Editorial
Genie in the subtle energy lamp

It’s not only Pete Evans. He’s just the untreated symptom of a politics that cannot deal with complexity. It is a politics without any real constituency, stretching and searching to find something that might give it power.

Evans exists on the mainstream edge of this internet fringe, a place that mistakes conspiracy theories for independent thought. He backs multilevel marketing schemes and says fluoride causes “brain … diseases”. In April he was fined by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for selling a lamp he said could treat “the Wuhan coronavirus”. Every morning he stares directly into the sun.

This week, Evans was dropped by his publisher and television network after posting a neo-Nazi cartoon on Facebook. Stores sent back his books and products. In the image, a caterpillar in a Trump hat is drinking with a butterfly whose wings are marked with the sonnenrad. “You’ve changed,” the caterpillar says. “We’re supposed to,” the butterfly says. “An oldie but a goldie,” Pete Evans says.

The former television chef denies knowing what the drawing meant. Ignorance is not new for him. “The fact,” he says, “that I had to actually Google what neo-Nazi meant is pretty telling.” Earlier, he posted: “You may wish to have another look about the true history about Germany.”

Evans doubts reality. He points his followers to mad theories. “Masks in the bin,” he wrote this month. “Hugging for everyone. Vaccine to be replaced with organic food, plant medicines, sunlight … breathwork …”

Over time, far-right politics has intermingled with these crank remedies. In part, this is because they represent an anti-government movement. They promise a return to simpler times. Just as Nazism hid out in the occult after World War II, some sovereign citizens hide out in wellness.

It is a strange and inconsistent place, this fringe. They fear 5G and believe a one-world government is assembling in the shadows. They see paedophile networks everywhere, in pizza shops and empty railway tunnels.

That this fringe exists and is growing says a lot about the impoverishment of thought on the right. Jumbled up in the bone broth and black suns is a search for meaning and a rejection of change. Conspiracy theories are necessary for this thinking to cohere. Experts are derided. Righteousness is everywhere.

Figures from this fringe are present in office. A QAnon supporter won a United States house seat in the recent elections. In Australia, Liberal MPs support hydroxychloroquine treatments and post about “Democrat vote fraud”.

But this fringe must be confronted. The disinformation needs to be countered. Adherents need to be deradicalised. It could start with the prime minister confronting conspiracy theories on the government’s benches, although that seems unlikely.

For Evans, it’s uncertain what happens next. Fans online are thanking him for speaking “truth”. After losing his endorsements, he shared an image of a human eye in a galaxy of stars. “Awe, wonder, gratitude and curiosity,” he wrote. “Always love and trust.”

As with the cartoon, it’s not clear that any of those words mean what he thinks they mean.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 21, 2020 as "Genie in the subtle energy lamp".

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