Jake Angeli says he considers what happened a “win.” Storming the Capitol got him arrested by the FBI, his president banned from social media, and his own people killed, but the cherry on top is being called Antifa by other Trump supporters. Seems like a huge loss to me. pic.twitter.com/aC6QAGoNhE
— Fifty Shades of Whey (@davenewworld_2) January 9, 2021
The insurrection at the Capitol building on January 6 was fueled, to a large extent, by conspiracy theories.
Among the rabid invaders were a number of known supporters of the convoluted far-right cult known as QAnon, and a significant portion of the QAnon universe overlaps with the readers of Elephant Journal: users and providers of natural wellness products, yoga practitioners and teachers, and unaffiliated seekers in the spiritual but not religious category.
Just how many of that group were present in Washington on that catastrophic day is unknown, but they weren’t all at home doing yoga postures and juicing. You may have seen photos of a heavily-tattooed guy with red, white, and blue paint on his face, wearing a furry headpiece with Viking horns, and carrying an American flag and a megaphone.
That’s Jake Angeli, 32, who calls himself a “Self-Initiated Shaman, Energetic Healer, Ordained Minister, Public Speaker & Published Author” and founder of the “Star-Seed Academy, the Enlightenment and Ascension Mystery School.” A self-proclaimed metaphysical warrior and compassionate healer, he proudly links his shamanic and political fantasy worlds with the designation “Q-Shaman.”[Update: Angeli is now in custody and is reportedly refusing to eat because the detention facility won’t feed him all organic food.]
A new term, conspirituality, was coined to define the strange connection between a segment of those drawn to both the sunny realm of personal transformation and the dark realm of right-wing conspiracy theories. Now that it has taken a lethal turn, everyone with a legitimate interest in alternative healing and spirituality has to pay attention; people you know may have wandered far down the rabbit hole.
Wikipedia defines QAnon as a far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against President Donald Trump, who is…planning a day of reckoning known as The Storm, when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested.
The alleged cabal is said to consist largely of prominent Democrats and Hollywood celebrities who drink the blood of captive children to fortify their own strength. As for the soon-to-be-ex-president, terms like savior and lightworker have been applied; his presumed destiny was to bring the cabal to justice and execute them.
An early sentence in the Wikipedia entry reads, “No part of the theory is based on fact.” That’s a polite way of saying that this remarkably powerful movement is built on an edifice of lies. It remains to be seen whether the events of January 6 will diminish its influence.
As someone who has researched, written about, and participated in spiritual movements for several decades, I’ve been forced to ponder why sincere spiritual seekers would buy into preposterous conspiracy theories and why some teachers with sizeable platforms would propagate them.
Here are some of my admittedly incomplete reflections (much of the following was first published here.):
The spiritual search attracts people who find conventional models of reality inadequate, who sense that science and materialism are not equipped to answer the big questions of existence, who look for portals into higher meaning, greater purpose, expansive growth, and transcendence. All wisdom traditions tell us that cosmic forces beyond our capacity to detect are at work in the world around us, and they point to sources of knowledge that transcend reason and sensory data.
Lifting the veils of delusion and ignorance—moving from darkness to light, as the Upanishads say—is central to the quest. This involves, in part, digging deeper for threads that connect seemingly random events.
But we create problems when we take useful and desirable tendencies too far or aim them in the wrong direction. Buddhists use the concept of the near enemy to explain this. Near enemies are troublesome traits that are so similar to desirable ones that we don’t easily recognize them. Far enemies, by contrast, are obvious.
Hate is a far enemy of love, for example, but love’s near enemies, such as unhealthy attachment and codependency, can easily go undetected.
Gullibility might be a near enemy of open-minded exploration, making someone susceptible to outrageous conspiracy theories. Cynical distrust could be a near enemy of skepticism, making someone reject whatever is said by mainstream experts. Magical thinking might be a near enemy of the search for cosmic coherence, making it likely that someone would mistake a dangerous idea for a divine revelation.
I’ve seen grand theories catch on many times, only to fall apart. I’ve seen gurus, healers, and self-anointed prophets get placed on pedestals only to be toppled from them. I’ve seen utopian predictions ignite ecstatic expectations only to end in disillusionment.
In most cases, the motivating force was a vision of a harmonious, enlightened world to come. They may have been fantasies or wishful thinking, but they were hopeful, aspirational, and idealistic.
By contrast, the QAnon cult traffics in hate couched in noble terms, using memes like “Save the Children” and “Great Awakening” to attract well-meaning people.
Who doesn’t want to stop child trafficking? Who doesn’t hope that a global awakening will arise from today’s chaos? Other entry points include a justifiable concern about corruption in powerful institutions like Big Pharma.
According to experts, QAnon uses legitimate issues as bait, then drags people byte-by-byte into racist, far-right narratives supported by zero real evidence. The FBI has labeled it a domestic terrorism threat.
The spiritual path invites us to open up to intuitive wisdom and to take the occasional leap of faith. But it also demands that we exercise the quality yogis call viveka—discernment. And it encourages us to remain spiritually grounded in the midst of uncertainty—to bow humbly before the unknowable mysteries.
This can be difficult, but it’s an invaluable practice, and in the long run, it’s safer than clinging to the false certainty of dark conspiracy theories.
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.