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Opinion: It's no coincidence that some of those storming the US Capitol were New Age conspiracists

Queens University’s Tom Albrecht and Tristan Sturm chart the parallels between last week’s attack on the US Capitol and a similar gathering at the German Reichstag building last year.

Tom Albrecht & Tristan Sturm

THE VIRAL IMAGE that has come to represent last week’s mob attack on the American Capitol building shows a man on the floor of Congress, dressed in fur and bull horns, holding a spear with the American Flag attached to it.

One might have expected an image of a member of the militant Proud Boys or a crowd of MAGA hats to represent that infamous day in American history, but instead, it is the shaman and QAnon follower Jake Angeli from Arizona.

There is something inherently out-of-place about his appearance in the context of a politically motivated and violent insurrection on the Capitol which challenges normative imaginations of nationalist Republicans, Trump supporters, the political right or the alt-right movement, and adds to further conspiracies that the mob was a false-flag operation by Antifa.

Fitting into the narrative

Nevertheless, it is this picture of a QAnon conspiracy theorist and esoteric shaman in the centre of an attempted political coup which illustrates that today, a variety of distinct cultural traditions are able to unite in resistance to what many people perceive as evil suppressors: Democrats, Joe Biden, Liberals, Globalists, etc.

trump-supporters-and-proud-boys-clash-in-sacramento A Qanon supporter marches in route to the Supreme Court during the Million Maga March protest regarding election results on November 14, 2020 in Washington D.C. Source: John Goodman

But even before the storming of the Capitol building, the unusual alliance of conspiracy theorists and esotericists became increasingly visible in Covid-19 scepticism and conspiracism.

Here, anti-Vaxxers from esoteric cultural milieus and conspiracists joined forces to argue for instance that the Covid-19-vaccination will include a mind-control chip. Angeli and others in the Capitol are just the latest manifestations of that “conspiritual” alliance. 

New Age and esoteric groups have historically collaborated with fascists, even Hitler had dabbled in occult, blending them with anti-democratic nationalism and racism.

Today’s alliance of esotericists and conspiracy theorists of the political right is motivated by a shared opposition to perceived norms.

covid-19-querdenken089-corona-denier-demo-in-munich September 12, 2020, Munich, Bavaria, Germany: ''Covidiot'' in German spray painted on the ground in front of the Querdenken Corona denier demonstration in Munich, Germany. Looking to capitalise on the momentum from a shocking series of demos in Berlin, the Querdenken (cross-thinking, cross-platform) group is now bringing conspiracy theories to the road starting with Munich. The group attracted conspiracy theorists, science deniers, esoterics, mystics, natural medicine practitioners, right-extremists, Reichsbuerger (sovereign citizens) and shockingly, the left to form a collective of rivals all with the goal of bringing the state down. During the Berlin demos, their right-extremist factions attempted to storm the Reichstag. Source: Sachelle Babbar

Conspiracy theorists, as well as esotericists, believe in alternative perceptions of the truth and support knowledge-claims which they believe are intentionally suppressed by institutions in power for their respective benefit.

The political scientist Michael Barkun consequently calls such knowledge-claims “stigmatised knowledge”. 

A global issue

The conspiritual alliance and their attack on a parliament is not a purely American phenomenon.

The German vegan cookbook author Attila Hildmann, among others, called for anti-Covid-19 protestors to gather in Berlin in August. Spurred on by esotericists, the alliance stormed the German Reichstag building.

Hildmann and others believe that in doing so, the German people can be freed from the alleged satanic German government, its oppressive Covid-19 restrictions and from an USA-Russia cabal.

That is because German Corona conspiracism is frequently melded with the popular conspiracist far-right discourse of the missing sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany after WW2 which is believed to be solely an American and/or Russian puppet state.

Not only during the attack on the Reichstag were German right-wing Covid protesters accompanied by many esotericists. Therefore, parts of the German conspiracist milieu are often described as ‘rechtsesoterisch’ (right-esoteric). 

QAnon

The QAnon movement contributed to that phenomenon as it popularised an ideology in which stigmatised knowledge-claims of right-wing conspiracism, esotericism and occultism were combined into a more-or-less coherent narrative.

This powerful narrative postulates that cabal and satanic elites execute conspirational plots which aim towards the end of the world as we know it and a profound transformation into an oppressive New World Order.

Here, QAnon also draws from century-old Christian apocalypticism as well as distinct cultural traditions to appeal to a variety of societal groups: esotericists, evangelicals, conspiracy theorists and more. 

QAnon and similar narratives propagate a clear portrayal of what is bad and what is good. For example, adherents of rather liberal politics such as the Clinton family or George Soros are said to be part of an evil “deep state” which secretively controls the political decision-making process as well as the mainstream media.

Moreover, they are said to be involved in paedophilia and children blood-drinking rituals which highlight the esoteric and occult elements of QAnon.

Donald Trump functions as the chosen one who fights these evil political networks. Consequently, QAnon claims that the election was rigged by the Deep State to get rid of Donald Trump and to manifest the power of the evil democrats which explains much of the ‘conspiritual’ motivation of this week’s attack on the Capitol: He must be protected as he is said to fight the evil.

Seeping into society

Ireland, of course, is not immune to such conspiracism – the May 2020 UK Freedom Movement protest in Belfast is an example. None of those in attendance adorned fascist symbolism but looked rather more like your local yogi or plumber.

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The agenda of that protest was loosely held together by concerns of governmental overreach in relation to Covid-19 being an ‘unlawful lockdown’ and a coordinated global false flag operation.

Such narratives were directed toward a small group of police officers and reporters that began with “you should be asking more questions” and was followed by seemingly incongruent concerns including “Epstein is alive”, “5G is killing my husband”, and there was even a cheer for the “flat earth society”. 

Conspiracists believe themselves to be minority knowledge brokers of the actual truth and therefore, that they have the responsibility to fight “evil” for the overall good of society.

In other words, conspiracy theorists, may it be in Dublin or Washington or Berlin, tend to believe they are Luke Skywalkers fighting the Empire. In Germany, Covid-19 deniers regularly compare themselves to resistance fighters during the Third Reich as they believe that they need to fight a suppressive government and show their sympathy to the American QAnon movement by wearing Q-Letter symbols at protests.

Today’s conspiratorial political climate is not structured by a fight between left and right, liberals and nationalists or Democrats and Republicans, but by distinct imaginations of the truth with subsequent moral implications of what is right or wrong.

Tom Albrecht is a PhD Candidate in Geography at Queen’s University Belfast and is finishing a dissertation on climate conspiracism. Tristan Sturm is Senior Lecturer of Geography at Queen’s University Belfast. He researches apocalyptic and conspiratorial thought. He has published in Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Toronto Star, National Post, THE Magazine, among others.

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