Right-Wing Psychedelia: Case Studies in Cultural Plasticity and Political Pluripotency

This paper (2021) explores the ability of psychedelics to alter political beliefs or religious beliefs. Contrary to the popularized idea that psychedelic use is linked to increased environmental concern and liberal politics, it is argued that the psychedelic experience can lead to a shift in any direction of political belief. Case studies are used to support the idea of psychedelics as politically pluripotent.


“Recent media advocacy for the nascent psychedelic medicine industry has emphasized the potential for psychedelics to improve society, pointing to research studies that have linked psychedelics to increased environmental concern and liberal politics. However, research supporting the hypothesis that psychedelics induce a shift in political beliefs must address the many historical and contemporary cases of psychedelic users who remained authoritarian in their views after taking psychedelics or became radicalized after extensive experience with them. We propose that the common anecdotal accounts of psychedelics precipitating radical shifts in political or religious beliefs result from the contextual factors of set and setting, and have no particular directional basis on the axes of conservatism-liberalism or authoritarianism-egalitarianism. Instead, we argue that any experience which challenges a person’s fundamental worldview—including a psychedelic experience—can precipitate shifts in any direction of political belief. We suggest that the historical record supports the concept of psychedelics as “politically pluripotent,” non-specific amplifiers of the political set and setting. Contrary to recent assertions, we show that conservative, hierarchy-based ideologies are able to assimilate psychedelic experiences of interconnection, as expressed by thought leaders like Jordan Peterson, corporadelic actors, and members of several neo-Nazi organizations.”

Authors: Brain A. Pace & Neşe Devenot



The notion that psychedelic experiences can result in dispositional change has its roots in their association with the cultural and political upheavals of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Yet psychedelic usage by modern and premodern culture predates this era.

Psychological research on political belief and ideology has found that individuals who use at least one classical psychedelic are more likely to report less authoritarian beliefs than non-psychedelic users. Based on clinical effects, the media has suggested that psychedelic therapy will lead to a more progressive, inclusive society. However, many historical counterexamples exist, which the authors do not address.

Authoritarianism is a worldview that exalts obedience to hierarchical power relations above all else. It can be predicted by low strategic information processing.

So long as hierarchy is held paramount, authoritarianism can take many forms. White supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, class, and imperialism constitute the dominant global infrastructure of authoritarianism.


Ideologies have changed the relationship people have toward historically entrenched hierarchies. Some ideologies naturalize existing hierarchies, while others attempt to deconstruct them and envision alternative ways of distributing power.

The section following will review the dominant political ideologies, moving from most general to more specific. Liberalism emphasizes the economic liberty of individuals, and is the bedrock ideology of capitalism. The right wing-left wing divide is a political divide between supporters of the monarchy and those agitating for revolution. The term “libertarian” is often confused with “left-wing” and is a result of a historical co-optation of the term long used as a synonym for socialist.

Although both groups sympathize with free-market ideology, conservatives add a concern for moral and communal factors and a greater emphasis on nationalism and the authority of the state. Reactionary conservatives seek to return to a historical or imagined social order.

Authoritarianism and libertarianism are expressed on both the left and right. Single-issue positions are poor proxies for defining ideologies.

The authoritarian right is populated by movements that include radical-right, anti-liberal democracy actors to extreme-right, anti-democracy ones, as well as ultranationalist, fascist, and neo-Nazi groups. Both are associated with “system justification,” which is the tendency to defend and bolster the societal status quo.

Nazis and fascists conceptualize internal enemies as sickness and disease, and empathize with weak people. The possibility of increasing empathy for one’s in-group problematizes universal claims about psychedelics increasing empathy for all people. In fascist and Nazi ideologies, out-groups are cast as weakening the nation and robbing the master race of its destiny. Fascists will form alliances when convenient, but will easily turn on perceived out-groups.


Those who have taken psychedelics, either therapeutically or recreationally, have either held on to their pre-existing authoritarian views or developed an affinity for authoritarianism.

In studies claiming psychedelics make people more liberal, it is more likely that environmental factors account for the change toward more progressive views. For example, people predisposed to xenophobia and white supremacy are likely to self-select out of these user populations.

Piper (2015) argued that fascist philosopher Julius Evola, who wrote about drugs, was an influential figure for the alt-right today, and that the first botanical collection of Teonanácatl was facilitated by the Austrian botanist and “ardent Nazi” Blas Paul Reko.

In the early days of LSD use, private sessions were hosted by Dr. Hofmann with Ernst Jünger, a Wehrmacht officer and censor for the Nazis in occupied France during WWII.

Neo-Nazis with histories of psychedelic use do not evidence decreased authoritarianism as a result of such experiences. Neo-Nazi groups like The Base integrate elements of occult or Satanic practice into their beliefs. Andrew Thomasberg attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia with the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America, and later became a recruiter for Atomwaffen Division, an occult neo-Nazi organization linked to at least five murders. He was arrested for weapons charges and praised the murder of nine black churchgoers by Dylann Roof.

Frederick Brennan was inspired to create the free speech absolutist website 8chan while on a psilocybin mushroom trip. Brennan shut down 8chan after three mass shooters posted their manifestos on the board. Q-drops were associated with elaborate conspiracy theories about elite child molestation rings and the psychoactive substance adrenochrome, and the name and reputation of Timothy Leary’s Castalia Foundation was appropriated to praise President Trump and promote Q-reminiscent child exploitation conspiracies.

A psychedelic experience can lead to a shift in worldviews and even religious and political ideologies, but not in a consistent, directional manner. A community support for radical belief is an important contributing factor.

User Europa claims his interest in Nazism started in childhood, and continued into adulthood. This inspired him to become an activist.

The suggestibility of psychedelic experiences is consistent with the measurable impact of suggestibility on psychedelic experiences. This suggests that beliefs are influenced by extrapharmacological factors including cultural priors and acquired knowledge. Psychedelics are thought to enhance suggestibility, which is a key ingredient in fostering social cohesion and reinforcing group norms. When psychedelics are used outside of a normative context, users may develop antinomian ideas.

Psychological research has demonstrated that psychedelic experiences can have different effects depending on the context of the experience. For example, gratitude can increase the likelihood of obeying authority figures, but this behavior can also be negatively impacted by self-construals that emphasize independence.


Recent correlational studies have associated psychedelic use with pro-environmental beliefs and behaviors. Based on results from 1487 online survey participants, Forstmann and Sagioglou (2017) found evidence that lifetime psychedelic experience correlated with increased nature relatedness and pro-environmental behavior.

Correlational studies have shown that nature relatedness is associated with eco-fascism and other right-wing movements, including eco-naturalism, eco-organicism, and eco-authoritarianism.

Forstmann and Sagioglou predicted that political conservatism would negatively predict psychedelic usage and pro-environmental behavior, based on two citations in the published literature, but Cohrs noted that anti-environmentalism is not inherent to RWA or SDO. Schultz and Stone predict that the negative correlation between authoritarianism and environmental concern will disappear over time, as climate change and its associated environmental catastrophes become increasingly difficult to ignore.

Shultz and Stone found that right-wing authorities are becoming more concerned about environmental issues. Climate change is expected to increase the intensity, frequency, and duration of extreme weather events, as well as vector-borne diseases, food and water insecurity, and property damage.

The current common association of environmentalism with the values of progressivism, liberalism, equalitarianism, and respect for democracy is a historical contingency rather than necessity.

Social psychological research indicates that the self-other overlap characteristic of nature relatedness increases the empathy felt for the target or “other”. This notion represents the theoretical basis for deep ecology.

Deep ecology argues that Western culture’s anthropocentric, dualistic, and utilitarian attitude toward nature is the root cause of maladaptive environmental behaviors that fuel climate change. Psychedelic researchers have cited deep ecology as a theoretical mechanism for the correlation between psychedelic experiences and pro-environmental concern and behaviors.

Deep ecology has been recuperated for authoritarian purposes based on a hierarchical social order, and this problematizes the commonplace association of nature relatedness with empathy and liberal political values within the psychedelic research literature.

Ecofeminists have expressed concern that certain interpretations of deep ecology’s central tenets risk legitimizing authoritarian forms of social power. Deep ecologists and ecofeminists both emphasize the importance of direct experiences of interconnection in order to shift innate levels of environmental concern.

Marti Kheel explores three case studies involving eco-philosophers who identify with the natural world and hunt animals. She argues that this sense of interconnection legitimizes the hierarchical relationship between self and animal.

Daniel Rueda documents how the alt-right is already becoming neo-ecofascist, and how they are united by the belief that straight white western men are situated at the apex of civilizational hierarchy.

Richard Spencer, an avowed neo-Nazi who coined the term “alt-right”, portrayed nature as a birthright and constituent element of the social elites, and those lower down the social hierarchy as “deviants” who threaten the integrity of the moral and natural order.

Researchers have suggested that psychedelics can be compatible with existing hierarchies, because experiences of interconnection inherently lead to universal increases in care and concern, without hierarchical gradations.


Jordan Peterson, a Jungian psychologist, became a conservative icon by railing against an expansion of Canadian human rights legislation Bill C-16. His followers deserted him when he predicted that the bill would never come to pass, which is consistent with the work of Garrett and Bond (2021).

The Bell Curve is a work of scientific racism that has been thoroughly rebutted by scholars from multiple disciplines, including evolutionary geneticist Stephen Jay Gould.

Peterson’s writings naturalize and mythologize the existing social hierarchy of Western civilization as the bedrock that protects humanity from chaos, madness, and meaninglessness.

Peterson’s thinking provides a philosophical legitimation for social dominance orientation (SDO), which he grounds biologically in the serotonergic system. This system modulates our perceptions, values, emotions, thoughts and actions.

Peterson’s position throughout the conversation could not have been more emphatic: psychedelics might be a necessary catalyst in restoring humankind’s rightful orientation toward the cosmos. He connects current concepts from the psychedelic research discourse back to his preexisting, hierarchy-based ideology.

Peterson theorizes that psychedelics might amplify the dominance hierarchy’s reciprocal ethic, by connecting to the nervous system’s psychomotor stimulant system.

Peterson reinterprets Griffiths’ perspective on meaning-making as a parable of the “grievance politics” that he associates with social justice activism, in which Cain represents those who seek to destroy the dominance hierarchy due to resentment over one’s subaltern status.

Peterson sees the psychedelic insight as shifting personal identification away from injustice toward the interconnected whole of hierarchy, which justifies experiences of oppression and makes them meaningful.

Peterson’s framework and emphatic embrace of psychedelics could be warped by the right-wing authoritarian elements of his audience to serve as justifications for weeding out the “undesirable” elements of society.


Peterson invoked fascist metaphors to talk about psychedelics, but members of the far right had already co-opted a colorful drug metaphor to talk about the radicalization process: taking the red pill.

Nick Land’s post-academic writings engaged with Moldbug’s NRx aspirations, and his vision of acceleration evolved to embrace authoritarian, radical right-libertarian ends. Land’s work has been appropriated by neo-Nazi groups, and James Mason’s Siege writings have been collected and published by Michael Moynihan.

Silicon Valley’s interest in disruption differs from the overt violence of mass racial attack, yet psychedelics are seen as shortcuts to divergent market insight in a globalized, neoliberal marketplace. Yet Christian Angermayer’s efforts to spread psilocybin therapy will likely not be an adequate substitute for widespread social change. Billionaires use psychedelics on a regular basis, and are invested in preserving the status quo of massive wealth inequality. This suggests that psychedelics are not inherently a solution for ameliorating the extensive harms caused by social inequality.

Thiel has not definitively acknowledged psychedelic use, but his politics are decidedly authoritarian: he supports South African apartheid and President Trump. Thiel co-founded the surveillance capitalism firm Palantir, and his company’s CEO has acknowledged that their technology is sometimes used in targeted assassinations. Thiel and Moldbug share more than corporate monarchist ideology, and Thiel’s Founders Fund provided $100,000 in start-up capital for Moldbug’s software company Tlon.

The merger of fascism and big data is nowhere better exemplified than with Cambridge Analytica, the artificial intelligence (AI) company co-founded by billionaire Robert Mercer and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon. CA used highly targeted voter data scraped from social media sites including Facebook to sway results rightward in both Brexit and the 2016 US presidential vote.

Rebekah Mercer founded Parler, a social media platform used by many of those who stormed the United States Capitol Building.


The argument for psychedelic medicalization is made in dollars and cents, and psychedelic advocates frequently describe a strategy consistent with a Trojan horse theory of change: broader psychedelic use will catalyze geopolitical reconciliation and become the chemical feedstock of world peace.

Doblin has been making similar claims for most of his career, but the case of close Trump ally and “active member” of the First Baptist Church Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is a stubborn datapoint demonstrating that conservatives may support psychedelics for medical or recreational purposes, but they will likely continue to defend wealth-based hierarchy.


The male-female therapeutic dyad was a safeguard against therapists sexually manipulating their drugged clients. However, subsequent scientific accounts of the dyad have emphasized its psychoanalytic rationale while omitting warnings about the danger of therapist abuse.

Richard Yensen, who facilitated a MAPS MDMA PTSD Phase II therapeutic trial, used his authority to initiate a multi-year sexual relationship with patient Meaghan Buisson that was counter-therapeutic and predatory.

A recent Mad in America article details many examples of authoritarian mistreatment and assault by influential practitioners in the psychedelic therapy field, including Salvador Roquet. These abuses are often encouraged through formal, underground training.

Within hierarchical organizations, charismatic figures have been weaponized to influence group behavior. For example, members of the Aum Shinrikyo and Rajneesh cults were intimately involved with psychedelic manufacture and use, and both groups committed terrorist acts against unsuspecting civilians using chemical and biological weapons.

Cult violence in the New Age was prefigured by the Rajneesh movement, a group of psychedelic enthusiasts that were involved with drug trafficking and attempted to influence a local election with a bioterror attack on a salad bar.


Researchers should avoid conflating single-issue beliefs with specific ideologies, use underpowered studies to make broad claims, publish the manuals used in psychedelic therapy, and describe any significant variation within the study of the therapeutic environment.

We argue that anecdotal accounts of psychedelics precipitating radical shifts in political or religious beliefs are common but have no inherent directional basis on the axes of conservatism-liberalism or authoritarianism-egalitarianism.

Whether on grounds of supporting the troops or following doctors’ orders, psychedelics are palatable to conservatives. Several modern conservative cultural icons are on record as supportive of psychedelic medicalization, including Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro.

As institutional support for psychedelic therapy grows, hierarchy-conscious conservatives are likely to shift their opinions about the acceptability of taking psychedelics themselves.

Members of reactionary and right-wing authoritarian political movements make their own uses of psychedelics, which is an opportunity to broaden theoretical claims about psychedelic mechanisms. This is critical to acknowledge as simplistic narratives about the social benefits of psychedelics are being trumpeted by profit-motivated actors.


The authors would like to thank several people for their input and suggestions, as well as Tom Mitchell for financial support.

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