"In many ways, I went through Alice in Wonderland's mirror," she said. In the intervening decades, Howe says, she has had any number of intensely personal encounters with the mysterious, including what she has claimed was a look at secret government files at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico showing that a "being was created by extraterrestrial biological entities" to teach humankind about love and peace.
Howe has told some parts of her life story before, in countless lectures and in her book An Alien Harvest; at the moment she related it again, she was sitting on a panel devoted to "Ancient Secrets" alongside several self-proclaimed experts in ancient civilizations and what the program dubbed "the enormous cover-up of our true past."It would've been a bit difficult for an unschooled observer to figure out what the "enormous cover-up of our true past" actually was. Things had quickly gotten a little chaotic, in a good-natured way, and stayed there, with Howe and the other panelists genially talking over each other about reptilian species, light beings, the significance of ancient artifacts, and, ultimately, Jesus. ("I'm a Jesus freak," William Henry told the room. He's an "investigative mythologist" who has been a producer on Ancient Aliens. He was critical of the show for not mentioning Jesus more, given that Henry sees Him as central to the extraterrestrial phenomenon).
What, precisely, is too out there for Conscious Life?
A lot of the debate over what belongs at Conscious Life centers around Quicksilver. Besides being the founder of the Expo, he's the person who exercises the final say over who gets to be there, both the speakers and the exhibitors. "I know everything that's going on," as he put it.Quicksilver seems, on the surface, to be an unlikely impresario for a New Age conference, a sort of anti-Goop: he's got short, neatly-kept salt-and-pepper hair, round glasses, a subdued wardrobe short on jewelry, and an undented Brooklyn accent despite having left New York for a new life in California nearly a half-century ago. On the first day of the conference, he was in a corner wearing faded blue jeans, a red collared shirt with an extremely subtle Om pattern, and no nametag or badge, unlike virtually everyone else there. Most people who walked by seemed not to know him. ("I don't want any of that …" he said, trailing off, gesturing generally to where a badge might have sat on his chest. "You know?")
While Conscious Life presenters can tend towards the verbose, Quicksilver is almost painfully the opposite. He's clearly had profound spiritual experiences, which led him to leave what he describes as a "strong Jewish culture" in Brooklyn and "set sail for California" in the early 70s with the woman he was married to at the time. He married again, had three children and six grandchildren, and settled into life as a successful manufacturer of commercial furniture. But meanwhile, something else was working under the surface, which he's said in another interview with Conscious Life presenters had to do with a spiritual awakening in Mexico, the details of which he seems to prefer to keep private.
"You're light workers," said a man who was conducting a workshop on "energy healing with extraterrestrial lasers."
One of the founders of the NHF was a woman named Maureen Kennedy Salaman, a professionally beautiful natural health guru and political activist who once ran for vice president on the Populist party ticket; she and the NHF had strong ties to the paranoiac, anti-Communist John Birch Society. (Salaman, who died in 2006, became publicly known in the 70s when she crusaded for patients to have the legal right to use laeterile, a bogus cancer drug that the NHF insisted really worked and was being unfairly suppressed by the government.)
"The NHF did two expos a year, here and in Pasadena," Salaman's son Sean David Morton told me, back in 2017. "We had like 50,000 people who would come. Remember that back in the day, a lot of this stuff was completely out there. Pushing the envelope. People who couldn't get stuff in the NHF convention started their own show," which was Whole Life. "It all evolved from there."But even then, debates were forming about what might be too fringe for the fringe. In 1986, Whole Life's organizers told the L.A. Times that they were strictly limiting the psychics and mediums who came to the Expo, out of concerns over exploitation. Brian Duggan, the event's director, told the paper:
"Spiritual things, like beauty and art and crystals. That's really what I focus on. The upliftment of things."
"It's not that we have anything against intuitive ways of knowing things, there are definitely deep connections between people," Duggan explained, adding that individuals "working in areas that are controversial and sometimes abused" must be reviewed by show officials before they are granted a booth. None of this year's applicants (among the psychics and tarot card readers) passed the test, he said.
But while the anti-vaccine movement creates direct and lasting negative consequences, some of the other beliefs on offer at Conscious Life can be harder to put firmly in black and white. In the lowest level of the marketplace, Los Angeles Skywatch, an anti-chemtrail organization, was tabling next to 5G Free California. Skywatch has been around for quite a few years; they make a variety of extremely heated claims about the government carrying out weather modification technologies to control the population, or worse. “The weather can be controlled and turned into the ultimate weapon,” the guy manning the booth assured me, before telling me that the wildfires in California and elsewhere were also government-made, and making a variety of claims about who Greta Thunberg’s “handlers” really are.5G Free California, meanwhile, raises concerns about both the radiation levels created by 5G technology—a controversial idea at best—while also, on their website, calling it “a final piece in a global surveillance puzzle.” While those ideas don’t have a lot of basis in fact—a sentence they will surely send me some strongly worded emails about—it also doesn’t have much of a negative effect on their lives, or anyone else’s. They stage demonstrations, write letters, get together for community meetings—all a slightly fractured version of activism and community-building. It’s neither helpful nor harmful, precisely; more like an attempt to feel a level of agency and control in the face of forces that are, inarguably, a lot bigger than themselves.
There's a difference between harmlessly eccentric views and ones that pose genuine risk to other people, although seemingly no two people can quite agree on where that line is.
Brand has been vocal about entering a program of recovery for his addictions to heroin and a lot of other things; he wrote a book titled Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions and has begun making forays into motivational speaking, leading him to Conscious Life. "The 12 steps I was taught to deal with my obvious chemical dependency," he told the room, could easily be extended to deal with other issues, which were, he presumed, affecting his audience."You don't come to Conscious Life because life's going well, do you?" he inquired of the room. "You're obviously fucked." Everyone laughed appreciatively, even though it's safe to say most of them would be there regardless of how things were going.Brand slipped across the room to lean against an opposite wall where he couldn't see the swinging door as easily. "If you don't like a situation, leave it!" he said triumphantly. "Don't film me, it's off-putting," he told someone who looked very much like Sean Stone, who was doing just that."Is that a bird on your shoulder?" he inquired, a moment later, to the woman who had, factually, two birds. "Just when I thought this situation couldn't get any weirder."
Brand had become drawn to some spiritual mentors as a result of his recovery, he said, which, given his fame, led to him being able to do things like call up Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now and one of the most famous living spiritual teachers. "Someone gave me his number for work purposes," Brand said. "I misused it. I was treating it like a spiritual phone sex line." The room echoed with scandalized laughter.
"You're obviously fucked," said Russell Brand.
Illness stalks conferences like Conscious Life: Nearly everything on offer in the marketplace is focused on curing some ailment, spiritual or physical. Mediums face each other next to sellers of divination cards next to representatives of various ascended masters next to Vedic astrologers next to devices that promise to cleanse your ions, banish the pesticide glyphosate from your system, and turn you in a healthier, stronger, shinier version of yourself. An entire, often separate Spanish-speaking conference also operates within Conscious Life --Vida Consciente-- offering lectures, Reiki, healing and life coaching aimed at a Latinx population, as well as translators for the lectures in English. It occurred to me that it was all, at this point, not more than two steps away from what's entered the mainstream, a version of "wellness" just a beat more bizarre than you'd see on Netflix, touched with a slightly less glossy variety of snake oil and a dash more spiritual longing.
The promise of natural healing backed with “ancient” wisdom is a pretty common one at Conscious Life. But it can also take some unappealing forms, like a fetishization of Native Americans as simple, innately wise healers waiting to offer their secret wisdoms to paying customers. (There are a lot of dreamcatchers for sale.) A longtime Conscious Life volunteer who goes by Alegría told me that while she appreciates the connections and conversations that the Expo creates, “I’m critical of the ways indigenous cultures are being repackaged and sold here. That’s always my trigger, my critique, my observation.” While she has her own business focused on alternative healing, “I don’t promote here,” she told me. It’s not quite the customer base she’s looking for.
"We're here to heal ourselves, and heal the planet."
The following year, Wilcock issued an apology letter, clarifying, among other things, that he does not believe Gaia itself promotes a Luciferian agenda. (A few months later, Gaia settled a lawsuit against an independent filmmaker who, the company alleged, had also accused them of promoting a reptilian and Luciferian agenda.)Smith has the handsome, refrigerator-esque build of a football player, a big smile, and a sport coat; he looks like someone intent on selling either a timeshare or a fat-freezing procedure. To me, he seems like he's meant to be a more benign replacement for Wilcock and his frequent co-collaborator, Corey Goode, with all the UFO beliefs, the alleged whistleblower status, and none of the Pizzagate stuff.Smith, an Air Force veteran and surgical technologist, claims that he performed autopsies on alien tissue during his time in active duty. Those autopsies, he says, happened when stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base and while working unofficial, highly secretive moonlighting gigs at facilities within the Sandia and Los Alamos National laboratories. (Military bases and labs in New Mexico hold a special place in the cosmology of UFO believers; there's seemingly a dead alien around every corner at Kirtland, Los Alamos and Sandia. As a person from New Mexico, this fills me with real, unironic pride.)Gaia had paid what seemed to be a great deal of money to make computer animations of the extraterrestrial species Smith claims he saw; as images of red aliens and big green reptilians and a two-tailed dog with a nightmare skin membrane over its eyes flashed on the screen, it occurred to me that Conscious Life was doing a fairly efficient job driving the most visible negative conspiracy elements from view while retaining the kind of stuff that keeps people engaged and buying tickets.That is, until Smith opened the floor for questions, and someone asked what he, as a medical professional, thought the true purpose of vaccines was, considering that they have, as the questioner put it, "dog DNA" in them. (Some forms of the flu vaccine were grown in the kidney cells of dogs, which doesn't mean that dog qualities or traits are being implanted in us through vaccinations.)"Animal DNA, that's not gonna harm you," Smith began, and I thought for a half-second about how much Conscious Life had changed."It's the chemicals and the reverse engineered genetics that they've put in there that's very bad," he added. "I'm against vaccinations." The room burst into applause and cries of "Thank you!""Vaccinations have been bad, and they've always been bad," Smith added, solemnly. "There's a hidden agenda to wipe out certain lineages here on the planet, and they want to by releasing certain chemicals into the atmosphere. They want to take out a certain race. But we're very adaptable to getting through a lot of this stuff. Our bodies can fight this or absorb it and transmute it."
That was a comfort. I left as a crowd started to gather around Smith and made my way down to the exhibitors' hall one last time. In a row I'd walked 10 times at least, I recognized a rack of t-shirts with QAnon symbols on them. Dylan Louis Monroe stood inside, the author of an arcane visual project called the Deep State Mapping Project, a gigantic, QAnon-inflected diagram of the secret rulers of the world. (As an art project, it works really well; as a coherent vision of the world, well, that would depend on where you fall on the map, I guess.)Monroe was there with a guy who calls himself Deep Time; together they host a YouTube show called The New Templars. "I would prefer to be a little more distanced from that, at the end of the day," Monroe told me, referring to QAnon. He had hipster long hair, small plugs in his ears, and Crocs covered in stickers, and looked like roughly every third person I know socially in Los Angeles. "It's a government psychological operation." He gave me some new maps he'd been working on: a guide to "alliances and traitors within the truth and UFO communities," and a "healing web," which showed alternative treatments on one side (better) and Westernized medicine on the other (worse, generally, in the map's conception, thought it was significantly more measured than many things I'd seen that day). Monroe gave them to me for free, smiling, "Even if you write a hit piece on them, we still appreciate it."Monroe said he hadn't had any trouble getting approved for Conscious Life. "I just paid and came," he said dryly. "I mean, they weren't like throwing confetti in the air."I said I was stunned I'd walked by the Q booth so many times without seeing it. Monroe wasn't surprised."For most people, this is like a black hole," he said serenely. "It's so much light, it's just a black hole for people who don't have a higher vibration." He hoped to start attending more alternative health and wellness expos he said; "We want to wake people up to the bigger picture." Many of them, he said, were almost there already.Update, February 26:Robert Quicksilver, founder of Conscious Life, responds:
"There's a hidden agenda to wipe out certain lineages here on the planet."
The Conscious Life Expo is the largest forum and marketplace for alternative ideas and products on the planet. Having visited similar trade show events around the world, none compare to the breath and scope of Conscious Life. We constantly stretch the boundary of credibility and seek to introduce to a worldwide audience the power and inevitability of radical spiritual transformation. Lots of walls to break down.
We live in an evolving universe, in an orgasmic nuclear dance of consciousness. Everything is changing, evolving, transforming. Wise men and women throughout history have tried to define the nature of the reality in which they found themselves. Myriad models have existed- most have fallen into the historical garbage heap, others cling by threads. We, these generations, are creating a new model. Is it all figured out and defined? No. Do we know some of the elements of what this future model might look like? Yes. The primary intention of the Conscious Life Expo Conference and Exposition is to participate in the conscious co-creation of a new world, a world based on new paradigms in science, in spirituality, in longevity, in local and global community, in relationship, in health and well-being.
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And while we co-create this new holistic model through our authentic self expression, we also participate in a powerful and passionate celebration of life and love. The Expo is a three-day gathering of the tribes, a three-day celebration of evolution and consciousness and a three-day brainstorming session on who we are, where we are and where we are going