Eyes wild, spinning his signature word salads and gesticulating intensely, Russell Brand looks every inch the charismatic contrarian mystic guru figure he’s recast himself as in recent years.
‘The relationships I had were absolutely always consensual. I was always transparent about that then, almost too transparent,’ he says, unblinkingly, into the camera.
‘To see that transparency metastasised into something criminal that I absolutely deny, makes me question: is there another agenda at play?’
The appearance was shared to his social channels last Friday. It was seemingly an attempt to galvanise the support of his followers ahead of the media release of a string of allegations against him over the weekend – including of rape and emotional abuse. (Brand emphatically denies these allegations and states that all of his sexual encounters and relationships have been consensual.)
I didn’t find his video – in which the 48-year-old casts the painstaking, three year investigation as a targeted attack on him by ‘powerful elites’ – shocking. And the allegations of said investigation, disturbing as they are, were not surprising, either: I’d heard whispers about Brand’s past, for years.
The proper gut punch came that evening, when I saw how many people from the fitness, nutrition and yoga worlds had ‘liked’ his treatise or left supportive comments, including some I follow – and like.
‘Keep your frequency up @russellbrand it’s because you are a threat,’ reads one comment. ‘I believe Russell is being framed. Was he a perfect man? No. However he has done the work of deep spirituality that most of you would never even dare to consider. You stay asleep!’ comes another.
‘You got this 🙌 they’re trying to shut you down because you’re attracting hope and love 🙌 we love you,’ said one more acolyte.
That the former comedian has embedded himself deeply into the alternative health world isn’t news.
The festival he co-hosts with his wife Laura, COMMUNITY, attracts people at the furthest edges of the ‘woo’ spectrum along with advocates of ice baths, functional mushroom coffee and breath work. He’s interviewed beloved spiritual figureheads, including Jack Kornfield, one of the key figures who brought Buddhism to the west in the seventies (as a diehard Kornfield fan, that one hurt).
People who profess ‘love and light’ on their Instagram bios either supporting – or tacitly endorsing – someone who's platformed anti-vaccine talking points, pro-Russian conspiracy theories on the war in Ukraine and those who have rhapsodised in support of Donald Trump seems, initially, bizarre.
But it’s something that I, along with many others, have been attuned to since the early-ish days of the pandemic. It was 2020 when it became clear that an ugly love child had been conceived between the far right and some aspects of the wellness scene.
Various conspiracy theories, like that 5G was coming to usurp our minds and that lockdowns were evidence of a nefarious ‘globalist’ push towards authoritarianism, coalesced under the ‘nothing is as it seems’ banner.
Phrases associated with QAnon (a viral pro-Trump conspiracy theory) appeared in pastel fonts on the feeds of some prominent yoga teachers. The late Katie Griggs, (AKA ‘Guru Jagat’) a figurehead of Kundalini yoga, hosted anti-semitic conspiracy theorist David Icke on her podcast.
I’m not the only one working in this industry who observed this melding of worlds and who has felt pained by people’s continued support of the ‘anti-establishment’ multi-millionaire.
Dr Lee Watson is the founder of Fierce Calm, a non-profit providing free, trauma-informed yoga classes for marginalised and vulnerable groups. He noticed just ‘how far down the rabbit hole’ the former presenter had fallen, 12 months ago.
‘We've seen it with people on the alt right – Trump, Andrew Tate et al. But with Brand, there's a twist – that of the "wellness influencer",’ he reflects.
‘He’s [broadcast] American alt right ideology, put a kaftan and some mala beads on it and made it spiritual and palatable to his UK wellness audience.’
Watson’s current daily work, helping those in Ukraine who have been injured, displaced, or otherwise impacted by Russian violence (about which, remember, Brand has platformed pro-Kremlin conspiracy theories) underscores the profound alienation he feels at industry colleagues and friends who have continued to support Brand.
‘It’s meant that the yoga and wellness scene is no longer a safe space or one where I can feel any sense of belonging,’ he says.
'Just asking questions'
Under the guise of ‘just asking questions’ – he's typically careful to avoid straightforwardly taking a position, instead coaxing his audience towards a stance – Brand segued from a seemingly leftist bent.
In 2015, after previously urging people not to vote, he lent his support to Ed Miliband’s Labour; at a similar time he advocated for a social revolution based on the ‘common good.’ In later years he began threading his more extreme socialist beliefs into the ambient distrust which is core to the alt right worldview, all backlit by the aesthetics of wellness culture.
Now, high profile supporters include self-proclaimed misogynist Andrew Tate, who is currently facing human trafficking and rape charges in Romania (which he strongly denies) and US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. As well as using Instagram and YouTube, Brand broadcasts from Rumble, an online video platform used largely by the alt right.
Brand is far from the first alt health advocate to express alt right sympathies and bring thousands of wellness-curious types along with them. Indeed, such a phenomenon is well-documented. So much so that it has its own shorthand: the ‘crunchy to alt right pipeline’. (Crunchy being a US pop culture reference to granola, shorthand for various hippie-adjacent practices, such as avoiding all food additives or home-brewing kombucha.)
Brand’s latest persona – an enlightened, anarchic truth-seeker illuminating the world's evils to his followers – is an archetype explored by podcast Conspirituality (a portmanteau referring to where conspiracy theories and new age ‘spirituality’ intersect). The hosts note how an understanding that ‘nothing is as it seems’, a typical new-age sentiment, slips easily into the suspicious lens of the extreme right.
Dr Watson, too, has given much thought to why people on wellness’ woo end might drift, or paddle ferociously, into these murky, conspiratorial waters.
‘Many people drawn to this world are already sceptical of convention and are drawn to alternative explanations – especially when presented by someone as charismatic as Brand,’ he shares.
‘The allure is magnified by the human proclivity for dissociation and magical thinking [the belief that unrelated events are causally connected despite no plausible causal link between them] that sometimes pervade wellness spaces.’
I know all this. I read widely within this area and never miss a Conspirituality episode. And yet, his tribe immediately assuming allegations against him are part of a hateful push to drive him out because he's ‘shaking the establishment’, taking no pause or consideration, shocked me.
Given how he rhapsodies against the ‘mainstream media’, (hello!) though, it probably shouldn’t have.
For Naomi Klein, an author and campaigner who describes this phenomenon as ‘conspiracy culture’, this push to discourage followers from engaging critically is deliberate, and markedly different to healthy scepticism.
‘This knee-jerk denialism is precisely why people with plenty of skeletons in the closet love conspiracy culture, they have a built-in defence against accountability,’ Klein tweeted of the support Brand continues to enjoy. ‘It's all a conspiracy, always.’
True, Brand released his defence broadcast before the investigation was published, when the specifics and severity of the allegations were opaque – although his allusions made clear he was about to be accused of sexual violence.
One could argue also that the allegations, right now, are that: allegations. (Albeit ones based on evidence from multiple sources and presumably poured over by the full weight of the legal counsel behind The Times, The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches, who led the joint investigation.)
Still though, the conviction with which so many of his fans are convinced that these allegations are purely a ruse to ruin a truth-telling luminary because he's a threat to the mainstream, with no room for any other possibility, is a sign of how skilled Brand’s cultish, wellness-coded reinvention has been.
Alongside the supportive comments from those in the wellness world, I was reassured to see some yoga teachers, fitness pros and nutritionists lambasting his defenders.
‘Disgusted at the support for this man, you do not know him, you follow him,’ said one.
‘Individual alleged victims have nothing to gain and are not MSM, their voices deserve to be heard,’ said another.
At present, of course, it remains to be seen if Brand will be charged with any crime, let alone found guilty.
For me, though, an alarming reality is this. When it comes to broadcasting pernicious conspiracy theories, sprinkling the surrounding chatter with terms like ‘awakening’, coating it all with flecks of rose quartz and inspiring a slavish following who refuse to believe that their leader can do any wrong, he won't be the last.
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