On October 12th, Dr. Christiane Northrup, the Dartmouth-educated physician and renowned women’s health advocate, greeted her followers in another installment of her video series on Facebook, “The Great Awakening.” She calls her social-media acolytes Warriors of the Radical Light. There are well over half a million of them worldwide.
From her estuarial manor in Yarmouth, Maine, Northrup gazed into her camera and spoke with the warmth of an old friend. Many viewers undoubtedly consider her one. Northrup, who’d turned 71 the previous week, has been one of America’s most beloved holistic healers since her first bestseller, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, was published in 1994.
But fans expecting the uplifting spiritual-health spiel Northrup used to deliver on Oprah would be in for a surprise if they saw that day’s video.
Northrup began innocently enough, chatting about how she’d spent her Sunday in mindful silence and joyous song with a local meditation group. A member of the group had brought along his teenage son, who’d remarked that he doesn’t like wearing a facemask in school, as mandated by the district to deter the spread of COVID-19.
“I just suggested, as an act of civil disobedience, that he gather with likeminded students and not wear the mask, because it’s not a law,” Northrup told her viewers. “And he said, ‘That’s out of my comfort zone.’”
Northrup paused for effect. “Right,” she said, the teen didn’t “need” to organize a mask boycott, and neither did her viewers. “I understand just wearing a mask to run into the drugstore — I get it — because you have to decide which hill you’re gonna die on here, right?”
But, she’d told the teen, “How do you think it was that the Nazis did what they did? They made it outside of everyone’s comfort zone to talk about what was going on. And then neighbor was turned against neighbor, so we had the snitches and the Karens and the snitch lines, and that’s what we have right now, all over the globe.”
Before this day’s episode of “The Great Awakening” was over, at exactly 12 minutes, Northrup covered a lot of ground. She promoted a book called The Case Against Masks and sent viewers to the website Time to Swarm, which mobilizes what it calls an “army,” thousands strong, wielding “Silent Weapons for Digital Warfare” to amplify tweets advocating “medical freedom.”
Northrup took a brief side trip into the debate over the safety of 5G cellular technology. According to a “doctor who knows about this,” she said, “if a man works on a laptop on his lap for a week, he’ll no longer need to use a condom, meaning that’s how fast the sperm count goes down from the radiation of a laptop on your lap.”
She also dipped into the childhood vaccination debate — Northrup was an outspoken supporter of the failed effort last year to expand exemptions to Maine’s student-vaccination requirement. She quoted a woman who likened the public-health program to someone “asking me to set my kid on fire to keep your kid warm.”
“I’ve been told I’m on some lists of ‘conspirituality’ that you’re supposed to avoid,” Northrup said. “I don’t know what it was from — the Huffington Post, Mother Jones. As far as I can tell, all these publications that we used to think were protecting our freedoms and were about health and yoga and breathing, they’re captured publications. I don’t know who’s writing for them anymore.
“But anyway,” she continued, “I want you, personally, to look up Q. Just go ahead and look it up. You decide.”
Q refers to QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory that argues, among many other bizarre ideas, that President Trump is waging a secret war against a global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles led by prominent Democrats and Hollywood celebrities. The QAnon movement, whose adherents have turned violent on multiple occasions, is considered a “domestic terror threat” by the FBI.
“Honest to heaven,” Northrup said, “everything that is about your freedom, your sovereignty, your health, appears these days to be a right-wing conspiracy. It’s insane. If anyone had any ability to think critically left, they would see that. But if they don’t see that,” and here Northrup broke into mirthful laughter, “then I sort of waver between [naturopath YouTuber] Pam Popper’s ‘they’re too stupid to live…’”
Northrup drifted into another subject without mentioning what her other answer was, the one that ostensibly doesn’t consider non-believers “too stupid to live.” It’s possible she doesn’t actually have one — through a spokesperson, Northrup declined our interview request.
Northrup built her career as an author and health advocate by challenging the patriarchal practices of traditional Western medicine, especially those in her chosen fields: obstetrics and gynecology. But since the coronavirus pandemic swept through America last spring, she’s been using her reputation as a trusted health professional to advocate behaviors proven to cause sickness and death. She’s aligned herself with a loose network of crackpots and charlatans who profit off people’s fears, and is promoting their projects and products, along with her own, to her massive online audience using cult-like techniques.
As COVID-19 cases surge again this fall in Maine and across the world, Northrup’s nihilistic prescriptions pose a clear and present danger to public health. But just like the virus, it appears her viral disinformation campaign is unstoppable.
Darkness of the Rabbit Hole
Conspirituality is a portmanteau of conspiracy and spirituality. It was coined by academics in 2011 to describe the phenomenon by which New Agers are unwittingly sucked into far-right paranoid fantasies, and its usage has skyrocketed this year, due in large part to Northrup.
It was Mother Jones that called Northrup out for her conspiritualism, in a Sept. 23 article by Kiera Butler titled “The Terrifying Story of How QAnon Infiltrated Moms’ Groups.” In recent months, Butler and other journalists have documented how QAnon is spreading among mostly white, relatively wealthy women via their interest in subjects like yoga, homeopathy, alternative medicine and mystical philosophies.
Matthew Remski is a host of the podcast Conspirituality. Together with co-hosts Derek Beres and Julian Walker, he’s been documenting Northrup’s slide into the sickening darkness of QAnon’s worldview, and how she’s drawing her followers into the cult’s vortex.
“Facebook’s algorithms brought them all together, and QAnon’s big-tent conspiracism harmonized their grievances against the surveillance state, techno-globalism, corporate media, Big Pharma and Big Farming, medical violation, and the sexualization of children,” Remski wrote last month in an essay published on Medium. “Some followers started out concerned about vaccines but got hooked by stories of vampiric child abuse. Others who were into crystals and channeling spirits came to believe that Trump was a ‘lightworker’ (a kind of spiritual therapist or warrior who channels goodness and positivity).”
Northrup’s Oct. 12 video was one of many posts luring her fans into the conspiracy. The title of her video series, “The Great Awakening,” is also the term for a central tenet of the QAnon theory that posits a post-apocalyptic, rapture-like rebirth of humankind.
On July 7, Northrup posted a link on Facebook to the video “Out of the Shadows,” which peddles QAnon ideas and is considered a sequel of sorts to one of the first viral videos used to recruit Q disciples. “Did you see the first one?” Northrup gushed in the post. “Looks like more are coming! GOOD!”
Not everyone is along for the ride. Alyce Ornella, a Bath resident who helped organize last year’s pro-vaccine campaign in Maine, grew up watching Northrup on Oprah Winfrey’s show with her mother. Ornella said Northrup “always had an esoteric, non-evidence-based angle to her work,” but is now alienating a lot of her longtime fans.
In the 1990s, “my mom was quite into chakras, healing, essential oils,” Ornella said. “She went through a lot of different belief systems. But now she is extremely angry about Northrup promoting QAnon, anti-vaxx, and other conspiracies. She wouldn’t follow Northrup down the rabbit hole.”
QAnon is not the only far-right conspiracy Northrup is laundering. She played a key role last spring spreading Plandemic, a “documentary” that claims a cabal of elites, including Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci, are using the coronavirus to seize political power and make money. The video features Dr. Judy Mikovits, the discredited scientist who co-authored the book Northrup recommended last month, The Case Against Masks.
Plandemic was posted online on May 4 and got a boost the following morning, when a QAnon Facebook group with nearly 25,000 members linked to it. But as the New York Times reported, the video really took off that evening, when Northrup promoted it to her Warriors of the Radical Light via Facebook.
Northrup’s “status as a celebrity doctor made her endorsement of ‘Plandemic’ powerful,” the Times wrote. “After Dr. Northrup shared the video, more than 1,000 people also shared it, many of them to groups that oppose mandatory vaccinations.” (Northrup did not respond to the Times’ request for comment.)
The Long Con
“The real conspiracy has nothing to do with whatever Q is,” Northrup has said. “It is the blatant and egregious censorship in the mainstream media of anything that goes against the mainstream narrative of: ‘Something dangerous is out there that will kill us if we don’t mask up, and we can’t leave our homes until we’ve all been vaccinated.’”
Northrup’s opposition to big media is ironic, given that she’s been boosted for decades by mainstream outlets eager to air her contrary views, beginning with one of the most powerful players in the business: Winfrey.
In 2007, Northrup appeared on Winfrey’s show to advise the host about her thyroid problem. In her 1999 bestseller The Wisdom of Menopause — which Winfrey told her audience she reads “just like it’s the Bible” — Northrup claimed, without medical evidence, that “in many women, thyroid dysfunction develops because of an energy blockage in the throat region, the result of a lifetime of ‘swallowing’ words one is aching to say.” On the show, she described Winfrey’s ailment as a message from her “soul.”
In 2008, Northrup told an Oprah audience member that “some deaths” had resulted from the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which is scientifically proven to protect women against the common sexually transmitted disease and defend against cervical cancer. “Where I’d put my money is getting everybody on a dietary program that would enhance their immunity, and then they would be able to resist that sort of thing,” Northrup said, falsely implying that the STD can be thwarted by eating healthier foods. Northrup later admitted to Newsweek that she “isn’t certain that anyone has died from the [HPV] vaccine.”
The doctor’s bunk advice and conspiracy peddling hasn’t stopped Winfrey from giving her access to her millions of loyal fans. Northrup has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show over a dozen times, as well as on the show’s podcast — most recently in late August of this year.
Northrup may consider HuffPost a “captured publication” that lacks credibility, but the online news outlet published over 20 articles she wrote between 2011 and 2014, and she’s still identified on the site as a contributor, described as “the world’s leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness.”
As Northrup’s views have become more extreme, there has been some pushback.
Early this past spring, Maine Women Magazine, a free glossy monthly, published a cover story billed as “an intimate chat” with Northrup. The interview, published in MWM’s April issue, made no mention of the doctor’s anti-vaxx activism during the divisive statewide referendum campaign last year, and COVID-19 had yet to fully arrive stateside when the interview was conducted.
But seeing Northrup on the cover while the pandemic raged in April was too much for Alan Spear and Mary Allen Lindemann, the founders of Coffee By Design, an iconic Maine business known for its support of community causes. And worse: their full-page ad was on the back cover.
CBD pulled its advertising from the magazine and Spear and Lindemann went public with their concerns on Facebook. On April 10, they wrote, “the decision to promote Dr. Northrup in a fluff piece that does not address her broadly-known [sic] anti-vaccine stance, compounded by her now public statements that COVID-19 is a hoax, has put us in an extremely uncomfortable position. … [T]here has been no attempt by the publication to address the profile’s poor timing, or to publicly state that they do not support, or condone, Dr. Northrup’s beliefs.”
MWM is owned by Reade Brower, the Maine media mogul who owns most of the daily and weekly news publications in the state (including Rockland’s Free Press, which formerly employed a co-author of this article, Andy O’Brien). Brower publicly defended his magazine and Northrup. In an open letter to readers posted on Facebook on April 16, Brower called MWM “a human interest magazine” that “does not go into deep dives into political views.”
Northrup’s political views “were not prominent on her website or on a casual google [sic] search,” Brower wrote. “Never has Northrup said [COVID-19] was a hoax; she believes government overreach is an issue.” Echoing Northrup’s equation of criticism with oppression, Brower characterized the backlash generated by the interview as an “avalanche of hate, shaming and bullying.”
In a “clarification” Northrup provided to Brower, she said it’s “incorrect” to say she thinks COVID-19 is a hoax. “I believe that the Corona virus [sic] is real,” Northrup said, according to Brower. “But … the way it is being spun in the media is inaccurate.”
Three weeks later, Northrup pushed Plandemic into the mainstream — a video that falsely claims COVID-19 came from a laboratory and that wearing a facemask “literally activates your own virus.”
The dust-up between CBD and MWM briefly lit up Facebook, but was not covered by any local media. Not that Northrup need worry about bad press in her hometown paper. The combined readership of every newspaper in Maine is a fraction of the audience she commands on social media these days. She also has over 112,000 followers on Twitter, where her posts are often even more unhinged. For example, on Oct. 22 Northrup retweeted a post claiming “Canada is in the process of constructing concentration camps.”
As the Conspirituality podcast hosts have observed, Northrup’s “COVID truther” posts and winks at the QAnon crowd on Facebook far outperform her more pedestrian messages about health and wellness, generating exponentially more “likes” and shares.
“At this particular moment, what I find in my personal life is I take a stand on social media, in a way that I have been empowered to do like never before,” Northrup said last month during a Zoom panel discussion titled, “US Feminine Voices Speak Out: Is this the next Civil War?” In the weeks after she posted the link to Plandemic, her Facebook audience grew by more than 100,000 followers.
That’s also over 100,000 more people who’ll see posts promoting Northup’s website and e-mail newsletter, through which she sells her products. These include her books, audiobooks, videos, online courses, and her personal line of dietary supplements and beauty products, as well as stuff she’s paid to endorse.
From time to time, content Northrup posts on Facebook will be removed by the platform under guidelines against “false information.” But the frequency of Northrup’s posts indicates that Facebook doesn’t suspend her from the site, even for a day, for spreading lies about COVID-19 or other subjects.
In early October, Facebook’s Dangerous Organizations Operations squad tried to purge the site of QAnon content, including user accounts, groups, and feeds on its sister site, Instagram. Northrup’s page was unaffected — and as noted earlier, a week after this purge she was urging her Facebook followers to look into Q.
“Arguably, Northrup’s page epitomizes Facebook’s conundrum,” Remski wrote on Medium. It was the “gateway for the Q-themed ‘Plandemic’ … [that] got the viral ball rolling towards an eventual 20 million views for the film.” Facebook eventually banned the video and related content from its platform, but “what can it do about Northrup’s page, now waiting there like a lightning rod for the next bolt of disinformation?” Remski asked. It’s “much harder to define, let alone confront, the impacts of well-loved wellness influencers who game engagement with fear-mongering to enhance their brands.”
It’s also hard to measure the damage to public health this doctor’s deadly advice has wrought. How many Warriors of the Radical Light have been infected with the coronavirus, and have then infected others, because they’ve taken Northrup’s quack advice that social distancing and masks are harmful? If or when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and distributed, the refusal of anti-vaxxers like Northrup and her followers to get the shot could significantly prolong the plague. Recent polls indicate about half of Americans would refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine were one available.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, Northrup’s rhetoric became increasingly militant. She’s called on county sheriffs to refuse to enforce state lockdowns and mask mandates. Invoking the language of the white supremacist group Posse Comitatus and the far-right Sovereign Citizen movement, Northrup believes sheriffs, by virtue of being elected, are the highest law-enforcement officers in the land, with the power to invoke the 10th Amendment against any measures they deem unconstitutional.
In a letter she wrote to Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, which Northrup read online, she said this special status sheriffs have “protects us from well-meaning governors who are issuing mandates for our safety and protection, and it protects us from wayward governors and other tyrants. I think it’s fair to say that in 2020, the tyranny of good intention is evident all over the country.”
During the “Is this the next Civil War?” discussion, Northrup said, “I feel as though I’ve been called to midwife, as it were, this giant rebirth of planet Earth. And frankly, it is the same as when someone is almost fully dilated. It’s transition.
“This is where all the mothers go, ‘I’m leavin’, I’m not doin’ this, I am outta here,’” continued Northrup, who ended her OB/GYN practice in 1999. “And then you realize you’re stuck. There’s no ‘outta here.’ There is no getting outta here. So you just have to stay with it, everyone’s supporting you, and move through it.
“Birth is often, as you well know, not pretty, not comfortable, there’s a lot of blood … and you just hang in there, because you know that 99.9 percent of the time this absolutely perfect human being is the end result.”