The point we seemed to be gently approaching, the several hundred of us sitting together in this ballroom, was that Jesus is an extraterrestrial. It was a Friday night in February at the Conscious Life Expo on Los Angeles' Westside, and about 12,000 attendees had crammed into the Hilton by the airport to spend four days learning about alternative health and wellness, buying thousands of supplements, tinctures, powders and devices, and attending endless lectures and demonstrations from mediums, healers, motivational speakers, Reiki masters, channelers, ascended masters, and New Age luminaries of all other stripes.
But Conscious Life, unlike pretty much every other alternative health expo, also has a significant aliens-and-extraterrestrials lecture track. It also attracts darker kinds of conspiracy theorizing: In the past few years, that's included Pizzagate-oriented lectures about rampant pedophilia in high places on Earth and Mars alike, an eye-popping panel on the dangers of vaccines featuring some of the anti-vaccine movement's biggest names, and appearances from some of the most famous conspiracy celebrities in America. All of which in turn set off a fascinating, mostly hidden, and still very hot debate: What, precisely, is too out there for Conscious Life?
Luckily, the things that have fallen out of favor at the expo don't include the more benign type of alien encounter, which is why Linda Moulton Howe, a famous UFO journalist and researcher, was telling a rapt crowd about a religious experience that brought her, literally and spiritually, to her knees.
Howe was once an environmental reporter at a TV station in Denver, another lifetime ago (in a metaphorical sense, though literal past lives are also a common topic of discussion at Conscious Life). She started to veer from a more traditional journalism track in the early 1980s, when she began reporting on a mysterious string of cattle mutilations across the West. She quickly turned her attention to other worlds, she told the crowd, when a sheriff told her that the cattle were having their tongues and organs excised by "creatures from outer space."
"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.
What, precisely, is too out there for Conscious Life?
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).
The effect was like walking into an intimate conversation between old friends, and it was just as hard to follow, but the underlying theme was clear: The world is full of mysteries, miracles, portents and divine, otherworldly occurrences, and it's all being occluded by the political, societal, scientific and historic establishments.
"We still get told by Egyptologists the pyramids were tombs," Dannion Brinkely said disgustedly. He's a spiritual author who claims to have died and come back from the other side three times. (He has concluded, paradoxically, that no one really dies, leaving humanity with nothing much to fear.) He often diagnoses people with ailments both physical and spiritual by touch, and while his presence on the panel was unannounced and not quite thematically appropriate, he fit right in.
In the end, Brinkley said, referring to the large and numerous Powers That Be, "No matter what they tell you, they don't believe it either."
Howe was the real star however, as she is in nearly any situation: Smoky-voiced and self-possessed, she told the hushed, rapt crowd that after reading the revelatory information in the secret files at Kirtland Air Force Base, she went home to put her young daughter to bed. She knelt beside the toddler and tried to pray with her, only to discover she was unable to say the name of Jesus. It stuck in her throat like a painful secret.
In her telling, Howe left her daughter's room, fell to her knees, and had an astonishing revelation.
"What difference does it make," she remembers hearing, as if from somewhere beyond herself, " if Jesus was human or extraterrestrial?"
A moment of silence followed from the Conscious Life crowd as she spoke those words, and then a wave of awestruck applause.
This is the uncut shit. This is esotericism in its purest form. This is the alternative health and wellness world and the UFO world—communities with substantial overlap as it is—crashing into one another at high speed in the Hilton's white-tiled halls and chaotically-patterned conference rooms, a meeting by turns solemn and ecstatic, spiritual and commercial, mundane and literally otherworldly.
"It's not an insulated community," said Robert Quicksilver, the founder of Conscious Life. "But it's like a certain section in the bookstore." He chuckled, sort of.
The expo's hallways are a riotous blur of stimulation: the smell of the vegan Indian food being ladled out in the café area, the fringe and animal prints and excellent jewelry of the attendees (I eyed a woman in a peacock-patterned sequin coat and a gold lamé scarf so long and so enviously she caught me, and did the same thing again with a woman in the ladies' room wearing a broad gold Isis-style bird neckplate), the whiffs of incense and essential oils, the glint of the precious gems and crystals and flapping banners advertising the bigger name speakers can all be a lot to take in. A man walked by with a small pyramid nestled atop his hair, like a halo, just steps from a woman with luxuriant braids and a giant white painted drum. (She turned out to be Shakuntali, a Siberian priestess and shaman manning a booth with her beaming devotees, handing out glossy pamphlets for her services as an "international feminine trainer." She was also advertising an upcoming trip to Mexico, where she will, she promises, create "protection and prosperity" of attendees' lineages for seven generations, guarantee them "healthy and genius children," and abolish "diseases of any severity as well as chronic diseases.")
"You're light workers," Jim Ohneck told a small lecture hall full of attendees at one of the first events of the weekend. He's the CEO of a small laser therapy company in Ohio, and was conducting a workshop on "energy healing with extraterrestrial lasers," with Zadok RA Osiris, who self-describes as "an oversoul of the Ambassadorial Complex of the StarDoves Inter-Planetary Mission and High Priest from Jupiter assisting the Earth in assimilating Ascension Activation." (Osiris looked like an older man with white hair and a majestically fringed buckskin jacket, beaming from the front row as Ohneck and an assistant performed some promised laser healing on attendees' arms and legs.)
"You're energy workers," Ohneck told the audience. "You're spiritual-oriented people. You don't have that skeptical bias."
That is, to put it very lightly, true: Skepticism is not in generous supply at Conscious Life. It would be the easiest thing in the world to paint everyone in attendance as crystal worshippers who place their faith in dodgy alternative healers and prattle about little green men. People have, over the years, occasionally done just that. But the reality is that something much more interesting has been quietly unfolding for years: a debate about what, precisely, Conscious Life is meant to be, and what no longer belongs there. Though just about every alternative belief system on earth has passed through the Hilton's doors over the years, this year, a few things were very pointedly absent.
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?")
"You're light workers," said a man who was conducting a workshop on "energy healing with extraterrestrial lasers."
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.
"When I came to California, I wound up becoming a minister in a nondenominational church that no one will recognize the name of," he told me. "We all lived communally in Bolinas." He paused, again lost in a private memory.
"It was very cool," he offered, finally.
Quicksilver also became, as he puts it with characteristic modesty, "very involved" with Theravada Buddhism, to the point where he helped form a monastery and became a monk. It all sounds like he's lived a lot of lives, but Quicksilver doesn't see it that way. "I just try to live in the moment. It feels like one life."
In the meantime, as Quicksilver lived his interconnected lives, the Whole Life Expo, Conscious Life's precursor, was building steam. It began in the Bay Area in 1982, moved to Los Angeles in 1983, and by 1989 had some 30,000 attendees flocking to the Hilton for what the Los Angeles Times called"part circus and county fair, part trade show for crystals and gemstones, health foods and healing devices." (Given that 12,000 people in the Hilton's halls tends to feel uncomfortably jammed, 30,000 is almost unimaginable.) Whole Life was, in turn, according to people who were there, a spin-off of a different, slightly more mainstream healing expo put on by an organization called the National Health Federation, a Libertarian-tinged lobbying group founded in the 1950s, which is still around in a somewhat more limited form today.
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.)
"Spiritual things, like beauty and art and crystals. That's really what I focus on. The upliftment of things."
"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:
"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.
Mainstream journalists were amused by the whole thing; in 1986, the L.A. Times visited Whole Life and giggled, "Where else do you encounter practitioners of aromatherapy (in which the essences of herbs and flowers are taken into the body through the sense of smell) and purveyors of tofu pups (the vegetarian's answer to hot dogs)?" Though such offerings sounded "esoteric," the paper added, "as regular attendees of this annual fair like to point out, what is considered flaky and bizarre one moment is often mainstream fare before you know it."
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Quicksilver says, the original organizer of Whole Life "cancelled all his shows," though he didn't talk to him about it and can only speculate as to why. "There was a lot of fear in the country," he told me.
"There wasn't anyone producing events like this," Quicksilver added. "Alternative health and healing. Anyway, so friends of mine and myself got together and we decided to do this, and we did."
The psychics and mediums are certainly back in full force these days, but Quicksilver told me he put other kinds of limits on the expo's contents.
"I don't do disclosure or conspiracy stuff or secret stuff, it's more about healing and health," he said. ("Disclosure" refers to the sub-strain of the UFO world that's focused on government secrecy and cover-ups around ETs, and the day when everything that world leaders know about the UFO phenomenon will finally be revealed. Given the strain of mystic Christianity that runs through some of the UFO world, it can be tough for the mind not to wander to images of Jesus landing in a silver saucer.) "Spiritual things, like beauty and art and crystals. That's really what I focus on. The upliftment of things."
Strictly speaking, it's simply not true that Conscious Life doesn't focus on disclosure—it's actually a big subject in most of the UFO lectures I've attended, and is a very central concern in ufology generally. And conspiracy theorizing has played a pretty central role in past expos. I know, because I was there.
The last time I attended Conscious Life was in February 2017, just after Donald Trump's inauguration; I was working on a book about conspiracy theories in America, and many of my subjects could be found wandering the halls. While the setting was the same, the vibe was noticeably different. In the underground ballroom where Howe related her spiritual breakthrough, David Wilcock was promising that for the pedophiles, the end was near.
Wilcock was, at that point, a host on the massively popular New Age network Gaia, and his show Cosmic Disclosure was starting to take a turn, along with his beliefs. Wilcock had become, by 2017, deeply invested in the concept of a dark secret infesting the governments of the world, and he told his Conscious Life audience that there would soon be "war crimes tribunals" and mass arrests, with a righteous wave of Trump-led justice sweeping the filth out of high places. A frequent guest was a man named Corey Goode, who claimed (and claims still) to have served for many years in a secret space branch of the military, fighting various bad and hostile kinds of extraterrestrials. (In one of his lectures, which I attended, Goode claimed that there was a lot of pedophilia among people working on NASA's secret Mars bases. Their predilections, he said, made them easy to blackmail into keeping quiet about their work.)
Sean David Morton, meanwhile—the son of Maureen Kennedy Salaman of the NHF—had become a celebrity in the interconnected UFO and "health freedom" worlds in his own right, first as a UFO-chaser and radio host, then as an alleged psychic and remote viewer who claimed he'd learned his skills on a hero's journey through Nepal, at a remote monaster there, and finally as an expert in various tax schemes that are broadly called "redemption theory," which the government describes as linked to the sovereign citizen movement. (Morton denies being a sovereign citizen, exactly, though he has claimed to be a citizen of California but not the United States, and also an ambassador for an ersatz country known as the Republic of New Lemuria.)
Morton was a sizable part of Conscious Life, known to seemingly everyone there. As we chatted on the landing of a central stairway, back in 2017, I kept track of the number of women who came by to hug him and leave lipstick kisses on his cheeks. (There ended up being 13.)
Morton taught versions of his redemption theory workshops at Conscious Life and moderated group discussions, including a highly watchable 2015 panel that was entirely focused on conspiracy theories; it featured Jim Marrs, an extremely famous author whose theorizing started with the JFK assassination and expanded prodigiously outwards, Sean Stone (son of director Oliver Stone; Sean now hosts a show on Gaia called Buzzsaw focusing on "hidden agendas"), a woman named Kerry Cassidy whose Project Camelot website is another central clearinghouse for suspicion, and Laura Eisenhower, the great-granddaughter of president Dwight Eisenhower, who spent a bit of time talking about chemtrails as a method of mind control. It got pretty out there.
The question of harm comes up for me quite a bit when pondering the worlds that Conscious Life brings together. 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. The year after Morton and Jim Marrs and Sean Stone got together to talk about hidden agendas, a panel on the dangers of vaccines featured none other than Andrew Wakefield, the father of the modern anti-vaccine movement, as well as Larry Cook, who runs Stop Mandatory Vaccination, perhaps the biggest anti-vax Facebook group in the world. (Cook recently made the news again when NBC reported that members of the group had urged a mother to treat her son, suffering from the flu, with natural remedies instead of Tamiflu. The child died.)
There's no question that Conscious Life affords an opportunity for the anti-vaccine movement to bring their products and personalities to a receptive audience. In 2017, several of the filmmakers of the anti-vaccine movie Vaxxed were there, playing the film to a packed room. (Wakefield wasn't there, though he directed the film.) When I asked a couple questions about the film, I got roundly booed. "In this film the science is presented and supported," Dawna Shuman told me; she's the owner of a boutique PR firm in Los Angeles called LightHouse, which has represented Wakefield. She's also listed as the main press contact for Conscious Life. (She and I didn't speak for this story, which was probably just as well. Our conversation in 2017 was brief, contentious, and concluded with her telling me she would never speak to me again and would deny we've ever spoken, which we very much have.)
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.
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.
Morton's views, though, certainly caused him and other people quite a bit of personal harm. The next time I saw him after Conscious Life, he and his wife were on trial for tax fraud, a direct result of their conspiratorial beliefs about how the government works. (Morton believed, and taught others, that it was possible to get access to secret bank accounts held by the government in the name of U.S. citizens, and to discharge debt using some exotic financial maneuvers. Specifically, Morton and his wife were accused of 1099 OID fraud; misusing an obscure financial form to try to get back large tax returns. Morton also promised at his seminars that he had various homemade coupons and bonds that could discharge other people’s debt, which, needless to say, did not work.) Both were found guilty, and while Morton’s wife has been released, he is still in prison, where he's doing an energetic if not very effective pro se appeal.
"Sean still thinks he's right," Robert Quicksilver sighed, when we spoke. (Morton does still think he's right, according to court documents and statements he's been able to issue from prison through his supporters. He’s also claimed to be part of an ongoing, Trump-led operation to expose government malfeasance at all levels, although he was indicted long before Trump’s election. “I was just one of the some dozen leaders in the TRUTH MOVEMENT that were helping TRUMP and exposing the DOJ for the criminals they truly are,” Morton wrote in a recent message posted on Project Camelot.)
When talking to Quicksilver I pointed out that it was not really true to say that Conscious Life had no conspiracy theories.
"I learned my lesson and I stopped that," Quicksilver responded. "I became disinterested in conspiracy stuff completely. There's things I'm interested in and things I'm not. If I don't like it or it's not my cup of tea it doesn't have to be at the expo. I like art and beauty and spiritual things."
He surely does. But as I came to find over the next few days, the conspiracy theory element at the expo has gone from a roar to more of an unsubtle stage whisper. But it is still indisputably there, forming its own sort of hidden agenda.
"Well, this is an unusual situation we find ourselves in, isn't it?" Russell Brand chirped at a packed conference room on Saturday. Brand was barefoot, wearing what looked like a foreshortened kimono-style shirt wrapped around a black tank top and jeans. He had a chunky silver chain around his neck, a little grey in his beard, and seemed agitated; the door to the conference room kept swinging open to admit latecomers, an occurrence he found unsettling. "This is chaos," he murmured, watching the door swing wide yet again to admit a woman with two parrots perched on her shoulders. A moment later, as he tried to get settled, another woman quietly produced a pliant lapdog from her purse, setting him off all over again. "I suppose I'm just visiting," he said thoughtfully. "I'm glad I got paid up front."
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."
"You're obviously fucked," said Russell Brand.
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.
Most people, it's fair to say, don't quite have the ability to call the world's most famous gurus on the telephone, but Conscious Life itself isn't accessible to everyone either. Besides everything else it happens to be, the expo can be quite expensive. A three-day all access pass will run you $525 in advance; should you choose to do things piecemeal, a day pass can be purchased for $40 at the door, but it doesn't include many of the lectures, workshops and panels, which cost extra. (I'd bought myself a VIP pass to see Brand, which cost an eye-watering $145.)
For some attendees, there's no price on what it gives them, however: community of a kind they're not able to find in their everyday lives, and a promise of healing that's also not available in the wider world.
"At work, I don't know anybody who's into this," a woman with close-cropped purple hair told me. (She works in the Los Angeles County government system and asked me not to use her name.) She'd considered not coming this year, because a recent medical issue had left her strapped for cash, but ultimately decided she might find something here to help her. "We're here to heal ourselves, and heal the planet," she told me.
The woman with the purple hair was aware of the conspiracy element at Conscious Life, which didn't bother her, even as she didn't approve of it. "I can take it or leave it," she said, "but it's kinda negative." She was more interested in hearing motivational speakers focused on healing, like Deborah King and Gail Thackray. (That said, she added, "I do think it's possible an alien intelligence helped me heal myself.")
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.
"We're here to heal ourselves, and heal the planet."
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.
Lost in thought, wandering the marketplace one afternoon, I turned a corner, avoiding a line of people who were waiting to receive some gentle Reiki adjustment. "How about you, young lady?" a large white man roared at me; before I was quite aware of what was happening, he'd put two droplets from a small brown bottle under my tongue. My mouth immediately went numb but was also, paradoxically, flooded with the taste of Pine-Sol. Through the frantic dance my brain was doing with my tastebuds, I could hear the man, whose name turned out to be Steve Mason, telling me that I'd just taken red pine needle oil. "It decalcifies your pineal gland," he promised. "It's a human cleaning product. Cleans all your neural pathways, gets rid of heavy metals, viruses, funguses." He turned seamlessly and began his sales pitch on the next woman as I ran headlong towards the café to get a palate-cleansing samosa.
I was able to do all this—running wild through the halls of various beliefs that weren't my own, merrily interviewing everyone in sight—because nobody much cared that I was there. Quicksilver didn't try to place any rules or restrictions on what I covered when we spoke. The woman who handed me my tickets recognized me from a conspiracy cruise we'd taken together. ("VICE? Oh girl," she congratulated me, warmly). Nobody was particularly bothered by my questions, dealing with me about as gently and personably as I can recall happening in years. I recognized a man named Brother Star in the hallway, but couldn't recall whether I'd seen him at Conscious Life or somewhere else. He travels from one New Age spiritual event to another, handing out pamphlets on the virtues of veganism in English and Spanish.
"I like to meet similar kindred spirits of conscious awareness," he told me. "An event like this, we are more than the sum total of our parts." It can be, for him, "a safe place to meet people," he said, especially people who share his interests in health and ETs.
"There's some kind of unspoken social taboo against talking about mystical or magical experiences," he told me thoughtfully, pressing another leaflet into my hands. We talked for a while about his near death and extraterrestrial experiences, both of which he said he'd experienced since childhood.
"Do you ever get tired of waiting?" I asked him. "For disclosure? For the rest of society to catch up to where you are?"
"It's been my life," he said, smiling a little sadly. "But I'm excited. There's a polarity at work now. Things are getting better, because people are waking up, but we're also on the brink of disaster through climate catastrophe and nuclear war." In the meantime, he said, "Conscious Life is like a temporary microcosm. It's limited in space and time. I just wish this whole higher conscious awareness would be expanded to be the whole of the earth. Instead, we work so hard to build something, only to dismantle it in a few days."
We hugged, he urged me to vote for a candidate who would support universal healthcare, and then that limited moment in space and time was over too.
It occurred to me that at Conscious Life, I am able to access some part of myself that usually goes unseen. It is not, to be clear, a part that believes most of what was on offer in its glittering booths, but one that's more receptive to discussing the unseen, the otherworldly. Occasionally, listening to a presenter, my mind would drift to the liminal places I've privately thought of all my life as "the other room," a mysterious next place, whose door only swings open for me occasionally, showing me a crack of some otherworldly light.
Other people feel welcomed there too, even somewhat surprising fellows like "Reverend William," who's recently gone viral for his ambitious wife-finding website, Seeking My Republican Goddess.
Reverend William, whose real name I will withhold out of basic kindness, and who revealed to me he has not yet gotten any dates from any prospective Republican Goddesses, wandered the Conscious Life halls wearing dual Trump pins and a wide straw bowler hat. "I've been coming here for years," he told me. "I've been a speaker and an exhibitor. There are a lot of wonderful people here. A lot of people are open to Trump. And I learned about the evil powers that run the world here, from Sean David Morton. That was the beginning of my long journey learning about that evil cabal."
He leaned very close to me. "Trump is the answer to what's been called for at this expo for decades," he said, rather urgently. "He's confronting that evil. He's disclosing it."
"Sean David Morton is in prison for tax fraud," I told Reverend William, at a loss for anything else to say. His face fell.
"That's too bad," he said, sadly. (The following day, he left me a voicemail, clarifying that he did not believe all of what Morton taught.)
My last lecture of the weekend was Emery Smith, who was once a frequent guest on David Wilcock's show on Gaia, Cosmic Disclosure, and ultimately became his replacement. Wilcock resigned from Gaia in 2018; a leaked copy of his resignation letter, reported on by the author Jason Colavito, showed that Wilcock believed he wasn’t getting paid enough, and was additionally concerned what he called the "Luciferian" beliefs that he alleged Gaia was trying to get him to promote. "The Company also attempted to upload a video to my YouTube channel that aggressively promotes Luciferianism—namely S1E1 of Ancient Civilizations," Wilcock wrote, "even while Gaia supposedly has a policy of ‘no religion,’ at least for my fellow colleagues and me. I was tricked into participating in a very religious program that I do not want to have any affiliation with. This show is literally saying that God is Evil and Lucifer is God—who (ahem) also happens to be a reptilian alien. Seriously?"
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."
"There's a hidden agenda to wipe out certain lineages here on the planet."
That was a comfort. I left as a crowd started to gather around Smith and made my way down to the expo 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.
Follow Anna Merlan on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.