Lucy In The Sky With Nazis: Psychedelics and the Right Wing Psychedelic advocates have long asserted that broader psychedelic use will lead to a more open, progressive society, but there are too many instances of right-wingers who have taken them for that to be true.


As psychedelics reenter the public imagination on an industrial scale, advocates and reformers need to take a hard look at the assumption that the drugs themselves can bring about social progress. Decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization are advancing, but the socioeconomic context, the setting, in which the psychedelic renaissance unfolds, is capitalism. The climate has been irrevocably destabilized and right-wing extremism has risen. There is certainly room for change.

Yet there have long been vague implications that wider psychedelic use will somehow inspire progessive values, universal siblinghood, and an ecotopia of overlong, platonic hugs. Psychedelics are chemicals carrying a lot of cultural baggage, but there is something freeing, powerful–even dangerous–in embracing the understanding that there is nothing inherent or essential to their character. In any case, evidence mounts indicating that the full spectrum of right-wing ideology, from outright Nazism to conservative-leaning centrism, is demonstrably hospitable to psychedelics–not uniquely endangered by them. 

Jam band concerts, EDM raves, Rainbow Gathering, Burning Man, polyamorous organic potlucks: these are cultural loci associated with psychedelics. They evoke the work of countercultural intelligentsia like Ann Shulgin, The Teafaerie, Terence McKenna, Timothy Leary, and Aldous Huxley. Today, one is just as likely to hear of LSD, DMT, and psilocybin mushrooms from Joe Rogan; on Netflix or Reddit; from an elite food writer, perhaps. And while many harken back to the ‘60s and ‘70s to argue that psychedelics are key to opening one’s mind to revolutionary politics, this failed to fully convince committed radicals then.

Today, millennials in the USA appear to be taking psychedelics at least as much as boomers ever did. As more people “turn on” it may be that the status quo impacts popular conceptions of psychedelia more so than vice versa. Nevertheless, enthusiasts continue to insist that psychedelics can heal the world.

“‘You do feel that this is the medicine for our moment,’ Michael Pollan said at Esalen. ‘If only we could get Trump to Trip’”

In 2018, Dr. Robin Carhartt-Harris, et al., of Imperial College London published a study that presented data indicating that one side-effect of psilocybin therapy for Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD) was a statistically significant reduction in authoritarian attitudes. The exuberant press that followed trumpeted that magic mushrooms can fight fascism. However, these findings were based on the answers to five questions posed to a mere 14 study participants—only half of whom had taken psilocybin. Carhartt-Harris and his team state, “the possibility of drug-induced changes in belief systems seems sufficiently intriguing and timely to deserve further investigation.” The authors seem to be suggesting that authoritarianism can be treated with a drug-therapy combo, like PTSD. But is the for-profit healthcare industry really equipped to “reeducate” anyone? Do people really believe “soma holidays” will save the world? 

 

Psychedelic Therapist or…Trip Advisor?

 

In a sense, yes. Even now, prominent actors are positioning psychedelics as geopolitical panacea:

Along with researchers at Imperial College London, MAPS plans on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to take ayahuasca and, working with negotiation experts, sift through their respective traumas. The idea is that finding common ground in their spiritual and mystical experiences might help coax political reconciliation between the warring factions.”

It is worth revisiting these studies, however, because there are too many recent counter-examples to continue imagining that psychedelic drugs will transform individuals into trauma-free, progressive, anti-authoritarian citizens. Undoubtedly, psychedelics are powerful tools that have been neglected by society. But have the psychedelic cheerleaders overplayed their hand? To begin with the easiest of counterpoints: recently, ahead of a Virginia Second Ammendment rally, members of the international neo-Nazi group, The Base, were arrested on weapons and drug charges, including allegedly attempting to manufacture” DMT (dimethyltriptamine is typically extracted from plant material and smoked, causing short-lived, profound, waking-dream-like states). Then there is Atomwaffen Division, the white supremacist group which reveres Hitler and Charles Manson–all while producing ghoulish propaganda. This nihilist, occult-leaning group has been connected with several murders and seeks to acquire a dirty bomb. Members of Atomwaffen were convicted in 2019 on weapons charges and possession of cannabis, opium, and psilocybin mushrooms.

“’Psychedelic Nazis . . . There’s nothing more Aryan than entheogenic drug use,’ Andrew Thomasberg, 21, texted a friend, according to prosecutors, referencing plants that have psychedelic effects. But, he added, “Drug addiction is untermensch” – a Nazi term for people considered subhuman. His friend replied: ‘That’s debatable. But I still have a bunch of shrooms anyway.’”

Consider Andrew Anglin, Ohio native and founder of The Daily Stormer. If we are to accept pharmacologically facile arguments for solving social and political problems, Anglin’s highschool psychonautical experimentations are stubborn data points to contend with:

He also got deeply into drugs, according to half a dozen people who knew him at the time. He did LSD at school or while wandering through the scenic Highbanks Metro Park, north of the city. He took ketamine, ate psychedelic mushrooms, and snorted cocaine on weekends. He chugged Robitussin, and “robo tripped” so much that he damaged his stomach and would vomit into trash cans at school.”

As noted by James Kent of DoseNation in his scathing series, The Final 10, Anglin isn’t even the only “experienced” founder of a hate site: Frederick Brennen, the founder of 8chan was on mushrooms when he got the idea for the free-speech absolutist forum that became a haven for white supremacy. Before being shut down by Brennen (it has since escaped his grasp and been resurrected as 8kun), 8chan was the site where three mass shooters posted their manifestos, including the perpetrator of the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shooting that left 51 dead and 50 more injured. 

 

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Surely, this is a confused, early 21st Century phenomenon–“pearls before swine”, and all that. If only it were that simple. It’s no secret that Albert Hofmann’s early tripping buddy was conservative German war hero and novelist, Ernst Jünger. Hofmann devoted a whole chapter of LSD–My Problem Child to him, entitled, Radiance from Jünger. Jünger was a German army captain who never accepted Nazi Party membership (or a seat at the Reichstag), but by his own admission supported Hitler’s goals…until 1938. Most would not associate the word “psychonaut” with a Wehrmacht officer functioning as a Nazi censor in occupied France, however, that is precisely who coined the term. Jünger seems (intellectually, at the very least) to have rejected the Nazis at key moments in his career. Post-war, despite being regarded as a “fellow-traveller” of the Nazis, Jünger’s reputation was rehabilitated and he died a celebrated, if  controversial and enigmatic literary figure.

The person who has meditated most deeply on Jünger, psychedelics, and the far right thus far is author and researcher, Alan Piper. Piper plumbs the topic in his 2014 monograph, Strange Drugs Make for Strange Bedfellows. Therein, Piper asserts that psychedelic culture survived on the fringe, which put it in contact with the castoffs of both the right and left. Because the fringe (i.e. subcultures) often has low standards for membership, right-wing invasion of subcultures becomes possible through a recruitment strategy called entryism. A failed example of entryism is when alt-right media pariah Milo Yiannopolous’ recently rebranded himself as a furry in an attempt to insinuate himself into the furry community by announcing he would participate in MidWest FurFest 2019. The furs saw through the ruse and rejected Yinnopolous’ attempt to hijack their community, barring him from attendance. 

Putting the cryptid back into crypto-fascism

But Piper points to several examples where neopagan and goth/neofolk subcultures embraced psychedelics, but failed to reject neo-Nazis organizing in their midst. The fight continues today

Alan Piper provided comment for this piece:

“There is this assumption that psychedelics will turn one into a liberal kind of person with liberal kind of views. I think some work could be done on the cultural history to look at where, exactly, that comes from. It’s not, for example, associated with mescaline and its history, at least not in anything I’ve read … An interesting example was Henry Luce, [publisher] of Time Life magazine and his wife Claire Booth Luce. They both did LSD quite a number of times under the supervision of Sydney Cohen. And they were these virulent anti-communists. It didn’t turn them! … I don’t think psychedelics are going to fundamentally change society in this way, they aren’t going to change the world. The forces of capitalism and consumerism are far, far greater than those of psychedelics. The juggernaut trundles on regardless and turns everything to its own purposes, this is what I see happening with the current medicalisation and commodification of psychedelics.”

Nazism isn’t rational: it’s mystical, appealing to pathos. The future is charted in bold visions and hopeful narratives. Those who follow climate change are “rightly” concerned about the rise of ecofascism in response to ongoing collective crisis. Troublingly, the aforementioned Christchurch shooter was a self-described ecofascist. The New Zealand killings then inspired the El Paso shooter, who justified his crimes by arguing that environmental degradation and resource-scarcity necessitated the killing of brown people. The Base also describe themselves as ecofascists. Typically, the political right is not associated with an overwhelming mission to care for the earth. But ecofascism can be traced to the Völkisch movement of the 19th Century. Even so, the concept of vegan nazis is an understandable source of cognitive dissonance. But these are outsider takes. Inside fascism, Blood and Soil is not just an alt-right mantra, but an ethno-agrarian vision with esoteric significance. 

Clearly, actual Nazis would be considered hard cases for any well-meaning clinician seeking to cure ideological disease. What then, of conservative authoritarian Intellectual Dark Web-types such as Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Joe Rogan? The Intellectual Dark Web engages in broad networking that has been demonstrated to serve as a gateway to the reactionary right. Nevertheless, several of these figures have paid homage to the wonders of psychedelic tryptamines. Canadian psychologist and Turning Point USA pal Jordan Peterson is one of the staunchest defenders of social and political hierarchy. Despite being one of modern authoritarianism’s leading spokespersons, Peterson is fascinated with the effects of ayahuasca and psilocybin (having tried psilocybin himself). His fans are not just on the right. Likely because of his praise for psychedelics, Peterson’s rules for life have gained traction in online psychedelic circles, exemplified in the multiple glowing posts by psychedelic lifestyle blog HighExistence (run by Synthesis Retreat co-founder Martijn Schirp). Many criticisms have been levied at Peterson, but being left-wing is not among them.

New Atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris single-handedly revived the reputation of long discredited race scientist and The Bell Curve author Charles Murray. Harris has written and spoken extensively about psychedelics on his podcast and in his book. He has also shared “thought experiments” about when it would be appropriate to preemptively nuke Muslim nations in the Middle East. Recently, Harris hosted lead psilocybin researcher at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Roland Griffiths, on his podcast. This encounter seems to have inspired Harris to embark on a Terence McKenna classic, 5-dried grams of psilocybin mushrooms “heroic dose,” after which Harris reported that he is, “thinking more clearly than ever.” 

Most would not associate the word “psychonaut” with a Wehrmacht officer functioning as a Nazi censor in occupied France, however, that is precisely who coined the term. Ernst Jünger, Paris, 1941|© Bridgeman Art Library

Joe Rogan is an insurgent media force whose business model depends on a combination of novelty and controversy. His love of psychedelics is so much a part of his brand that he is caricatured online as ambushing virtually any podcast guest with a non sequitur question about DMT.  Rogan, at least, has colorfully expressed doubts about the possibility of changing Donald Trump’s political views via psychedelic intervention. While most aligned with a libertarian worldview, Rogan has tweeted birtherism and shared his enormous audience with right wing extremists such as Milo Yinnapolous, Ben Shapiro, and neo-eugenicists Stefan Molyneux and Gavin McInnis. He has also been a stalwart advocate of psychedelic research and recently stated on his show that he would likely vote for Bernie Sanders.

Venture capital is afoot in psychedelic country, practically boiling under the surface. Advertising for emerging psychedelic clinics and services will predictably tap into the same utopian rhetoric promising a bright, progressive future. A medical model treats psychedelic therapy as a solution to individual mental illnesses, but these individual neuroses have roots that draw nourishment from bedrock dysfunction. The irony that the entire industry of advertising is founded upon systemic exaggeration and targeted emotional manipulation should not be lost here. The Auryn Fund even helpfully gamed out the commodification of psychedelic therapy with their “Black Mirror” storybook parable We Will Call It Pala. That psychedelics can be perceived as an inherent “good” can and does serve as PR cover for billionaires who have begun to dabble in psychedelics. Rebecca Mercer, daughter of Billionaire Robert Mercer of Cambridge Analytica infamy, pledged to donate $1 million to MAPS over four years for the explicit use of healing PTSD for veterans. Facebook board member, Clearview AI investor, surveillance capitalism magnate, anti-suffragette, vocal Trump supporter, and COMPASS Pathways investor, Peter Thiel is positioned to own a large chunk of the nascent psychedelics industry. While it is unknown if Thiel has taken psychedelics himself, it seems clear from the immigrant surveillance activities of his company Palantir that his arch-conservative views remain unchanged. Oh, and Elon Musk allegedly took LSD with Grimes, but busting unions continues to be just a cost of doing business. 

It remains to be seen if psychedelics will again be used to re-educate anyone, although the CIA’s misadventures on the topic are ignored at our peril. Psychedelics entering the mainstream also means opening the doors to mainstream ideologies: liberals, conservatives, evangelicals, “socially-liberal-but-fiscally-conservatives,” the alt-right, fascists, garden-variety-racists…everyone. In terms of frequency, it does not appear that the far right has embraced psychedelics anywhere near the extent that other subcultures have, but a mainstream rollout could change that overnight. To be clear, if psychedelic fans hinted that mushrooms, LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, or MDMA might corrode authoritarianism, they haven’t delivered yet. 

Pretending psychedelics will cure ideological “diseases” without agitating for accompanying (and necessary!) systemic change is just that: pretend. Moreover, it’s a fiction that allows those in the psychedelic movement to separate themselves and be content with decriminalizing their drugs of choice, washing their hands of truly ending the drug war through the full decriminalization of all drugs. If those that have benefited from the real curative, consciousness-expanding properties of psychedelics want to see the world improve in some directional way, they should build power with broader drug reform and climate movements during the 99.99% of the time that they are not on drugs. Perhaps at the end, this is a call for an expanded, politically-active psychedelic integration, one that calls for us to embrace each other in the real world as lovingly as we do the void. If we want a better world, whatever we believe that looks like, we will have to fight for it, in our communities and beyond.

Over and over in psychedelic therapeutic spaces, people are reminded to confront the shadow, to move towards the fear, and unpack the pain. We have barely scratched the surface. 

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