Featured photo: Callie Roang leads Sam in a meditation sequence as he lays on the Theraphi table at the 2024 Cosmic Summit. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Ancient lost civilizations, sacred geometry, UFOs, cold fusion, alien technology, thunderstorm generators.

At first blush, none of these things appear to have anything in common. But at Greensboro’s Koury Convention Center in mid June, these ideas — most of them controversial — found a home at the 2024 Cosmic Summit.

I watched on in utter fascination and mild horror as Sam, my husband, laid face-up on a massage table covered with a plush, cheetah-print throw and two glass cones buttressing the ends. Looking not unlike giant bongs you might pack and smoke something out of, the glass containers filled with amber light as he closed his eyes.

Sam lays on the Theraphi table at the 2024 Cosmic Summit. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

The booth, run by Callie Roang of Theraphi Tech, was situated towards the front of the ballroom where the second day of the Cosmic Summit was being held. Yards away from the main stage where a man was touting the influence of sacred geometry while holding something that looked like a spiky, Mad Max-esque wheel cover, Roang whispered in Sam’s ear.

“She told me to focus my awareness down to my cellular level where a perfect version of me is imprinted,” Sam explained after finishing his three minutes on the table. “Perfect vitality, perfect energy, perfect health. She told me to imagine that perfect image and command my cells to embody it.”

Part of the Theraphi table, which costs $30,000 per unit. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

According to Roang, the “technology” is meant to heal the body at the cellular level, down to the mitochondria. Anything, she said, from anxiety to ADHD to cancer, could be cured using the Theraphi Device.

Here’s how she explained it: The two glass containers, which she calls plasma tubes, have opposite spin density directions, which she showed by spinning her hands in one direction and then the other. This produces a “conjugate field” that meets at a focal point near Sam’s stomach based on “nature’s golden mean ratio” and sacred geometry. The forces then collapse, doing… something.

Callie Roang of Theraphi Technologies adjusts the frequencies as Sam lays on the table. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

A quick look on the Theraphi Tech’s website gives little more explanation than what Roang provided in person. Complex words like “negentropy” and “symmetric coherent wave fields” litter both the page and our conversation. To the layperson, it’s a classic word salad. To the intellectually curious and open-minded — as the Cosmic Summit would describe its followers — it’s potent, delicious Kool-Aid.

The event started in 2023 with an international conference in Asheville. This year, the summit set its sights on Greensboro and promised to bring a stacked cast of speakers ranging from Malcolm Bendall, the creator of the thunderstorm generator; Chandra Wickramasinghe, a Sri Lankan-British mathematician and astrobiologist; Robert Schoch, a geology and geophysics professor from Boston University; and Randall Carlson, a “renegade scholar.” Many of the speakers have appeared on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, according to their online bios.

The price to attend? $485 for a two-day pass all the way up to the $2592 “Anunnaki Pass” that covered all three days, exclusive seating, a gift bag, access to the disco party, breakfast, lunch and dinner and more. By Saturday, those passes were sold out. According to one speaker, there were more than 600 attendees in the audience that day.

Speakers and attendees from around the country gathered in Greensboro for the second Cosmic Summit in June. (photo by Sam LeBlanc)

Before I voluntold Sam to lay on the table, Roang explained the Theraphi Device, which was created by her husband, Paul Harris, and how they’ve sold 800 units in the last nine years since debuting the invention. And for only $30,000 the miracle technology could be ours, too.

“Medical doctors use it,” Roang said. “Of course, behind the scenes.”

It was this sentiment that ran as a throughline through the rest of the hours we experienced on Day 2 of the summit. As we listened to speakers talk about “plasmoids” and how they were the key to cold fusion — which doesn’t have any clear scientific evidence — the theme of a “behind the scenes” community that aimed to debunk mainstream facts of science, archaeology and math came to light. But to those attending, they weren’t only justified operatives pushing back against the mainstream, they were also pushing back against the behind-the-scenes workings of corrupt governments, academic institutions and energy companies. And they were the only ones who knew the truth.

‘A certificate of ignorance’

Fringe beliefs and conspiracy theories are nothing new. Many of the theories being touted at this year’s Cosmic Summit are decades old. And the fact that they continue to exist points to people’s current states of mind.

According to a 2022 study published in the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law that looked at the rise in conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19 pandemic, QAnon and the 5G theory, the increase in these theories during the pandemic was accompanied by diminishing levels of trust towards governments. Levels of distrust in public institutions have also been “fractured by years of political polarization, rising inequality, lack of credible information, rising inequality and economic disillusionment,” the paper cited.

And really, who can argue with that?

Every other news article these days uncovers yet another institution that people seemingly can’t trust: the Supreme Court? Nope. Congress? Definitely not. Academic institutions? Not really. Given that trust in these longstanding institutions are at their lowest point in generations, it can explain some of the reasoning behind the fringe ideas peddled at the Cosmic Summit. But it’s not just dissatisfaction and distrust that’s driving these ideologies.

A 2023 study published by the American Psychological Association wrote that people tend to believe in conspiracy theories to find a community that they view as superior to others.

“Conspiracy theorists are not all likely to be simple-minded, mentally unwell folks — a portrait which is routinely painted in popular culture,” wrote Shauna Bowes, lead author of the study. “Instead, many turn to conspiracy theories to fulfill deprived motivational needs and make sense of distress and impairment.”

In essence, many were there for camaraderie. 

Ryan Sellers, who flew in from Austin, Texas, said he had just come back from a trip to Egypt that was led by some of the speakers. He attended a guided tour around the pyramids and some of the ancient sites. He too, had gotten into the topic from listening to Joe Rogan’s podcast, which has been found to tout unfounded theories about vaccines and climate change.

“I know some people here that I’ve been on trips and stuff with so it’s nice to see everybody again,” Sellers said.

Like Sellers, many of the attendees were drawn to the summit because of its claims about ancient civilizations, specifically that we — the general public, but also archaeologists — don’t really know how some of the wonders of the world like the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Mayan ruins were created.

Hundreds of people attended the Cosmic Summit in Greensboro in mid-June. (photo by Sam LeBlanc)

Kevin Weber of Durham, who attended the conference last year too, said he came to hear from both Bendall and Schoch, the latter of whom Weber has been following since the ’ 80s.

“I’ve always had an interest in archaeology and lost civilizations,” Weber explained. “I think that they were a lot more advanced than they get credit for and I think we’re just rediscovering a lot of what they knew already.”

Malcolm Bendall explains the “plasmoid unification model” at the 2024 Cosmic Summit. (photo by Sam LeBlanc)

Sandy Matthews of Greensboro thought similarly.

“We have no understanding of what that energy generation may have been,” Matthews argued. “We don’t know what their energy sources were. But there was obviously a machinery or something that existed because there’s no way that human hands have created some of the perfect center symmetries in these ancient structures.”

Randall Carlson at the 2024 Cosmic Summit in Greensboro. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

While it’s true that the precise method in which the pyramids were constructed hasn’t been determined, most archaeologists agree that they were manmade. But the absence of a definitive answer has created a fringe ideology known as pyramidology, in which some believe that the ancients had a long-lost technology like anti-gravity technology to build the structures.

“There’s a lot of holes in the story; they seem to appear out of nowhere,” explained Kyle Allen, a co-host of the “Brothers of the Serpent” podcast. He and his brother, Russ, started the podcast in 2016 to explore their curiosity around ancient civilizations. They figured they had a lot of unanswered questions and that other people did too.

The Brothers of the Serpent podcast’s table at the 2024 Cosmic Summit (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“What we’ve learned about the idea of this pursuit,” Allen said. “Is that you have to have a certificate of ignorance to do this…. Only when you accept that you don’t know, is when you start to realize, This doesn’t make sense.”

It can start innocently enough. A healthy distrust of institutions leads one to ask questions. But then, when confronted with credible information that doesn’t align with their newly formed beliefs, confirmation bias kicks in. For example, in 2007, new data about the material used in building the pyramids came to light. Instead of using that as a basis to reconsider pyramidology theories, believers could use the new information as a way to further discredit science and facts. In this way, conspiracy theories “have a built-in defense system that makes them immune to fact-checking” that allows believers to “actually end up being more in favor of their initial position,” according to a 2023 research article

The thinking is as follows: They were wrong before so why wouldn’t they be wrong now?

Falling down the rabbit hole

Kimberly of the World Wide Water Tribe let visitors try her four different water flavors that are meant to speak to each patron based on their needs. It’s what she calls “the language of water.”

“In my belief structure, water is the creator in physical form,” said Kimberly, who declined to give her last name.

Sam and I tried the different flavors — mint, cucumber and lemon (for conscious awakening); watermelon (for love and joy); pineapple (for love and gratitude); and pure water (for one love). In the end, Sam chose pineapple and I chose pure water.

Kimberly of the World Wide Water Tribe offers a customer some of her flavored water. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Among the vendors we interacted with during the summit, Kimberly had the most varying views. She explained how tap water was a form of mind control because of the fluoride that’s added to it, and how the Earth’s core was actually made of water, deep down past the mantle. The mountains of North Carolina, where she’s from, are made up of old, sleeping dragons and the heart of the male dragon is where the purest water can be sourced. There are at least seven phases of water in addition to solid, liquid and gas. And perhaps most controversial, that young people these days are “confused about their gender” because of the chemicals in water.

Listening to her explain her beliefs, it would be easy to dismiss Kimberly’s ideas, to write her off as a confused individual, a crazy person.

Kimberly of World Wide Water Tribe talks about how the mountains in North Carolina were created by sleeping dragons. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

But I had to ask: What made you start believing in all of this?

“I went to a show in a fracking town,” she explained. “There were kids getting sick; that’s when I realized that people need water.”

And there it was, the kernel of truth.

“What’s important to me is that people have clean water,” she said.

Of course, that’s not a bad notion. News of Flint, Mich. — which is finally starting to recover after a decade of a water crisis in addition to other towns facing water crises — makes Kimberly’s intentions admirable. But along the way, her motives met up with conspiracy theories that begot other theories that ultimately led her to the table at the Cosmic Summit.

Science explains this, too.

According to a 2020 study, people who believe in one conspiracy theory are more likely to believe in others as well. And that was evidenced at the summit. As people in one corner talked about the possibility of ancient civilizations and the implications of their so-called “ancient technology,” others mentioned sacred geometry and free energy. Still others like Kimberly and Callie Roang touted the healing effects of their products. At the “Brothers of the Serpents” table, a man wearing a short-sleeve shirt with an American flag on the sleeve posed with the hosts for a photo.

“Trump thumbs!” he exclaimed as he smiled for the shot.

Malcolm Bendall shows off parts of his “thunderstorm generator” at the 2024 Cosmic Summit. (photo by Sam LeBlanc)

And in a world that feels increasingly more confusing, hostile and unjust, how can we push back or convince people not to fall down these rabbit holes?

Experts would argue that it’s about inoculation and teaching media and science literacy. But what if there’s another theory?: Hyper transparency. The more that institutions are willing to explain what’s happening, how they make decisions, own up when they make mistakes, the less room there is for theories to fester. It’s not people’s fault that they trust institutions less; many have proven to be untrustworthy. So what if the answer is to push for more just institutions, ones that are honest and transparent?

Because it’s hard to disagree with Kimberly when she says, “True freedom is knowing.”

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