2023 PMC. All rights reserved.