The 21st Conscious Life Expo was held in Los Angeles from February 10-13, 2023. What's the Conscious Life Expo? According to Glossy, vendors at the expo offer up "aura photography, astrology and tarot card readings, chakra alignment, shamans, crystals, plant-based skin care, vegan smoothies, and guided meditation." And Anna Merlan of Vice explains:
The Conscious Life Expo is the largest New Age health and wellness expo in the United States, and one of the longest-running. It's usually a genial, chaotic circus. For three days every February, the halls of a Los Angeles Hilton burst with psychics, UFO experts, self-proclaimed lightworkers, and healers of all stripes, plus table after table of crystals, pyramids, oils, potions, and dubious cure-alls.
On the Conscious Life Expo website, they explain the intention behind the Expo:
The primary intention of the Conscious Life Expo Conference and Exposition is to participate in the conscious co-creation of a new world, a world based on new paradigms in science, in spirituality, in longevity, in local and global community, in relationship, in health and well-being. And while we co-create this new wholistic model through our authentic self-expression, we also participate in a powerful and passionate celebration of life and love. The Expo is a three-day gathering of the tribes, a three-day celebration of evolution and consciousness and a three-day brainstorming session on who we are, where we are and where we are going.
The Expo has a darker side, however—it's a place, explains Glossy, where "crystals and chakras are a gateway to far-right consciousness." Journalists who study conspirituality (where spirituality meets conspiracy theory), QAnon, conspiracy theories, and other similar phenomenon have provided some terrific analyses of the Conscious Life Expo, which I want to share.
The QAnon Anonymous podcast—hosted by Travis View, Julian Feeld, Jake Rockatansky, Annie Kelly, and Liv Agar—has covered the Expo in the past, and was there again this year, providing their always-brilliant up-close and personal ethnographic data. They recently dropped Episode 219: Attending the Conscious Life Expo (QAnon & the New Age), which they describe:
The great awakening at the LAX Hilton. We attended the Conscious Life Expo featuring a huge array of New Age enthusiasm and conspiracy theorizing. Included in our coverage: Sean Stone, son of Oliver Stone. Anti-vaxx white reggae. Theosophy, hermeticism, UFO disclosure, butthole sunning, the continent of Lemuria, sun simulators, rotating chakras, QAnon, etc.
Anti-vaxx "documentarian" goes full Red Scare. The man behind the viral Plandemic COVID-19 disinfo series explains to an audience of New Agers how the communists are on the verge of completing a "cultural revolution" in the United States. We attended his speech and an advance rough cut of the third movie, both at the Conscious Life Expo in Los Angeles. Plus we dig a bit into Mikki Willis's past and current projects.
Visitors with "crunchy" looks wearing flowing robes, tie-dye, and flower crowns wandered alongside those with "Arrest Dr. Fauci" shirts and MAGA-style anti-vaccine hats at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport-based event held February 10-12. In addition to a jasmine-scented face oil or new amethyst for their collection, ticketholders could pick up a packet of ivermectin sans prescription or phone stickers and jewelry claiming to "protect" from 5G. The event's inclusion of decidedly far-right and conspiracist elements showcased the symbiosis between grift and radicalism that has thrived in the wellness world since the upheavals of the pandemic.
Vice News also had some great coverage. Here's Merlan's piece, America's Biggest New Age Expo Welcomes Conspiracy Theories Back In, where she explains the complicated relationship the Expo leadership has with conspiracy theorists and conspiracy theories, which are in no short supply at the Expo. And here's a second piece from Merlan about now-famous anti-vaxxer Del Bigtree, who gave a keynote workshop where he railed against vaccinations and vaccinators. Merlan explains:
It was a peaceful Sunday afternoon at the Conscious Life Expo, and in a large, windowless ballroom, Del Bigtree was red-faced and triumphant in front of a captivated crowd.
"These people," he told them, "need to go to prison!" There was a smattering of solemn applause. "For life!" someone in the audience cried out.
Finally, Conspirituality Podcast—which is hosted by Derek Beres, Matthew Remski, and Julian Walker— recently released Conspirituality 142: Destination Rabbit Hole (w/Anna Merlan). Google Podcasts describes the episode:
Do visiting inter-dimensional spirits and stowaway UFO passengers use the LAX Airport to touch down among us? Well they do if they're in town for the Conscious Life Expo, conveniently located at the LAX Airport Hilton for those who rely on otherwise mundane modes of travel.
The Valentine's Day weekend crystals and angel cards fest of disjointed spirituality meets dodgy science just celebrated its 21st year as the premiere gathering point for awakened seekers choosing to come out of sovereign superposition and manifest in space-time reality.
But, as visiting Vice News correspondent Anna Merlan tells us, it turns out the organizers have grappled for years with how to reconcile the tensions between obvious charlatans and those who really, truly can talk to the dead, psychics who can diagnose your dog's mystery ailments, and those making artificial claims about all-natural elixirs, prophets of light and love, and QAnon promoting anti-vax conspiritualists.
Through their interview with Anna Merlan, they describe how this year, in attempt to somehow both feature conspiracy content and distance themselves from it, the Expo put the conspiracy-focused content in what the Expo called the "Rabbit Hole Room." To get to the "Rabbit Hole Room," you had to walk down a hallway, through purple curtains festooned with cardboard cut-outs of white rabbits. Anna Merlan points out in the interview that it's actually very hard to separate out anti-vaxx conspiracies (which are popular among New Age and wellness communities) and concerns about the New World Order and "evil cabals," from QAnon conspiracies, so this demarcation isn't as clear cut as the organizers might want participants to believe. Merlan also states in the interview that she has to assume that the conspiracy-focused speakers and booths make money for the Expo. The Conspirituality podcast hosts agree, stating first that gamifying the location of the Rabbit Hole Room doesn't really equate with distancing the Expo from it. In fact, the gamification heightens the anticipation while creating humor and irony. The Conspirituality podcast hosts also explore the profit-generating potential of the "Rabbit Hole Room," reiterating their mantra "watch what they say, and then watch what they sell"—in other words, look at how they price and profit from ideologies and worldviews they claim not to support. A day pass for the Expo was $40. Some panel discussions were $10 in advance, $20 at the door. To attend the keynotes—which included some of the biggest, most popular conspiracy theorists such as Mikki Willis, Del Bigtree, David "Avocado" Wolfe, Sean Stone, Brad Olsen, Laura Eisenhower, Foster Gamble, and Sacha Stone—the Expo charged $45 in advance, and $55 at the door, for each individual lecture. An attendee could easily spend $500 just on talks. In an analysis of the Expo offerings, the Conspirituality podcast hosts explain that there were 53 lectures included for free with a day pass. And over the course of the weekend there were an additional 32 keynote workshops that cost extra. Of those 32, 13 were in the Rabbit Hole Room. The Expo was clearly making a lot of money off of content they claim to not support. As one of the podcasts hosts said, the Expo seems to be covering their "asses with irony."
If you're curious to learn more, go read and listen to the resources above. And if you really need to see it all for yourself, next year's Expo will be February 9-12, 2024.