A mishmash of ‘positive thinking’ spiced with pan-Slavism, far-out conspiracy theories, and apocalyptic visions is a growing presence on Central European social media.
Today, the web seems to have a problem with the circulation of far-right content. Far-right motifs can be spotted in places where one would least expect it, so the odds of stumbling upon one of the many entry points to ideological extremism have multiplied. This spread is also boosted by the world of “conspirituality,” a place where the borders of contemporary spirituality and conspiracy theories blur. Spreading extremist and disinformation messages through their own channels and cosmologies, conspiritual networks are seedbeds for the growth of extremism.
In the first article in this two-part series, we traced the expansion of the U.S.-born, far-right conspiracy theory QAnon into European countries such as Italy and the Czech Republic thanks to conspiritual channels and narratives. But regardless of QAnon’s powerful structure of diffusion, our cross-border investigation also shows the presence of many other, perhaps lesser known, far-right, conspiritual themes and networks scattered in many corners of the digital space.
As with QAnon, these ideas and networks multiply by connecting to regional narratives and national ideologies. Studying the different channels and forms of diffusion of the phenomenon, our investigation uncovered cross-border mechanisms that act to recycle disinformation narratives, subliminal messages from spiritual gurus, and modern-day pagan conspiracies used for Slavic revanchism.
New Age Pan-Slavism
In the Czech and Slovak Republics, conspiracy theories spread through different channels, but especially on the social network Telegram, which, in these countries, is used mainly by extremists, QAnon followers, and devotees of disinformation news streams.
Telegram channels circulate, among others, the ideas and rhetoric of a modern-day revival of pan-Slavism, which foresees the unity of Slavic nations and their superiority to the alleged hegemony of Anglo-Saxon nations.
In Central and Eastern Europe, QAnon, as in the United States, is linked to the belief in satanic and pedophile elites connected through the mechanisms of the “deep state.” But in the countries of this region, a striking feature is that QAnon is also perpetuated through pan-Slavic narratives in an attempt to adapt QAnon’s original message to local storylines and cultural contexts. Here, while conspiracy influencers benefit from QAnon – as it mobilizes their fan base – QAnon benefits in terms of diffusion from its communion with the pan-Slavic ideology.
The conspiracies surrounding the death of Queen Elizabeth II may serve as an example of the direct connection between pan-Slavist and QAnon narratives. After the queen’s death, Czech Telegram accounts quickly began to announce that the Anglo-Saxon domination of humanity would imminently give way to the supremacy of the Slavs. One popular site used a simple bit of numerology to link the two historical events. The queen’s death occurred on the eighth day of September, 8.9, the sum of which is 17, which corresponds to the letter q, which stands for QAnon.
In these channels, there is also talk of anti-Slavic racism, with the war in Ukraine allegedly being an anti-Slavic campaign or an attempt to divide the Slavic people. Telegram posts that fit this description are often shared alongside statements by Vladimir Putin saying, for example, that the West is in a losing battle to maintain its dominance. The aim is to portray Russia as a strong power that alone can end the rule of the weakened West.
“It is no secret that the key problem for the U.S. was and is Russia. For them, the Slavs are an ‘inferior race’ but also a permanent obstacle to world domination,” says Slovanske noviny (Slavic News, 6,700 followers), one of the Telegram accounts that promulgate pan-Slavist ideas that often combine with disinformation campaigns and conspiracies.
Within the sphere of pan-Slavism, the Slavs are often portrayed as a nation on a spiritual and moral high ground in contrast to the consumerist and morally arid Western society.
“Slavs do not promote fascism, racism, and feminism. They do not live according to the commandments, but according to their conscience. They say what they think and mean what they say. They do not pray to the gods, but praise them and thank them for what they have. Slavs love their country, but they do not harm it,” says one widely circulated post from Somslovan.sk (I am a Slav, a Telegram account with 2,000 followers). The Slovak influencer Liana Laga, whose Telegram channel is a melting pot of various anti-system conspiracies and introspective spiritual messages, also shared this post.
Riding this rhetoric of greater good and moral superiority, new pan-Slavic movements have emerged and attracted attention. This is the case for the relatively new sect AllatRa and the connected international “movement” called The Creative Society, which has found thousands of supporters in the Czech Republic alone. Under the pretext of working for the global good, it promotes anti-system and pro-Russian tendencies, but also spreads conspiracies about alien civilizations and unscientific theories about global warming.
Real People Versus Animals
The Creative Society says it has supporters in more than 100 countries but seems to be most popular in Central and Eastern Europe.
This fast-growing group runs a network of more than 200 social media accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers across all major platforms. Subtle promotion of pro-Russian and pro-Putin narratives blends with messages about the unification of the Slavs. The movement is shrouded in a cloak of secrecy with opaque ownership and funding.
The Creative Society lies behindAllatRa, a Russocentric organization reportedly originating in Ukraine that produces content its website describes as “interesting for all people who strive for self-improvement, for spiritual and cultural development, for strengthening better qualities in themselves and in the surrounding society.” This sect spreads a dystopian vision of the world, which can supposedly only be reversed by The Creative Society, “a project of the whole of humanity, which gives the opportunity to bring our civilization to a new stage of evolutionary development in the shortest possible time and in a peaceful way.”
The most visible face of AllatRa is a certain Igor Mikhailovich Danilov, who acts as a guru in videos posted by AllatRa and The Creative Society. Although he talks about the unification of humanity, he says that people who oppose the “ideology of the Creative Society” are “animals”: “Only an animal can oppose, not a human being. We must secure such a beast. It cannot have the rights and status of a human being but of ‘non-humans’ and traitors. If man opposes the Creative Society, he will lose the status of man forever. Only then will everything be right.”
AllatRa counts among such “animals” the elites, the so-called “Archons,” whose ranks include unspecified politicians, billionaires, and the media. These people, AllatRa says, “distort the Truth, distort the meaning and concepts such as Love, Freedom. … They stop at nothing, they even form satanic sects that use the knowledge of humanity that has been collected for spiritual purposes for centuries.”
AllatRa and The Creative Society promote skepticism about climate change, circulate conspiracy theories about extraterrestrial civilizations, and demand an alternative to capitalist and materialist society.
Although its members often deny that AllatRa is a sect, aspects of the movement show otherwise. The movement has a leader, foundational texts, a coined terminology, and a dystopian vision of apocalypse in the form of volcanic explosions – said to be coming this year – when only a united world in the sole acceptable form of The Creative Society will save the world.
While these groups are clearly pro-Russian and based on the idea of Slavic unification, they do not comment on the war in Ukraine. However, representatives from The Creative Society were at a protest demonstration against the Czech government, where it gave space in its interviews to well-known pro-Russian, disinformation and conspiracy spreaders such as Ladislav Vrabel, a Czech disinformation activist who organized the demonstration; David Formanek of the popular Telegram channel Open Your Mind; and Lubomir Volny, a former far-right member of parliament.
“The members of the movement do not realize that they are spreading pro-Russian ideas that they themselves might not want to spread. They are unknowingly spreading Russian influence into the Czech Republic, which is why it is necessary to draw attention to it,” according to Jakub Ludvik, a doctoral student of religion who has been researching the sect for several years.
A Bewildering Mixture of Messages
In line with AllatRa’s ideological mix of alternative spirituality, feel-goodism, and extremist motifs, conspiritual influencers who built their popularity on promoting a healthy lifestyle and the love of nature only to later slip into anti-vax beliefs, COVID denial, and extremist tendencies, have also appeared on the Czech and Slovak internet.
These are individuals or groups who, in pursuit of health and a strong belief in nature – and themselves – often subtly spread anti-systemic, pro-Russian, or extremist narratives. Moreover, in addition to their role as “gurus,” they sell their products, hold spiritual sessions, and build their own base of supporters in the offline world, benefiting economically from their disinformation campaigns. As they seek and supposedly offer miraculous solutions to the complex problems of humanity – be they war, economic problems, or disease – they can also draw benefits from a crusade against the system, science, and the mainstream media.
That conspiritual thinking can enter the mainstream becomes apparent when you look at the career of Wim Hof, a Dutchman who promotes a regime of breathing exercises and bathing in ice water as a miracle cure for various diseases. And although there is no evidence that he is a fan of QAnon theory, Hof used vocabulary typical of QAnon believers when he addressed a crowd of 60,000 at the Czech multi-genre festival Colours of Ostrava in 2022:
“We are born equipped with everything we need to become captains of our souls, and it’s time to rise up as warriors of light. We don’t need hospitals, we don’t need the pharmaceutical industry. We are the power,” Hof assured the crowd. Terms like “army of love” and “warriors of light” also part of the terminology used by conspiratorial influencers and QAnon supporters.
Anthropologist Jan Kozak of Charles University in Prague is part of a group that researches the phenomenon of conspirituality. He sees a typical progression of ideas in the way of thinking spread by influencers, including Hof.
It starts, he says, with a belief “in the power of your body and the power of nature.” This puts the believer in a position of stark contrast to “a civilization with corrupted products” – like genetically manipulated foods, viruses, and vaccinations – “medical procedures that interfere dramatically with the body through modern technology. All of that falls under the term ‘corrupt civilization’ that needs to be countered.”
Central Europe is no exception to the phenomenon of conspiritualist influencers embracing extremist ideologies. As mentioned, the Slovak influencer Liana Laga has many followers in her country and the Czech Republic.
In her bookF*ck the System, Make Love: (R)evolution of Consciousness, she claims to offer a comprehensive solution to the corrupt world in the form of spirituality, love, and meditation, where the power of the individual will influence all of society, quoting among other conspiracy theorists David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Laga spreads anti-system conspiracy theories and QAnon beliefs among the 4,000 followers of her Telegram account, interspersed with invitations to her own meditation sessions, book promotions, and self-development quotes about love and faith. She also informed her followers of the magical number 17 linking Queen Elizabeth’s death with QAnon theory. “This event triggers an official ‘cleansing,’ a green light. The storm has arrived, Rest in hell. 8+9 =17Q,” she announced.
A similar scheme appears in the Czech conspiritual project Hovory ze zeme (Conversations from the Ground/Earth). Boasting 25,000 followers, it operates primarily on YouTube as a vehicle for a Czech couple, Marek Jelinek and Dominika Trojanova – travelers who, through interviews with Czech new-age personalities about spirituality and love of nature, give the speakers almost unlimited space to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation narratives. Between discussions about how to love oneself, what love means, and whether there is a god, visitors to their site learn that COVID is a scam, one of many spread by mainstream media.
One guest, David Formanek – interviewed by Creative Society followers at the anti-government event – started the website Otevri svou mysl (Open Your Mind). His Telegram channel has more than 18,000 followers, making it among the most popular in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Until Facebook blocked his account, it was one of the most popular conspiracy channels on that social media platform, offering translated conspiracy videos during the coronavirus pandemic. Branching out from his menu of conspiracies, anti-vax promotion, and theories about the deep state, in May 2022 he launched Open Your Soul, an offshoot of Open Your Mind.
“If you are interested in things ‘between heaven and earth,’ spirituality, exopolitics, intuition, meditation, esotericism, mystery teachings, spiritual development, extraterrestrial civilizations, the history of humanity and Earth, and much more, this is the place for you,” Formanek informs his followers. “I want the site to focus on a practical and grounded concept of spirituality, bringing an expanded and higher view of the world and events around us.”
As part of this stew of ideas, Formanek conveys conspiratorial, anti-system, and disinformation narratives.
“I disseminate information from sources I trust,” he informs his followers. “I translate information that I’m not sure is true but with which I identify the most. I am not a know-it-all. My point is to keep my mind open to different information and form a worldview based on that.”
Formanek’s justification for this approach highlights a paradox, or cognitive dissonance that he and others like him exhibit. Their claims of open-mindedness clash with the reality that their beliefs are impervious to information from outside the “sources they trust.” And as they build networks capable of luring people attracted by the facade of spirituality and positive thinking, they operate as dangerous, and often underrated, entries to rabbit holes of disinformation and extremism.
A Journey Into Alt-Reality
As conspiratorial thinking finds evil in civilization or the system, alternative spirituality finds good in nature or man as an individual.
“Taken together, it creates a kind of balanced whole in which there is light and shadow. One gets an easy explanation for all of society’s problems because they are the fault of civilization, especially its leaders, and one has an explanation for how to counter them, namely a return to nature and one’s own abilities,” Jan Kozak says, summarizing the allure of these beliefs.
The conspiracy finds evil at the heart of civilization, dark forces that control politics and history. Contemporary spiritual movements are not interested in politics; rather they locate the source of good in the heart of nature, wisdom in ancient or remote civilizations like the Mayans and the Druids, and health in herbs and meditation.
“Together they work great: civilization bad, nature good. Each part focuses on the preferred half and they create a balanced whole in which there is light and shadow, evil is explained but there is a path to good, it is not hopeless. The path to goodness is a path to one’s own powers, but also to the forces of nature,” Kozak says.
Those who find themselves in this rabbit hole may find it hard to get out. Conspirituality is like a fairy tale, where good tries to triumph over evil, with “we” creating the good and “they” creating the evil: a dichotomous worldview from which it is hard to escape.
Leveraging on this dynamic, there are several entries to the digital rabbit hole that lead to powerful and very persuasive networks where ideological extremism coexists with anti-establishment views on health and illness and revanchist world visions.
For a long time, the agenda of these networks and groups may have been regarded as innocuous. But in these digital spaces where Slavic culture is often associated with purity of soul and the golden days of yore, influencers and networks that spread ideas about the love of self and nature don’t hesitate to connect this nostalgic and positivist approach with QAnon theories or other extremist conspiracies and ideologies.
It is clear that far-right, conspiratorial ideologies tend to expand and wrap themselves in stories that are relevant and close to the cultures in which they want to take root. In the case of Central and Eastern Europe, the origins of conspiratorial ideas can often be found in projects of anti-Western disinformation or pro-Russian propaganda, which are then adapted to local audiences and made ready for dissemination through various channels. And as these channels often link to and support each other, the effect is to build international networks whose reach and impact may be difficult to assess but whose understanding remains crucial to combat radicalization at the national and international levels.
Sofia Cherici is a freelance multimedia and investigative journalist specializing in human rights and environmental and social issues in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Jan Zabka is a journalist at Hlidaci pes, a Czech investigative website. He reports on disinformation and the Czech media environment.
This is the second article in an investigation by IrpiMedia, Transitions, and Hlidacipes.org, funded by the Collaborative and Investigative Journalism Initiative.