Why Are Wellness Influencers Cheering On the Anti-Vax Trucker Convoy?
Ange Peters sighs contentedly, bathed in warm light, her skin glowing against her yellow-and-pink striped sweater and flawless ombre highlights. “What a feeling today,” she says to the camera before pausing dramatically. “This was it. This was gonna be it, all along.” She chuckles. “This was the thing that no one anticipated.” Peters is perhaps best known as the founder and CEO of HOL:FIT, a holistic training and nutrition brand that doubles as a vendor for her to sell essential oils marketed by doTERRA, a Utah-based multi-level marketing company. On Instagram, she has about 43,000 followers. At first glance, the video seems to hew to her usual content template of promotions for her wellness workshops, or cozy carseat vlogs offering vaguely inspirational messages. Yet the video also includes a repost of a call to imprison Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and concludes with a shot of a truck with a “Freedom Convoy 2022” flag over the fender, a giant tidal wave superimposed on top of it. Peters, who did not respond to a request for comment, is just one of many health and wellness influencers who have started openly embracing the convoy on social media. Last week, Angela Liddon, a popular cookbook author and influencer best known as Oh She Glows, posted an Instagram story in praise of the truckers: “What will our future look like if the government continues along the path of of lockdowns, segregation, division/blame, mandates, and censorship?,” she asked. Toronto-based ASMRtist and lifestyle influencer GwenGwiz, who has 508,000 subscribers on YouTube and has been regularly posting anti-vaccine and Covid-denialist content throughout the pandemic, has also been posting in support of the trucker convoy on her Telegram channel, reposting videos from the Freedom Convoy 2022 Instagram account and criticizing “the lying MSM” for its coverage of the convoy. “I’m definitely seeing a lot of images and memes and conspiracy theories about the trucker protest coming out” from the wellness community, says Rachel Moran, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for an Informed Public, a research institute at the University of Washington that looks at mis- and disinformation. “We’ve been calling them the Girl Boss misinfo types, ones who are staunchly anti-vax and sell these anti-metal toxin sprays on their Instagram feeds. They’re spreading all sorts of conspiracy theories about FBI partnerships with Canadian authorities and Ottawa police to surveil the protesters, and it’s all tied to the downfall of the Deep State.” Influencers publicly supporting the convoy, which started in protest against trucker vaccine mandates and has left the country’s capitol city of Ottawa immobilized for the past 11 days, is the natural culmination of the wellness community’s increasing convergence with anti-vaccine or Covid-denying conspiracy theories, all in the name of supporting personal freedom and bodily autonomy. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a gradual yet palpable shift in the wellness community toward conspirituality, a portmanteau of “conspiracy theories” and “spirituality” constituting a mélange of woo mysticism and distrust toward the mainstream medical establishment, with a healthy dose of libertarianism thrown in for good measure. This strain has infiltrated all corners of the wellness ecosystem, from natural childbirth influencers to yoga teachers on Instagram. “There’s this prominent through-thread of anti-elitism and individualism that white female wellness influencers in particular are drawn to,” says Moran. “This idea that you’re drawn to your own destiny is what has connected them with a lot of these protests, not just the current one…. it mirrors this take on wellness that modern medicine is bad for you and cant be trusted and it’s all up to us individuals to spread the word. That narrative ties this all together.” Prior to the pandemic, many influencers with large platforms and brand deals at stake had financial incentive to keep their personal political views off social media. But increasingly, many wellness influencers — such as JP Sears, a former holistic wellness coach who has now pivoted to right-wing Covid denialism and anti-vax comedy sketch videos — are watching their followings blossom as a result of broadcasting such views.The rise of influencers embracing anti-vaccine sentiment has also coincided with the ascent of Pastel QAnon, a term coined by researcher Marc-Andre Argentino to describe influencers using Instagram grid-friendly, feminine aesthetics to broadcast extremist views. Since it started last month, the Freedom Convoy has attracted attention from conservative media and high-profile figures all across the globe. Billionaire Elon Musk and conservative author Jordan Peterson have expressed their support for the convoy, and a GoFundMe for the truckers raised nearly $10 million before it was removed by the platform last week for violating terms of service regarding violence and harassment. Entrepreneur, wellness guru, and Bulletproof Coffee founder Dave Asprey, who often uses his platform to criticize Covid lockdown protocols, has also posted repeatedly supporting the truckers and criticizing GoFundMe. “These protests are the most peaceful, polite, and clean you will find anywhere. After all, they are Canadian! Either you are on the right side of history, or you aren’t,” he wrote in one post to his more than 500,000 followers. (Ottawa has declared a state of emergency in response to the trucker convoy, and earlier this week police responded to reports of attempted arson in an apartment building near the convoy, reportedly following an argument between protesters and some of the building’s residents.) Such support is in spite of the fact that researchers believe the convoy’s organizers have links to Canadian hate groups and have expressed anti-Islamic sentiment. These alleged links have largely not been covered in the media, and they are certainly aren’t mentioned in the posts by influencers promoting the movement as a largely peaceful protest in favor of bodily freedom. (One of the organizers, Tamara Lich, made a video on the convoy’s Facebook page stating that nobody in the convoy should be “inciting violence or uttering threats” and should report any violence to the police.) The need to represent the convoy as a nonpartisan protest about bodily autonomy, divorced of any far-right-wing or extremist affiliation, is particularly urgent in light of the events of Jan. 6, which the GOP has been scrambling to reframe as a peaceful action despite footage of rioters attacking police officers and calling for the death of major political figures. “They’re setting up a David and Goliath framework here,” says Moran. And so-called Girl Boss misinformation types, with their built-in audiences of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of loyal followers hanging onto their every word, may be crucial in perpetuating that narrative. “Those kinds of accounts are the most nefarious in a way,” says Moran. “They’re really good at building trust with people, especially these glamorous white women who fit what we deem to be attractive. Maybe you trust their advice about what workout gear you’re gonna wear, and you build this parasocial relationship with them, and then they’re suddenly sharing this information about vaccine misinformation. And you’re more inclined to believe it because you have trust in them.”Why Are Wellness Influencers Cheering On the Anti-Vax Trucker Convoy?