Nazi Hippies: When the New Age and Far Right Overlap
Both the New Age and the far right are drawn to conspiracy theories
Last week’s rallies in London, Berlin, and Los Angeles against lockdown measures attracted both New Agers and far-right groups. We’ve seen before this overlap between the spiritual movement and the fast-spreading conspiracy theory, QAnon, which insists that an evil cabal of Hollywood celebs and liberal politicians (led by Tom Hanks and Hillary Clinton) are child-eating Satanists who control the world. Luckily, the theory holds, a secret government source called Q (who leaves cryptic comments on the website 8chan) is gathering together a patriot army to fight back and support President Donald Trump, who is a genius sent by God to defeat the evil cabal and usher in a new Age of Love.
This conspiracy theory, which would be a terrible movie plot, is surprisingly popular around the world and is beginning to influence American politics, to the extent that Congress is now debating a bipartisan bill to condemn it. And the QAnon cult has proved popular with both the far right and New Age influencers.
Open Thread: Have You Lost a Loved One to a Conspiracy Theory?
The past four years have transformed fringe theories into mainstream movements. How has it changed us?
Some people are astounded that New Age hippies could have any overlap with extremist conspiracy politics. But it happens. This week, I want to look at another period when the New Age overlapped with far-right politics, with disastrous consequences for the world — Germany in the 1920s and ’30s.
Germany’s two largest astrological organizations endorsed the Nazi party, as did Erik Jan Hanusson, the country’s leading astrologer. The Nazi regime also approved a Working Community of German Astrologers. Rudolf Hess and Heinrich Himmler were both obsessed with astrology — Himmler hired several astrologers to try and find Mussolini when the Italian leader disappeared. The Nazis also created a “working group on cosmo-biological research” within Joseph Goebbels’ Reich Chamber of Culture. Goebbels was fascinated by Nostradamus’ prophecies, which he thought predicted Nazi success — he organized propaganda campaigns to spread these prophecies in enemy countries.
The Nazis backed an organization called the Society for Scientific Pendulum Research to explore dowsing using a pendulum. In 1934, Hitler hired Germany’s most famous dowser, von Pohl, to police the Reich Chancellery for harmful death rays. German U-boat captain Hans Roeder created a Pendulum Institute to try and help the German Navy win the war in the Atlantic. Day after day dowsers were forced by the SS to stand “with their arms stretched out across the nautical charts” just in case the pendulum made the slightest movement. It had no success.
Himmler’s SS conducted extensive research into subterranean geomantic energies and ley lines. Some projects included “Atlantian-Germanic circles,” “triangles of Spirit,” and the “Aryan pentagram.”
Hitler, Hess, Himmler, and many other leading Nazis were into alternative medicine, organic and vegetarian diets, homeopathy, anti-vaxxing, and natural healing. Hess, the deputy führer, opened a center for alternative medical practices in Dresden in 1934. Himmler, meanwhile, supported alternative medicine — such as using plant extracts to heal cancer — and authorized experiments on prisoners in concentration camps for this research.
The first ever institute devoted to parapsychology research — the Paracelsus Institute — was set up under the Nazis, at the Nazi-founded Reich University of Strasbourg. The Nazis also set up an Institute for Occult Warfare.
The Nazis, like many other Germans, were fascinated by holism, by the idea of “wholeness” for the individual and for society — as a way of healing the divisions caused by rationalism, materialism, industrialism, and military defeat. This quest for wholeness led them to a sort of early environmental holism — they passed legislation to protect forests and rivers, and moved to ban experiments on animals (while authorizing experiments on camp prisoners).
Greens today who think all we need to save the world is a “paradigm shift” to an ecocentric worldview should realize you can hold such a view and also be a fascist. This is Ernst Lehmann, a Nazi professor of botany:
We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind’s own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a reintegration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger… This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought.
This eco-bio-politics, in which humans are an animal like any other, led in the Nazis’ case to eugenics — as with any other animal, the weak and sick specimens should be killed, and superior breeds (that is, the Aryan race) should be protected against invasive species (Jews).
The Nazis were also huge fans of organic farming and of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic agriculture, which sees farming as a mystical communion with the land and its spirits/energies. Several leading Nazis supported this theory, and Himmler authorized experiments on it using slave labor in concentration camps.
They also promoted forms of nature-mysticism and nature-worship, as well as championing pre-Christian pagan rites like solstice festivals.
The Nazi government sponsored research into the use of mind-altering drugs to improve soldiers’ performance, and backed the widespread use of methamphetamine by soldiers to keep morale high. They also were the first government to back psychedelic research, experimenting with mescaline on camp inmates to see if it could be used to break their will.
Many Nazis were influenced by variants of theosophy, an occult “spiritual science” which emerged in the late 19th century, and which put forward a spiritual theory of evolution, in which humans’ spiritual progress is guided by “hidden masters” via successive races. Theosophy was also popular with progressives, but its racial and authoritarian aspects attracted those on the right.
The Nazis were drawn to German varieties of theosophy, such as Ariosophy and “World Ice Theory,” which were anti-democratic, and which saw the Aryan race as spiritual superbeings, locked in a cosmic war with subhuman races. These theories suggested that other races, such as Tibetans or the Brahmin class in India, were really Aryans — and the Buddha was actually a blond-haired “Nordic.”
This gave Nazis a license to indulge their fascination with eastern religions — Himmler always carried a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and encouraged his SS officers to practice yoga, seeing them as the modern descendants of the Indian warrior caste. He also sent an expedition to Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama and explore Tibetan magic.
Hitler as guru
If this all makes Nazis sound a bit like a New Age cult, then Hitler was very much its authoritarian guru. He was an enthusiastic reader of texts on magic and the occult, such as Ernst Schertel’s 1923 book Magic: History, Theory, Practice, in which Hitler underlines passages like: “The man with the greatest force of imagination commands the world and creates realities according to his will instead of being the slave of an unsubstantial, bodiless empiricism.”
Numerous Germans compared Hitler to a magician, a hypnotist, a medicine man, who cast a spell on his listeners in his rally speeches. One German, Kurt Lüdecke, recalls that after hearing Hitler, his “critical faculty was swept away” by the “intense will of the man…. I experienced an exaltation that could be likened only to a religious conversion. I felt sure that no one who had heard Hitler that afternoon could doubt that he was a man of destiny, the vitalizing force in the future of Germany.”
His followers attributed occult powers to Hitler of insight, prophecy, and infallibility, much like the more fanatical followers of Trump suggest he is playing “four-dimensional chess,” so that even his misspelled tweets contain occult wisdom.
In fact, Hitler was completely incompetent at the management of the war, rejecting expertise and relying on his own supposedly infallible intuition — he decided to invade Poland after seeing the northern lights and taking it as an omen. As with Trump, this magical ignorance infuriated his generals, and cost many lives (in Trump’s case, so far, tens of thousands, in Hitler’s case, many millions).
Like other gurus, Hitler was a malignant narcissist, willing to lead the entire nation to death and destruction rather than back down and admit his magical prophecies of a thousand-year Reich were fantasy.
Conspiracy theories and the cosmic battle between us and them
Finally, Hitler and his fellow Nazis sold the German people a simplistic supernatural fantasy and conspiracy theory, in which all their problems were caused by a hidden global elite of monsters/vampires/demons — that is, the Jews — but the magical light-warriors of the Nazi party would defeat them in a cosmic battle, ushering in a golden age of peace and love. The Nazis fully bought into conspiracy theories themselves, like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Hitler believed were genuine, but which were actually written and disseminated by Russian intelligence in around 1900, to foster anti-Jewish sentiment.
Doesn’t this sound like QAnon to you? All our problems are caused by a hidden Satanic elite — not a race, this time, but a secret cabal made up of demonic liberals from Hollywood, the Democratic Party, and the deep state. In the darkness, they perform their monstrous blood rituals on children. But Trump, Q, and a few other heroes will defeat these monsters, liberate enslaved humanity, and usher in a glorious age of peace and love. But for that to happen, democracy must be suspended and there must be awful bloodshed and retribution. “Now comes the pain,” as foaming QAnoners put it. A bloody purge is necessary. The demons need to be exorcised. Only then will there be Love and Unity. Any anti-Trump information is planted by the “lying press” (a favorite Nazi term).
It’s an End of Days death cult, like Isis, like Nazism, like the Jim Jones cult. It is radicalizing people and ruining their lives through social media — people you may know and love, like the woman from Texas arrested last month for attacking various passersby in her car because she said they were pedophiles. Her social media feed was full of QAnon posts about Satanists trafficking children. She’d been red-pilled, and is now going to prison.
It’s not clear who is behind the Q posts. A good theory is it’s Jim Watkins, the owner of 8chan, where Q posts. (If you were a deep state mole, would you post on a chat board mainly used for Japanese porn?) Whoever is it, Trump allies like disgraced general Michael Flynn have openly supported it, and Trump — when asked about it last week — said QAnoners were patriots. This is a movement condemned by the FBI for fostering domestic terrorism. It is a fascist delusional fantasy, eagerly spread by Russian state trolls, that threatens Western democracy. Any sane Republicans should condemn it, and if a friend posts Q stuff on social media, let them know where the path leads. They might not go all the way down that path but they might unwittingly help others to do so.
However, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this sort of toxic magical thinking only happens on the far right. You can also find aspects of it on the far left, in totalizing us versus them narratives like the idea all white people are racist, or all men hate women, or conspiracy theories that a secret cabal of Big Money (that is, Jews) is destroying the planet. Black Lives Matter has at its heart an eminently fair and reasonable demand — the American police should be less trigger-happy in its policing, particularly of Black communities. But it also occasionally turns into cultish thinking and witch hunts, particularly among white liberals, where unless you adopt the right terminology, read the right books, make the right ritualistic confession of your latent racism, you are evil.
As in Weimar Germany, there is a general occult revival happening at the moment: occult feminists, occult anti-racists, occult environmentalists, and so on. Faith, magic, and spirituality can infuse many forms of politics. But the ecstatic needs to be balanced with the pragmatic, the rational, and with respect for law and democratic process.
I am not claiming that New Age spirituality inevitably leads to extremist politics. There are plenty of New Age centrist liberals, who are open to ecstatic experiences and non-materialist metaphysics, and also into critical thinking and democratic processes. I try to achieve that balance myself.
What I am saying is we shouldn’t be bewildered by the present overlap between the New Age and extremist conspiracy thinking. It’s happened before.