Inside Kelly Brogan’s Covid-Denying, Vax-Resistant Conspiracy Machine
On April 27, “holistic psychiatrist” Kelly Brogan, MD, a former Goop contributor whose latest book was blurbed by Marianne Williamson, sat in front of a webcam at the right hand of her husband Sayer Ji, the founder of the pseudoscience, anti-vax website GreenMedInfo.com. Awash in soft Florida light, the couple declared they would be deploying their marriage to power a new Covid-denialism media empire.
The video, called “Love in the Time of Covid,” hit a number of now-familiar conspiracy theories. Brogan and Ji questioned the danger of this “one little virus.” They claimed that testing for it is useless, that the future “mandated” vaccine against it will carry a “quantum dot” for tracking. Ji warned of people who will embrace the “microchipping and the A.I. and the whole ideological Kool-Aid that you know we’re being fed: that we are helpless, and need to be nursed and controlled by the nanny state.”
They wrapped 80 minutes of alternating monologues with Brogan leading a macabre meditation on comforting one’s fearful child-self, who she describes as having “cuts and bruises on her body and she’s soiled, she’s full of dirt, her clothes are tattered.” Then Ji announced their collaboration on an (anti-) 5G Summit as well as a new website, questioningcovid.com. That same day, a link to the video went out to Ji’s daily newsletter email list of 425,000.
Brogan and Ji offer data and emotion, studies and supplements, memes and breathing exercises. They want to purify the world of GMOs, vaccines, masks, “victim narratives,” and fear itself.
Brogan and Ji are at the forefront of the burgeoning political-religious movement dubbed “conspirituality,” the strange lovechild of alt-right conspiracists and New Age wellness influencers. Throughout the couple’s social media, they glow in a yin-yang swirl of panic and panacea, libertarian swagger and new-age equanimity, techno belligerence and yogic enlightenment. They offer data and emotion, studies and supplements, memes and breathing exercises. They want to purify the world of GMOs, vaccines, masks, “victim narratives,” and fear itself. They fret about the microwaves that beam their content to their followers’ devices, then shoo the toxins away with slogans like “Community is Immunity.”
Brogan’s the doctor Ji turns to for spiritual comfort, and he’s the former health-food store manager she leans on for his epidemiological wisdom and web chops. Together they divine a world whose apocalyptic danger can be overcome by the strength of love, a commitment to defying “mainstream narratives,” and Hawaiian turmeric. They also embody the replacement of expertise with lifestyle charisma in a moment when the fate of public health efforts hangs in the balance. In a promo video for their new ventures, Brogan smiles at Ji and says “I like to joke that our relationship is probably our most important shared credential.”
Wellness power couples are nothing new. But with the world now claustrophobic from lockdown, many are offering more than the products of holistic romance to soothe polarized times. A new urgency has led some to blend their life coaching and trauma therapy with Covid-denialism and QAnon fever dreams. Brogan and Ji’s signature hook is to place their marriage on the front lines of the Covid info wars. A belief in germs, they argue, would compromise their ability to love each other. (Both reject the germ theory of disease.) If you’re afraid of other people’s bodies, they hint, you won’t be able to sync on a soul level.
Brogan isn’t alone as a rebel doctor lending their credentials to Covid contrarianism. Her peers include triple board-certified Zach Bush, MD, who presents as a kind of alt-health smokeless Marlboro Man. Bush spikes his critique of Covid epidemiology with sermons about how we’re all beings of light, and have nothing to fear. Brogan’s personal friend, Christiane Northrup, MD, has been a venerated OB-GYN and giant in women’s alt-health for over 25 years. Since April, she’s gambled this social capital on spiking her social feeds — followed by over 500,000 — with a cocktail of conspiracism, angel channelers, and memes that troll Anthony Fauci.
Alongside their theories, these doctors share a lack of Covid frontline experience or research history. They also share an enthusiasm for the megaphone. Bush guest-starred on anti-vax activist Del Bigtree’s YouTube channel before Bigtree’s account was terminated for disinformation. And it was Northrup’s Facebook post of the fake documentary Plandemic that catapulted it out of QAnon groups and into mainstream social media.
Polling now shows that up to 50% of respondents now have reservations about the safety and efficacy of a future Covid vaccine.
Ji’s own GreenMedInfo attracts up to 1 million visitors per month. Presented as a biohacker index of 50,000 alt-health journal articles, it was ready-made for the “Do Your Research!” edict of the age. In late August, Ji, who got his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Rutgers, threw the weight of his site behind Plandemic 2 with a promo video in which he lauded the director, Mikki Willis, as his “very close friend” and “hero.” He noted that Willis’ star subject, anti-vax activist Judy Mikovits, PhD, has served on the GreenMedInfo advisory board.
But Ji hasn’t built his massive digital footprint in the $34 billion U.S. alt-health industry solely by following his passion. According to Imran Ahmed, CEO of the U.K.’s Centre for Combating Digital Hate, the main drivers of online pseudoscience—and now Covid disinformation—are the algorithms of YouTube, Twitter, and especially Facebook. In a phone interview, Ahmed explained how social platforms automatically boost engagement with controversial content — Ji’s specialty — to overwhelm the drab posts of public health officials. A recent study put out by the CCDH shows that Covid has helped the top 147 anti-vax accounts gain 7.8 million new followers since 2019.
And then there’s the not-yet-discovered Covid vaccine, against which Brogan and Ji are raising the alarm. “It’s the next big thing,” Ahmed said. “We’ve gone through various phases in the disease, and the most flexible, dynamic, and opportunistic actors were the first to exploit the [vaccine] issue from its beginning.” Meanwhile, Ahmed notes, rates of vaccine hesitancy have “ballooned” since lockdown began. U.S. polling now shows that up to 50% of respondents now have reservations about the safety and efficacy of a future Covid vaccine.
Ahmed added that while it’s difficult to precisely ascribe rises in this number to a specific platform like GreenMedInfo or individual actors like Brogan and Ji, “our polling and research shows that those who have been more reliant on social media than traditional media for their information on coronavirus are significantly more likely to be vaccine hesitant.”
Before her marriage and merger, Kelly Brogan’s reach was defined by the upscale psychiatry practice she ran from 2009 to 2019. Women longing for less-medicated, more soulful mental health care flocked to her glamour and her bracing criticism of some of the basic premises of her NYU Med School training.
“Depression, generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue,” she wrote in 2019, “are modern-day hexes with the power to bring about negative outcomes.” These labels, she explained, create a collective perception of fear that “seeps through our culture as a ‘meme’,” curated by the pharma-owned media. Her entire discipline, she argued, was rooted in a medical model steeped in patriarchal and controlling attitudes that lead to women being prescribed antidepressants at double the rate of men. “From the time I was prepubescent,” she told women’s reproductive health author Kimberly Ann Johnson in a podcast, “I’ve held a sword aloft for women on this planet.” (Brogan did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, including questions about client interactions, and the safety of mixing psychiatric care with Covid-denialism.)
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Brogan also had celebrity connections, especially through Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop platform, where she’s still listed as a contributor. In 2018, she was a “trusted expert” at the NYC Goop “Health Event” where entry-level tickets for the weekend cost $650. She’s been interviewed by actress Carrie-Anne Moss, photographed partying with Natalie Portman, and had her first book boosted by Ricki Lake; A Mind of Your Own, published in 2016, was a New York Times bestseller. Over a million viewers have watched her charm Joe Rogan on his podcast for almost three hours, opening with the subject of how women’s natural wisdom is confounded by birth control pills. In 2019 Brogan published another self-help anti-psychiatry book, Own Your Self. In a blurb for the book, New Age megastar and also-ran Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson wrote that Brogan’s work “is an important part of the understanding that will set us free.”
Brogan’s content wasn’t just alluring to women disillusioned by conventional medicine. It was also cathartic for Brogan’s own sense of complicity. In a 2019 podcast appearance with her friend, the New Age philosopher Charles Eisenstein, she expressed disgust that her profession was “medicating large swaths of the population into altered states of consciousness… complicit with the world-destroying machine” of Big Pharma and Western medicine. It was horrifying, she explained, foreshadowing her views on Covid lockdown, that her profession could “take away your civilian rights and inject you against your will and keep you confined and even locked up and transferred to a state facility for an indefinite period of time.”
The activism has earned Brogan a battery of glowing client testimonials, and solid respect in the broader field of psychiatric criticism. Despite her Covid denialism, she appears as a pundit in the just-released psych-critical documentary Medicating Normal and recently co-published apparently promising results from a randomized trial studying her online protocol. In an interview, journalist Robert Whitaker, whose 2010 book Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, details collusion between psychiatric overreach and pharmaceutical profiteering, affirmed that much of Brogan’s criticism of diagnostic imprecision is not only on point, but reflects a reasonable “crisis of faith” in the discipline.
“You can see your own practice not as a healing practice, but part of a social control practice,” he said, referring to the archetype of the disillusioned psychiatrist, which dates back to the days in which Freudians and social psychology-oriented doctors rebelled against the new psychiatry of medication, and the abandonment of more humanistic modes of care.
Whitaker, who Brogan regularly cites as an inspiration, also expressed strong reservations about her new direction. “When the personal development/anti-vaccine stuff gets mixed together with a critique of psychiatry,” he wrote by email, “it serves to discredit the scientific critique. It turns an evidence-based criticism of psychiatry into an ideological one, and, in the public mind, associates it with a rejection of science.”
After a decade of maverick practice, Brogan appears to be backing away from clinical psychiatry. She’s licensed as an MD in Florida, but her two certificates in psychiatry through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology were not renewed for 2020. In March she made her first big leap from psychiatric critic to public health disruptor when she posted a selfie-sermon video called “What Is Going On.” In it, she declared that germ theory is an infantile projection of our unreconciled inner “badness.” She hinted at her fringe medical lineage: the “German New Medicine” of anti-Semite Ryke Geerd Hamer; supplement salesman Joseph Mercola, who advised inhaling nebulized hydrogen peroxide as a treatment for Covid-19; and the late New Age matriarch Louise Hay, who told AIDS victims that they were sick because they hated themselves. (For her part, Brogan has expressed her doubts about the connection between HIV and AIDS.)
Brogan’s core theme was that the rise in Covid-19 deaths are “likely being accelerated by the fear” of the virus. That fear, she said, was being stoked by a “mainstream media” intent on the “curation of reality” to make people distrustful of each other. In the video, Brogan speaks to that fear like a messiah fantasizing about the end times. She gazes beneficently at the camera. In a calm voice, she assures her followers that “We are all going to be okay. You’re all already okay” — while comparing lockdown measures to the same “dehumanization agendas that preceded the Holocaust.”
Before Brogan went public with her Covid views, she beta-tested them with her online psychiatric clients. She had originally posted “What’s Going On” on March 11 to a subscription client group launched in June of 2019 called Vital Life Project, or “VLP.” Members pay $40 a month to engage with each other and Brogan’s video “musings” about her main themes, like rejecting “victim narratives” and tapering off of psychiatric medications as a spiritual awakening.
VLP functions as a gateway group into or out of a more structured online program called “Vital Mind Reset” (“VMR”), a 44-day boot-camp-style program for people wanting to live a life free of psychiatric diagnoses and medications. VMR launched in 2016 and now boasts more than 2,300 members, who each paid up to $1,000 to join.
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I interviewed six members of that group who were dismayed by Brogan’s strange turn. According to those I’ve interviewed, a significant portion of Brogan’s online clients have struggled with long-term psychiatric conditions. They didn’t initially sign up for Covid conspiracism, but for tips on medication tapering with the help of a paleo-type diet, Kundalini yoga, and daily coffee enemas. After Brogan’s content began to change, some of them turned away and found each other through a private Facebook group.
Some were afraid of the impacts of alt-health conspiracism on people who might struggle with their grasp on reality. They were concerned that some VLP members might be easily sucked down Covid-denialist rabbit holes, having been primed by Brogan to view themselves as lightning rods for society’s hidden illnesses. Brogan writes that her clients are “canaries in the coal mine, sounding an alarm with exquisite sensitivity in service of the rest of us.” The interviews provided insight into how Brogan’s persona as a public health avenger interacts with her patient care. One former patient who engaged Brogan for psychiatric care shared her story of how she’d almost died after Brogan employed as much religion as science to treat her, and then stopped meeting with her just weeks before she was committed to a hospital.
“I felt starstruck,” said Jillian in an interview, recalling her first appointment with Brogan in her Madison Avenue office. (She has asked her real name not be used for privacy reasons.) “I was nervous, the way you would feel like if you were going to meet one of your childhood idols.”
“She’s extremely charismatic. She’s extremely beautiful. How could she be real? She’s too perfect.”
Jillian came to Brogan in 2018 at the age of 35 for help in completing her taper from Lexapro, an antidepressant she’d been taking for 13 years. Under psychiatric guidance, Jillian had already reduced her dosage by half. But like many who try to taper beyond that, she had plateaued and was starting to feel symptoms of withdrawal.
Jillian found Brogan online, and a friend helped her with the $4,187 initial consult fee, which covered a two-hour initial appointment and a one-hour follow-up; subsequent appointments cost $570 per 45-minute session. (Brogan’s intro materials at the time noted that she was an out-of-network provider, and that patients would have to submit invoices for reimbursement. Jillian’s insurance did not cover the appointments.)
She recalled waiting to meet “some kind of magical celebrity” in the gently lit, medical-spa vibe of Brogan’s office. “She’s extremely charismatic. She’s extremely beautiful,” Jillian said. “How could she be real? She’s too perfect.” The appointment felt comforting and validating, Jillian said, and more like a conversation with a friend than a doctor.
Charisma aside, Brogan’s initial consultations might have felt friendly and harmonious partly because of her intensive screening process, seemingly designed to guarantee that she’d only be treating patients who not only had the cash, but had already accepted her ideas as gospel. The “New Patient Questionnaire” that Jillian filled out was a long list of purity tests for applicants’ alt-health commitments. The form declares it “highly recommended” that applicants read A Mind of Your Own. It notes that patients must agree to forgo dairy and gluten after the first appointment and commit to eating red meat as part of her close-to-paleo dietary regimen. It asks if they have a spiritual practice, whether they believe in pharmaceutical medications, and whether they vaccinate their children.
Point eight measures the applicant’s ideological agreement with Brogan: “In Dr. Brogan’s consideration of all applications, it’s important that she feels patients share her beliefs not just about psychiatric medications, but all pharmaceutical products, including vaccines, antibiotics, birth control, and over the counter products.” The form then asks the applicant to show in writing how they share these beliefs.
Jillian, and several others I spoke to, recalled Brogan as claiming to have a 100% success rate in the difficult and under-researched field of tapering off of psychiatric medications. “We’ve been using these drugs for 50 years,” said Whitaker, the medical journalist, in our interview, “but there was never any study of how to get people out safe.” Psychiatric drugs, he explained, change a person’s brain structures, altering neural pathways and receptors. Withdrawal symptoms are so unpredictable, and so individual in nature, that the most vigorous discussions about tapering naturally occur at the grassroots level — in online forums where medication survivors, and those who are attempting to taper, can share their experiences and fears.
“Tapering off psychiatric medication is a soul calling,” Brogan writes. “It is a choice that you feel magnetized toward and will stop at nothing to pursue.”
Whitaker also explained that Brogan’s emphasis on holistic transformation resonates with an emerging language of recovery spoken within the psychiatric survivor community. Tapering off of medication, Whitaker noted, is spoken of as an “existential experience.”
In Brogan’s Own Your Self, the chapter on tapering marks a clear turn away from her evidence-based critique of psychiatry and polypharmacy, and into the world of spiritual journeying. “Tapering off psychiatric medication is a soul calling,” she writes. “It is a choice that you feel magnetized toward and will stop at nothing to pursue.” Brogan, who does not disclose whether she herself has ever tapered off a psychiatric medication, writes that the process is “a marathon of heroic proportions,” but she also confesses that she has “no mentors” and has learned “from patients and the arduous road of direct clinical experience.”
Effusive testimonials on Brogan’s website seem to confirm Brogan’s success. “You saved my life. Period,” wrote one client. She described the benefits of the recommended elimination diet and 4:30 a.m. yoga sessions. “I would be dead or living a life of death as I was, were it not for you.”
Jillian shared an email in which Brogan’s team asked for her testimonial only days after she completed the online VMR program in the fall of 2017. Jillian declined, feeling it would be premature, and knowing that the full impact of her taper would not be clear for months. “I find it very misleading,” Jillian said of the testimonial pages.
“There’s a period right after completing the program where people feel their best,” Jillian said. “It’s like you’re catching them during this honeymoon period.”
Cathy, an ex-patient who has asked that her real name not be used, said in an interview that her own testimonial about her tapering experience was used inappropriately by Brogan because it did not reflect the complexity of her journey. Cathy says she was actually describing work she’d done on herself before she’d even met Brogan, and that she’d omitted the setbacks she experienced after working with her. She supported Brogan’s marketing because she believed broadcasting her own hard work in self-directed tapering would provide inspiration for other women longing to taper.
Jillian followed Brogan’s dietary and yoga advice for months, and spent several thousand dollars on Brogan-endorsed dietary supplements and alternative therapists. In client notes, Brogan recommended that Jillian taper her 8 mg of Lexapro by .5 mg every one to two weeks. Jillian now says that according to her research within online tapering communities she believes this is dangerously fast compared to other protocols. Her withdrawal symptoms worsened. She developed akathisia, an unbearable shaking disorder that can arise when a medication tapering program is too aggressive. On patient forums, the shaking is known to cause acute anxiety, severe sleep deprivation, and as a high risk factor for suicide.
In a recorded phone message replying to Jillian’s plea for support, Brogan chides Jillian to rid herself of the habit of “narrating through the victim lens.” She tells Jillian to tell her story “as if you’re telling a story about a little girl who’s experiencing this struggle, but you know that she’s fine.”
By late May of last year, with her tremors spiraling out of control, Jillian turned to the Xanax and then Klonopin originally prescribed by her nurse practitioner — medications that can have powerful anti-anxiety effects, but are also notoriously addictive. Jillian was terrified of developing a new dependency. Brogan’s recommended supplements weren’t working for her and the yoga practices were inaccessible, given her state. According to Jillian, she knew she was breaking Brogan’s rules by taking the medications, but she was suicidal.
On June 5, 2019, Jillian and her husband scheduled an emergency call with Brogan. “I was asking for some kind of medication,” Jillian said in an interview. “I knew I needed to be stabilized, and she refused to prescribe me anything.”
On the call Brogan terminated Jillian’s care, according to Jillian and her husband, citing her unwillingness to prescribe, and explaining that the issue was Jillian’s belief that her case was far worse than others. Jillian recalls Brogan saying that because she was such a powerful “manifestor” her beliefs were causing her symptoms to appear to worsen. She also recalls Brogan speculating that Jillian was not old or mature enough to do the necessary work. In an interview, Jillian described the call as “the most terrifying and hopeless experience to have at that stage.”
Jillian then recalls that Brogan advised her to return to the nurse practitioner with whom she had started her taper to explore other medications. Jillian explained that the practitioner wouldn’t take her back, that she didn’t know how to help at this level of complexity and danger. Jillian and her husband remember that the call ended in a forlorn stalemate, with Brogan committing to email the nurse on Jillian’s behalf.
By the middle of June 2019, Jillian had been Brogan’s patient for 14 months, and had paid her $13,355 in fees. At the end of June, Jillian’s akathisia was so severe that she couldn’t eat or sleep or take care of herself. She was hospitalized for 10 days.
The next contact she had from Brogan was 11 weeks later. The email didn’t ask how she was, what had happened, or whether she was under the care of another psychiatrist. “You came to my heart this morning,” Brogan wrote, “and I just wanted to send you blessings for all that you are doing, working through, and on, in what I know is the absolute best way for you.”
In her email reply at the time, Jillian did not mention her hospitalization. She expressed gratitude for Brogan’s care, and excitement about the release of her upcoming book. But Jillian now feels that her fawning tone reflected “brainwashing” and her embarrassment and shame that she had been brought so low.
“I had ‘failed’ and didn’t want her to know,” Jillian wrote by email, “Since she was so adamant that I was her first and only client who couldn’t complete a taper.”
“This isn’t about bringing someone down, or being mean,” Jillian said when asked why she was telling the story now. “It’s about feeling a sense of responsibility to people. She told me that it was my fault. You don’t need someone to make you feel worse at a time when you’re suffering so much.”
The “victim lens” Brogan chided Jillian for looking through while suffering withdrawal symptoms is a prime target of Brogan’s self-help writing. But by late 2019, rejecting the victim lens also became policy for her private online forums. Several members of VMR, Brogan’s 44-day online program, told me they felt increasingly silenced in relation to what they were allowed to say about their lives, and their struggles with the program.
On December 3, the group admin posted a “Community Ethos” statement. The new requirements demanded that all posts to the group avoid victim-perspective language, and refrain from dumping “unprocessed fear.” In an interview, VMR participant Lisette Arche recalls the Ethos as “thrown in these people’s faces… This girl posted: ‘I am struggling, I need help,’ and that’s all she posted, and immediately, the Ethos was posted at her.”
The Ethos was also posted on its own by the admin regularly, “as a friendly reminder,” Arche says. “And by the fifth time that it’s been posted, you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m either being brainwashed or… I can’t speak openly.’”
Cathy had volunteered to help moderate the group. According to Cathy, the Ethos could mean going so far as deleting posts from participants in distress after attempting to self-taper using Brogan’s materials.
“There’s been homeless people in VMR,” Cathy said in an interview. “There’s been people that suddenly their families kick them out. They’re posting from psych wards. I was asked to either report their posts or take them down if they were too volatile.
“It would be like: ‘I want to kill myself right now,’” Cathy said, remembering the posts she would moderate. “I would tell them they needed to seek support, and then I would remove the post.”
GEN obtained a voice message recording of Brogan responding to Cathy’s objection to censorship in the group. “I do censor and curate,” Brogan admitted on the recording. “That’s what we do to feel safe.” Brogan implied that she communicated better through video than text, but also apologized that Cathy felt uncomfortable. “I don’t doubt there are blind spots and shadows,” Brogan said. “I’m a human being, and I’m always working on that.”
“There was a good year where I started turning into Kelly, and I was not nice,” Cathy said, her voice heavy. “It was not good.” Somehow though, she caught herself. “When Covid started,” she added by email, “all the rationalizations that I was telling myself just fell away and Kelly’s organization looked absurd and abusive.”
“I was like, ‘What the fuck is wrong with me?’” Cathy said in our interview. “I’m starting to adopt this thinking that feels very cold, and not compassionate at all. I was like, ‘I don’t think I wanna be this person.’”
In mid-April, as active Covid cases in her home state of Florida approached 23,000, Kelly Brogan declared the following on Instagram: “When we can individually and collectively acknowledge that medicine is a personal belief system, we will finally be free to practice embodiment according to our own truth.”
Central to this “personal belief system” is the principle of “sovereignty.” The term has become a mantra of Brogan-and-Ji style health libertarianism, but it echoes and overlaps with the historically racist politics of the “sovereign citizens” movement that has roiled in the backwaters of right-wing politics from the 1970s. Brogan speaks the word with an accent of wellness empowerment, using it to describe the natural state of health and self-sufficiency every human should rightfully enjoy when left alone by “daddy government and mommy medicine” as she likes to say.
Brogan’s recipe for sovereignty is all about decluttering from the excesses of modern medicine. But what becomes clear after months of immersion in Brogan and Ji’s materials is that while they’re very good at subtraction, what they offer in return is a mystery. Searching “coronavirus disease” on GreenMedInfo returns a grab bag of studies, many of which predate Covid-19. (There have been several coronavirus outbreaks prior to Covid-19, including SARS and MERS.) Some tout the effectiveness of omega-6 fatty acids against coronaviruses in general—along with Chinese and Western herbs, zinc oxide, and lots of vitamin C. But neither Brogan nor Ji make concrete proposals about what public Covid medicine should look like. There’s little, if any, discussion of universal health care, or the social determinants of health. Their main product, it appears, is the charismatic promise to the hundreds of thousands who follow them that signing up for their online forums will afford protection.
As with her Marie Kondo approach to Covid, Brogan’s stock answer for her patients was to eliminate, eliminate, eliminate. Psychiatric medications, she argued persuasively, masked psycho-spiritual issues by suppressing symptoms. The answer was to taper, and not only from medications: Gluten and sugar had to go too. Coffee was out, except if Brogan recommended it for enemas. When every artificial or toxic substance was expelled, the purified self would naturally find the sovereignty that Brogan herself could inspire. The cover image for Brogan’s book, Own Your Self, is her own radiant portrait.
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Were it not for his gentle voice in their “Love in the Time of Covid” video, and the sight of Brogan gazing at him as though he were the Buddha, Ji’s declarations might have sounded like they were coming from Alex Jones. “This is the end of humanity as we know it,” Ji sighed. Further, his blurring of vaccination with rape — “no one should penetrate you or your children without consent” — resonated with the morbid tones of QAnon myths. In a clear escalation, some of Ji’s recent posts have invited followers to “take the red pill” a code phrase for going full-Q. Ji has also shared the #pizzagateisreal hashtag—which echoes Jones’ Pizzagate theory—in a friends-only post to Facebook. At the end of August, Ji’s newsletter complained about Twitter deleting Trump’s retweet of QAnon influencer “Mel Q” who falsely claimed that the CDC had “quietly admitted” that only 6% of pandemic deaths in the U.S. were directly caused by Covid-19. In actuality, the 6% refers to deaths in which Covid-19 was the only cause of death recorded. The remaining death certificates included underlying conditions.
The Centre for Combating Digital Hate advises digital hygiene in response to disinformation-spreaders. Don’t engage with them; block them; report them.
Ji seems to be playing chicken with Facebook’s own moderators, perhaps gambling that being deplatformed could pay off in conspirituality martyrdom. On August 3, he took to Facebook to warn his 1 million-plus followers of an “imminent, massive, Covid-19 related censorship event predicted to occur this fall,” and that they should join him on Telegram and MeWe, the refuge of conspiracists and white nationalists who get booted off Facebook and Twitter. Days later, he livestreamed to Facebook another paranoid sermon that compared social distancing measures to martial law and a “Chinese dystopia” to assert that the coming vaccine would be a “deadly intervention” and to suggest that the pandemic, like 9/11, was an inside job. In early September, Instagram deleted GreenMedInfo’s account — “without explanation” according to Ji’s website announcement.
Ji declined to be interviewed for this article. When further asked to comment on or clarify his usage of QAnon-related terms, he replied by email that he considers “red pill” to be a metaphor, “rich and open to various interpretations,” and that his sharing of a post featuring #pizzagateisreal “does not constitute endorsement.” Recently, the cross-fertilization between Ji’s feeds and QAnon has flowed in both directions: At least one of the 458 shares of a September anti-masking meme posted by Ji’s GreenMedInfo.com was shared to a private QAnon Facebook group.
Brogan’s walking a fine line as well, but more quietly. As news of her Covid coming-out video spread across the U.S. and was picked up by outlets in the U.K., Goop distanced itself from her, referring press inquiries to her office. Brogan hasn’t blogged on the platform since 2019. Media inquiries prompted Facebook, Instagram, and then Vimeo to delete the video. But Brogan still has it up on YouTube at an unlisted URL. Her integration of psychiatric coaching and Covid-denialism is increasingly visible. Marketing for her July relaunch of VMR as co-branded with Ji was colored by her Covid views, in such a way to suggest that psychiatric challenges are compounded by a belief in mainstream science.
Imran Ahmed’s organization, the Centre for Combating Digital Hate, advises digital hygiene in response to disinformation-spreaders. His protocol rivals the strictest lockdown measures: Don’t engage with them; block them; report them. Ultimately, Ahmed suggests, the only healthy answer to the likes of Brogan and Ji is to lobby media platforms that exploit their emotionally charged content. For example, the CCDH has recently and successfully campaigned for the deplatforming of the U.K. Covid conspiracy theorist David Icke. “Icke is now having to rely on BitChute,” Ahmed wrote in a recent post about the campaign, “a YouTube alternative for the far right, where he has just 42,000 subscribers compared to the 890,000 he had on YouTube before his ban.” Icke’s viral “The Truth Behind the Coronavirus” video is listed on Brogan’s website as a “Supportive Resource.”
At the end of June 2020, Brogan sent out an email to VMR participants announcing that the group would be closing down to new members, and no longer moderated by her team. The newsletter explained that Brogan’s VLP groups would be migrating away from Facebook and merging with Sayer Ji’s client base on the MeWe social network. A few days later, she posted a video in VMR to address the flow of complaints from members who felt they were being left high and dry. Her message was on brand: Continuing to oversee the program would encourage members to “outsource” their power to her and the group itself. In an era of increasing governmental oppression, she reasoned, this was the wrong direction. She also said that she feared being further censored if she remained on Facebook.
“We would be delighted to see them move to a different platform, where they’ll have less influence,” said Imran Ahmed in our interview. “That’s what our research is showing — that deplatforming works. Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, it’s a great outcome.”