By now we’ve all seen the pictures, saturating our social media landscapes with their grotesque glee. The becostumed horde, thronging through the windows, up the stairways, politely abiding by the velvet red ropes, as they stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC on Wednesday. We’ve been transfixed, appalled, heartbroken.
Immediately, stories proliferated online about what was going on, interpretations of the root and proximate causes, alternate explanations proffered to excuse or condemn the insurrectionists. One figure stood out: furry hat, shirtless, extensive ink, carrying a spear with the American flag tied below the tip, red-white-and-blue painted on his face. And he is known as the Q Shaman. How could we not notice him?
The tattoos are striking. Covering much of his upper body: an axe, overlapping triangles, a tree. These symbols are well known enough to have names: valknot, Mjolnir, and Yggdrasil. The overlap of Norse neopagan symbols with neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups suggests the symbols on this particular man’s body express such commitments. The Anti-Defamation League lists the valknot as a possible hate symbol because of its use by white supremacist Odinists, though the cultural permeation of these symbols beyond Odinist groups like Ásatru means that their presence isn’t necessarily an indication of ideology. The tattoo on his shoulder appears Greek inspired, while there seem to be runes on his hand, and bricks on his arms that could be an homage to the border wall.
Turning to Q Shaman’s attire, the bricolage continues. The much-discussed furry hat with horns has been referred to as a Viking helmet as well as a Native American buffalo headdress. Perhaps the closest approximation is the ghost bison fur hat from the video game Red Dead Redemption. The torso tattooing also recalls another video game character, Kratos from God of War. There’s perhaps a strong element of cosplay or LARPing.
His own explanation, given to the Arizona Republic in a 2020 interview, is that it’s symbolic. The horns represent the buffalo, as in “you mess with the bull you get the horns,” while the skin is coyote, which he links to Native American mythology about the coyote as trickster. His face paint he also links to Native American traditions, calling it “war paint.” Such symbolism is necessary as he’s fighting on the side of the “angels” in a “spiritual war.”
Fighting alongside Donald Trump and the angels in a spiritual war while sporting white supremacist-associated tattoos connects Q Shaman to evangelical Christian nationalism. At the same time, he identifies himself as a shaman. Now in federal custody, Q Shaman aka Jake Angeli aka Jacob Chansely [image below left] is a well-known figure at protests in Arizona in support of Trump’s false claims of election rigging, against Covid-19 lockdowns, as a counter-protestor at Black Lives Matter, and also at a climate protest.
His Twitter bio reads “Spiritual & Political Consultant, Shamanic Practitioner Author, Energetic Healer, Ordained Minister, Seeker of Truth & Servant of God.” Other pictures of Angeli at protests show him banging a drum and chanting. On a now defunct website, he also offered online courses on shamanism and claimed to have walked a shamanic path for twenty years that started with a jarring experience in which he perceived the world as alien, after struggling with addictions to cigarettes, drugs and fast food, and a difficult childhood. Such stories are by now generic in constructions of shamanism among white, English-speaking Americans without significant connections to living Indigenous traditions. The word ‘shaman’ in English is a derivation from the Evenki word šamán, and it has travelled far from its Indigenous Siberian roots.
Religion scholar Mircea Eliade helped create the concept of ‘shamanism’ as a universal, ancient religion that was the root of all other religions in an evolutionary schema. The term was taken up by anthropologist-turned-practitioner figures such as Michael Harner and Carlos Castaneda, who helped create what’s now known as core shamanism, neo-shamanism, or contemporary Western shamanism. This variant of shamanism has little to do with any Indigenous practice. There’s no singular institution which authorizes shamans in America, so anyone can call themselves a shaman, and constitute their practice however they want.
While Angeli’s claim to be a shaman may be another costume, alongside terms such as “energetic healer” it emplaces him within the constellation of beliefs and practices known as New Age spirituality. Another indication of his involvement in this milieu is the sign he held at a protest in Phoenix that references his (now removed) YouTube channel “Starseed Academy,” which shares its name with another channel run by Jenny, a Galactic Shepherdess, who has since put up a video disavowing any connection with Angeli.
In the interview with the Arizona Republic, he calls himself a “multidimensional being,” whose third eye is open. His involvement with spirituality is made abundantly clear in his appearance on a podcast called Keys for Our Ascension in October 2019 (now Cosmic Gaia), having met the host at Disclosure Con, which describes itself as “a UFO/Conspiracy/whistle-blower convention…smack in the middle of a Comic Con in the beautiful White Mountains of Arizona a well known UFO Hot Spot, Big Foot Sightings and Tribal Legends.”
In the hour-long episode during which he goes by the name Yellowstone Wolf, he discusses his self-published book (written under yet another name, Loan Wolf) and his experiences with extraterrestrials and UFOs, psychedelic use, and the purpose of meditation in raising consciousness. He goes through the gamut of New Age themes: fractal energy; frequencies; solar cycles; personal ascension leading to galactic ascension; chakras; the universe; light codes; overcoming negative emotion; 100th monkey collective; the flower of life and sacred geometry; the divine is within; be your own guru; astrology; and so on. He advertises his now-defunct website starseedacademy.space, and promotes Life-Wave patches, a multi-level marketing scheme that he claims cured his father of cancer and liver disease.
A starseed is a person who believes they have an alien consciousness intertwined with their human physical form. Within New Age spirituality, terms like starseed, galactic, and multidimensional being are often used interchangeably. There are multiple dimensions of existence. This reality that we perceive is the third dimension, which is characterized by the existence of mass with density, and therefore pain and suffering. One who exists on multiple dimensions simultaneously is more spiritually evolved than those of us who perceive the third dimension as the only reality. They believe they can see and know more because of this awareness of multiple dimensions.
In my own research into New Age spirituality, I met people who self-identified as starseeds and told me they could bilocate, working on starships orbiting Earth at the same time as they were talking to me in the third dimension. Energetic healing is part of the ability to operate transdimensionally. The symbol of the third eye, originating in Hinduism and Buddhism, has been adapted in New Age spirituality to mean that one is spiritually aware or can experience multiple dimensions simultaneously. Despite his pro-Trump activity, Angeli was deeply involved in this milieu.
But wait a minute—aren’t New Agers meant to be peace-loving hippies? The views that Angeli has expressed in interviews incorporate wide-ranging conspiracy theories: elites or “the cabal” are using black magic; they’re trying to establish a one world government called the New World Order; Operation Mockingbird infiltrated the media; we’re all debt slaves to banking cartels; children are being trafficked by a Satan-worshipping cabal; true scientific progress of free infinite energy and more is being kept from us; there are deep underground bases used by the cabal for nefarious purposes.
Through his actions storming the Capitol building, he’s clearly a supporter of Donald Trump. Further, given the picture of him standing with a “Q Sent Me” sign at the many protests he’s attended, he’s deeply involved with the QAnon conspiracy theory. His car is covered with slogans including “Q is real,” “save the children,” and “children’s lives matter,” referencing the child sex trafficking ring rumors of QAnon.
He claims that he can see higher frequencies using his third eye, therefore he knows what these elite pedophiles are doing. Identifying himself as a “digital soldier” in a spiritual war, he sees himself as fighting evil on the side of Donald Trump. The sign he carried at the climate protest declared “this is Ragnarok” referring to the Norse mythology, in which Ragnarök is the battle at the end of the world. His worldview is apocalyptic as well as conspiratorial.
The conspiracy theories that Angeli references are all familiar to me through my research into New Age spirituality in Sedona, Arizona. I was told that there was a secret underground base underneath the town where alien experiments were undertaken, that free energy was possible if only the dark cabal hadn’t kept it from us to continue profiting from our labor, and that the banking system and wage labor were designed to keep us enslaved. Spirituality, they told me, was the route to freedom from these third dimensional machinations. The dark cabal wants to block spiritual evolution because it threatens their control.
What’s new is the emphasis on child trafficking. Angeli seems to sit at the intersection where QAnon meets New Age spirituality. They share themes of awakening from a sleep in which the “sheeple” still dwell. This Great Awakening map depicts many of the points of convergence.
The crossover of spirituality with conspiracy theories has been labelled conspirituality, and there are some in the wellness, yoga, and spirituality communities who have become deeply concerned about the interpenetration of the two.
When asked by the Arizona Republic about where he got his ideas, Jake Angeli mentioned “internet research” and Behold a Pale Horse by William Cooper. Cooper was another Arizona resident, killed by police, whose book went on to influence QAnon and the right-wing Patriot movement. YouTube research led Angeli to spiritual content and QAnon. The two may seem disparate, but this appearance is misleading.
Angeli’s presence at so many different marches, as well as his page on acting website backstage.com, have been held up as evidence that Angeli is a crisis actor, a paid agitator, or an Antifa thug in disguise. Since so many on the right engage in climate denial, his presence at a climate protest with a sign affirming the existence of global warming may seem contradictory. However, in his Arizona Republic interview, Angeli connects environmental problems such as pollution with fears about the negative health effects of electromagnetic frequencies and 5G. Within new age spirituality, greenhouse gases, 5G, and EMF are all considered different forms of airborne pollution. The numerous elements he adopts from neopaganism to core shamanism to Christian nationalism to QAnon makes him seem like a fake. Embodying the cross-pollination of far-right politics and New Age spirituality in America, he is all of the above.
Acknowledgements: Julian Strube, Egil Asprem, Marion Grau, and S. Jonathon O’Donnell all provided useful information and interesting insights that went into the writing of this post.