Lost on the Internet | Hippies for Fascism

Trump has been formally charged for  his part in the hapless coup of January 6th.  The attempted coup was a serious attack on American Democracy, even if it’s storm troopers were clowns and weirdoes.

Over the last few years I have written about the way that people get lost on the internet.   Whether it is stalkers creating fantasy personas, or conspiracy theories taking over peoples lives, loneliness, too much time on line, and too little real life interaction are making people believe things that aren’t true. People are becoming radicalised into weird, fantastical and at time violent views on line.

Trump/MAGA/QAnon is the most visible, but it is not a homogenous group.

Some already had very judgemental right wing views before they got lost.  Mostly they were anxious, unsure about the world and their place within it, and adopted conspiracy theories in order to give some order and meaning, and ease the anxiety.   These are the people who psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich described in the 1930s as “people in trouble” – the raw material of early fascism1.

Some of them are gravy seals:- fat, lonely fantasists with a cupboard full of oversized guns, who secretly think that when TSHTF they will be transformed into an unstoppable military force who will take back America and subjugate all of the liberals, immigrants, feminists and minorities who have held them back. All of the girls who turned them down for dates will suddenly see them for the heroes they really are, and fall at their feet.  Trump connects directly with those fantasies, if they can believe themselves to be elite special forces they can easily believe trump is 215lb.

But what surprises me are the number of people who don’t think of themselves as right wing, who embrace hippy and new age ideas but who are now advocating political ideas adjacent to fascism.   I meet them in on-line forums, but also in real life  – nice, middle class people into meditation, yoga and natural health, who increasingly hold views that embrace a wide range of far right conspiracy theories.   People who I have a lot in common with, except for the tendency to fascism.

Covid was a big shifting point.   Lots of people who believed in natural health were sceptical about the consensus on Covid.    Suspicions about mainstream medicine or the honesty of Government soon became Covid denial, anti-lockdown, anti-vax, anti-masks. The on-line world provided them with lots of reinforcement.   

Their opposition to the mainstream consensus on Covid made them feel like brave rebels bravely standing up to over reaching governments, and authoritarian mask mandates.   On-line they found other anti-government groups, intoxicated with their own mythology of fighting Government elites in the name of the people, but whose definitions of “the people” and “the elite” were drawn from far right ideologies.    Palingenetic ultranationalists who believed that national renewal can only e achieved through a militant struggle to over through a corrupt sinister old order. 

Soon that curdled into a world view that was anti-everything: the mainstream media lie, the truth is known only to a select few, there are a corrupt elite running the world, manipulating events, crossing over into the conspiracy theories that sound familiar to people like me who have followed the far right on line, and in real life.  

But I think that there is something deeper than just Covid.   There is something in parts of the hippy new age movement that makes them susceptible to conspiracy theories.   They have a long history of questioning the mainstream narrative, and a suspicion of people in power, be that Government, the military, pharmaceutical and tech companies, wicked scientists messing with nature.  They like to see themselves as challenging received wisdom, or possessing some special knowledge of their own.   Conspiracy theories simply turn all of that into an easy narrative, a story, joining the dots.

Long term mistrust of US or NATO foreign policy has it’s justifications; Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, etc. Easy to see how mutates into conspiracy theories about Ukraine, bio-labs, global child abuse networks.   Hippy dreams of the self sufficient Good Life and right wing survivalism are very close together, even if Barbara and Tom never thought to arm themselves with an AK.  The on-line message boards that started with new agers trying to make contact with Aliens have cross pollinated with Trump 2020 conspiracism, and QAnon.

There is also a long term cross over between wellness/alternative medicine and right wing conspiracism.  Alex Jones and David Icke have on-line shops promoting wellness products.   The QAnon Shaman, currently in jail for this part in the January 6th coup sells yoga wear on line.   As long as I have been reading conspiracy theory publications they have carried adverts for colloidal silver or the Royal Rife resonator.   The belief that cancer is easily cured by natural remedies is common, but a sinister conspiracy of Big Pharma and wicked politicians is keeping it from us. 

The failures of the US medical system has created fertile ground for people to embrace alternative medicine.  Folk remedies, and on line wonder cures flourish when mainstream medicine is unaffordable.   The 13 year decline in the NHS has imported that desperate credulity to the UK.

Added to that there is a genuine neglect of women’s health in mainstream medicine: auto-immune disorders, chronic pain and fatigue are under-researched and sadly often dismissed by GPs.  

“If we want to address the trend of women seeking help outside mainstream medicine, it’s not the women we need to fix; it’s mainstream medicine.” 2

At the heart of this all is the nature of truth and reality.  One of the key principles of liberal democracy is the idea of a shared truth or a shared reality.  We might not all agree about everything, but we do all agree that reality and truth exist. Through scientific method we can describe what is truth and lies, and through free speech and rational debate we can agree on what is real and what is fantasy.

There are however people who no longer believe in science as the basis for deciding what is real and true, and instead rely on their feelings or gut instinct.  Some times they believe in alternatives to mainstream science, alternative medicine, or different ways of looking at the world.    Increasingly people reject the idea of truth in favour of the idea that it is all just opinions, with no value in telling truth from lies

The nature of truth is one of the dividing lines between liberal and illiberal political systems.    Faced with the collapse of the stable social order they grew up with, large numbers of people embrace irrationalism, mysticism and total and absolute distrust of all mainstream sources of information. They are the most easliy attracted to authoritarian movements promising renewal or revenge.

Once you give up on science and rationalism, you end up with a version of free speech that no longer makes the distinction between truth and lies, reality and fantasy, and which is unmoored from any basis in fact.    It is that which forms the deep common bond between new age movements and the authoritarian right.   This is their common bond.

1 Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich

2 Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men , Caroline Criado Perez

Post Script 1

I am not the only person to write about this  – Peter Pomerentsev’s book in Putin’ Russia – Everything is Possible and Nothing is True – covers authoritarianism, mysticism and the rise of new age mumbo jumbo.

Marianna Spring’s BBC Sounds series Marianna in Conspiracy Land is a great listen, diving deep into Totnes – the UK intersection of right wing conspiracism and new age woo.

But I found a much earlier, and incredibly insightful discussion of the similarities between new age and third reich.

Post Script 2

Wilhelm Reich, while a talented Psychiatrist wasn’t immune from Woo himself. His invention of the Orgone Accumulator to harness humans inherent sex power didn’t do much for science, but did a lot for Hawkwind




2 thoughts on “Lost on the Internet | Hippies for Fascism

  1. A few years back, we had problems with the admin of a local Facebook group who was using her admin power to post stuff about Chemtrails. She had an American partner who didn’t even live in the area but he’d accuse those of us who argued against as being ‘change agents’ and going on about Agenda 34.

    At one point he shared a document about psy-Ops that was fascinating as some parts clearly dated back to the Weathermen paranoia on detecting infiltration, other bits seemed to be from far right perspective – the political inconsistency was striking. Plus the irony of reading this stuff and not considering that you might be the victim of a Psyop run by Russia, Mercer, Koch brothers.

    The other irony is that despite their very post-modern approach to truth, they are the first to dismiss post-modernism. Although to be fair, it’s not that they believe all opinions are valid or that truth is relative – it’s more a pre-enlightenment view of truth as either self-evident or revealed.

    1. I agree about pre-enlightment – a secular gnosticsim. I started with this years ago with Fortean Times and the X-Files, I always loved that stuff, but never felt the need to believe it – it was just fun stuff to read about. I think that one of my relatives had some part work back in the 70s about unexplained stuff that I used to pore over, and then Arthur C Clark’s Mysterious Worlds. A lot of the Conspiracy forums I am a member of I joined years ago when the people complaining about the CIA were left wingers. Really striking how the whole scene has become a refuge for right wingers running from reality, and new age woo believers.

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