This Week in Corona Scams, we return to the guru beat to uncover the “hidden knowledge” of the Conspirituality connection. If you’re still wondering why so many people fall for QAnon and other disinformation channels, including people we least expect to fall for far-right propaganda, we may have found a treasure trove of “hidden knowledge”.
And if you’re still wondering why fake vaccination cards have gone viral, fasten your seat belt and get ready for the ultimate deep dive into the cosmic chakras of anti-vaccine quackery.
“Making and selling fake vaccination cards is illegal. […] There will be criminal penalties.”
– Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, during a Monday press call
In recent weeks, we’ve seen growing reports of scammers selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards online. In response, a growing chorus of law enforcement offices are pushing for a crackdown on this burgeoning black market for phony vaccination cards. During this past Monday’s Nevada Health Response press call, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford (D) sounded the alarms on this fake vaccination card scam.
On Monday, Ford warned, “These cards falsely state that you are vaccinated when you’re even not. These deceptive cards threaten the safety of our communities.” He later added, “Making and selling fake vaccination cards is illegal. […] There will be criminal penalties.”
Thank you, @NevadaAG for the reminders.
👉You don’t need to buy a #COVID19 vaccine card. It’s free & you get the card when you get your shot.
👉Your card has personal info. By posting it on social media, scammers may use your info.
👉If something seems suspicious, ask Qs. https://t.co/RffHA74RoR
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) April 19, 2021
During the call, Ford also warned against the ongoing trend of people posting their vaccination cards on social media. As others have cautioned in the past few weeks, Ford declared, “Your vaccination card has sensitive information. If you post your vaccination card online, that may be an invitation to scammers.” He continued, “It’s a problem. Every time I see someone post a vaccination card, I cringe. Please do not post your vaccination card.”
In this story, we’re not going to rehash what’s already been reported about these fake vaccination cards. Rather, we’re going to explore why so many people are willing to buy fake vaccination cards instead of actually getting vaccinated.
Wait, he’s been doing those videos?!
What do you think when I mention Tony Robbins? Perhaps, “that world-famous and super tall self-help guru”? What if I told you that none other than Tony Robbins has promoted some incredibly dangerous disinformation as of late? Do I have your full attention now?
Not only is Tony Robbins being sued by a former worker for denying her the opportunity to work from home following her bout with COVID-19 and a recent cancer diagnosis, but also for intervening in her medical treatment. And even worse, Robbins has left behind his own digital paper trail that includes social media videos featuring some terrifyingly familiar “corona scammer” faces, such as the two doctors who ran an unscientific “study” out of their own Bakersfield, California, urgent care clinic, and the former Minnesota State Senator who described contact tracing as some nefarious “police state surveillance” (spoiler alert – it’s not), issued false claims about case counts and death tolls, and spread false rumors about the COVID-19 vaccines.
If this comes across as a huge surprise to you, I get it. However, this embrace of pseudoscience is nothing new for Tony Robbins. He has previously endorsed and featured other “health experts” with no real medical credentials, such as the fake doctor Robert O. Young who fraudulently promoted his “pH Miracle Diet”, and “Medical Medium” Anthony William who was also promoted by Goop despite having no medical qualifications whatsoever to prescribe his go-to celery juice “cure” to anyone. Even when it comes to the seemingly better qualified real doctors in Tony Robbins’ orbit, they’re largely the same figures who also head to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop-iverse to promote their fad diets.
When I discovered münecat’s recent YouTube deep dive into Tony Robbins’ problematic past (and present), everything started to make more sense. Even after watching HBO’s Q: Into the Storm, many still have questions over how and why seemingly “normal people” get hooked on conspiracy cults like QAnon. We may have just stumbled upon another “red pill” pharmacy here, and it doesn’t stop with Tony Robbins. In fact, there’s a far broader Conspirituality movement that’s leading New Age seekers, and even just people who may be interested in viral “wellness” trends, down the “red pill” rabbit hole.
So what on earth is Conspirituality, and why should we care?
Back when the Bill Gates COVID-19 and vaccine false rumors were starting to spread like wildfires a year ago, the philosopher Jules Evans noticed an “anti-vaccine entrepreneur” called Dr. Shiva spreading the false Bill Gates rumors. He also noticed the similarities between the otherwise oppositional “ecstatic globalist” mindset of New Age influencers who preach the gospel of the coming “Age of Aquarius”, and the “paranoid conspiracy” mindset of far-right influencers like Alex Jones who scream about the coming “globalist tyrants”. Really, both mindsets utilize a whole lot of magical thinking to promote ideas of “hidden knowledge” that only a few select “free thinkers” can uncover.
And as we’ve previously witnessed, magical thinking can spread far and wide throughout the internet so long as it’s masked in some seemingly plausible “bro-science“, some “official” looking cinematography, and/or some friendly vibes full of “abundance”. Superstar influencers like “comedian” and “bro-science” enthusiast JP Sears, ex-Goop contributor Kelly Brogan, Brogan’s spouse and GreenMedInfo publisher Sayer Ji, and OB/GYN turned ethereal Facebook/Instagram streamer Christiane Northrup have launched their own cottage industry of manufacturing disinformation-heavy “wellness” content that goes viral on social media. Conspirituality influencers comprise at least ⅓ of the “Disinformation Dozen” who’ve been identified by the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch as generating as much as 65% of the anti-vaccine content that goes viral on the world’s biggest social media platforms.
We’ve already seen how Brogan has grown her following since her initial Goop collaborations. Sears has shitposted a multitude of “funny videos”, one of which got retweeted by none other than then President Donald Trump last December. Northrup’s prior record as a respected physician has allowed her to present nonsensical pseudoscience through a “respectable” veneer of medical science credibility.
Perhaps the best/worst example of Conspirituality content going viral is Plandemic, as both of those viral videos were produced and directed by actor turned “socially conscious” filmmaker Mikki Willis. Willis had already released plenty of New Agey content through his Elevate studio, and his 2015 YouTube video on parenting beyond gender conforming norms led to a wider audience discovering more of his content. More recently Mikki Willis was spotted at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and he’s already been trying to rebrand the coup attempt as a “beautiful thing to see”.
Behind this seemingly small clique of “fringe” gurus are influencers with far bigger megaphones to amplify propaganda.
As we’ve previously discussed, we need to drop the misleading memes, convenient assumptions, and boneheaded wishcasting to better understand why bigoted, far-right, and anti-science disinformation has attracted such an alarmingly huge following. Contrary to the oft-repeated assumption that QAnon is just “Trailer Park Scientology” that only draws in non-college/“working-class” white voters who are plagued by “economic anxiety”, this Conspirituality vortex of propaganda is another example of the far-right disinformation machine spreading far beyond the stereotypical realm of Parler and Fox News, subsequently bursting onto the social media feeds of a seemingly more “enlightened” and decidedly more upscale demographic.
Once again, we also notice how several of these key influencers have amassed so much success at utilizing platforms like Instagram and YouTube to draw in viewers with “engaging content”. It’s simultaneously another noisy alarm on the “big tech” companies that cash in on this disinformation until thousands or even millions of people have already been “red-pilled”, and it’s a warning to medical scientists, public health professionals, and those of us in the media who wonder why so many people are so willing to believe all this nonsense.
As we’ve already noted, it doesn’t take much for these allegedly “fringe” influencers to seep into mainstream dialogue. As long as even bigger celebrity influencers like Tony Robbins, Alec Baldwin, Jenny McCarthy, and the Trump family continue to amplify this disinformation, and as long as far too many in the media indulge in bothsiderism and/or “bro-science” while covering issues like vaccine science, a critical mass of people will continue to think “there’s some truth” to these lies. As long as far too many people who “know better” continue to opt for “easy paychecks” instead, these are the consequences that all the rest of us have to pay.
We’ve already seen this with micro-influencers like the “BS Bead” shilling “KM” and the MLM “huns” who promise “abundance” if you “join their team”, and with larger influencers like “spiritual guru” Teal Swan and “financial guru” Grant Cardone who offer all kinds of “alternative healing” for the low, low price of them exerting more control over your life. Just because they’re promising “success” on social media, and just because they claim they’re “anti-establishment”, does not mean that they’re telling the truth.
“Corona scammers” count on us looking at their beautifully curated content, or at least looking the other way while they scam. Let’s break that cycle now.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again today: Do your homework. Don’t be afraid to fact-check. Don’t believe it just because it’s a “well-edited video”. Do feel free to demand actual evidence and real receipts before buying some “life-changing product” that your favorite influencer is shilling on Instagram.
Also, remember this: If you see something, say something. As Attorney General Aaron Ford noted on Monday, “Sadly, this pandemic has seen new scams emerge to try to take advantage of Nevadans.” For Nevadans who encounter these and other “corona scams” out in the wild, Ford advised, “Go to our website, ag.nv.gov, and file a complaint. We want to help people address these issues.”
During a #COVID19 update yesterday, NV's AG @AaronDFordNV warned Nevadans about fake vaccination cards. These violate state laws and should be reported to the AG's office. #ProtectNV pic.twitter.com/Qkhcacm8i8
— @NVHealthResponse (@NVHealthRespon1) April 20, 2021
We can only hope that in the days ahead, more law enforcement offices (and more policymakers) will become more proactive in protecting consumers and holding the scammers accountable.
If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check Immunize Nevada for more information on vaccine availability in your area, check Nevada Health Response for testing in your area, and check Nevada 211 for more health care resources. If you’re in need of additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square. And for goodness sake, please wear your masks and maintain social distancing from people outside your household.
The cover photo was taken by me.