Editor's Note: Facebook removed Natural News following the publication of this article.
The headline warned of “LGBT progressivism horrors: Parents to start physically maiming their own babies to slice off all ‘gender’ organs in the name of progressivism and ‘equality.’”
“The next escalation in this war on biology will, I predict, involve parents maiming their newborn infants by slicing off their penis and scrotum shortly after birth in order to ‘rid’ the child of gender inequality,” the author wrote, adding that parents will “commit felony assault against their own children with a scalpel and an ice pack… all in the name of ‘progressivism.’”
The article was punctuated with a mid-page sales pitch for Organic Broccoli Sprout Capsules.
This wasn’t Alex Jones of Infowars. It was Mike Adams of Natural News, which began as a health news hub but has since turned into a powerful conspiracy empire. Natural News has nearly 3 million Facebook followers, more than Infowars and Alex Jones combined before Facebook banned them from the platform last summer.
You might never have clicked on a Natural News article, but you’ve probably felt its influence. The site is one of the largest brokers of far-right conspiracy theories, including disinformation about vaccines. Natural News has spent the past 10 years moving from relatively innocent claims about the benefits of herbal remedies, to full-blown culture war, with a side business of selling survivalist gear.
The shift from turmeric salesman to scalpel scaremonger was only the latest evolution for Natural News’ founder, who has a history of shady business ventures, many of them raising money off moral panics. (Natural News did not return repeated requests for an interview with Adams.)
Natural News didn’t start in the deep end. Indeed, some of Natural News’ early posts even took liberal stances, like debunking claims that undocumented immigrants burdened the country’s health services. The site’s skepticism of genetically modified foods is a somewhat common view on the left. Anxiety about Big Food and Big Pharma are common entry points for conspiratorial belief on both sides of the political aisle.
Natural News’s founder went further than the average organic food evangelist, however.
Adams has been preaching the apocalypse online for 20 years. In 1998, he launched Y2K Newswire, a site that warned of imminent catastrophe that would come when computer calendars switched over to the year 2000. The site promoted all the worst Y2K scares—stock market collapse, power grid failure, food scarcity, societal implosion—even as experts debunked those fears.
“Y2K Deniers and hate-speech supporters have one thing in common: the inability to distinguish between words and actions,” Adams wrote in a Y2K Newswire piece condemning hate speech laws, adding that “it's only a matter of time before it will be illegal to merely THINK non-politically-correct thoughts. That would include, of course, thinking that Y2K might be a problem.”
The internet was a different place in 1998. Without social media giants like Facebook, websites used more basic ways of attracting an audience. Adams found it in mass emails, which he pioneered. In 1993 he launched Arial, a mass-email management company that would go on to claim customers like Microsoft, the Treasury Department, and UCLA. He also worked on “patents on search engine ranking improvement technology,” according to his Y2K website—in other words, techniques to boost his articles to the top of blossoming search engines like Yahoo and Google.
Adams’ tech experience made him an expert in early-internet virality, a skill that would carry over into Natural News, which uses clever search-engine shortcuts to propel it to the top of searches. He lit up inboxes with scaremongering Y2K emails. “Adams' ‘Thirty-Nine Unanswered Questions About Y2K’ have arrived in my mailbox about 50 times today,” one technology columnist wrote in December 1999 before challenging all 39 claims.
Those emails led many readers to Y2K Newswire, where he sold $99 subscriptions for “access to a wealth of information—much of it too sensitive for public release.” At one point before 2000, he claimed to have “a subscriber base of over 50,000 people,” which would have made him a small fortune from subscriptions alone.
Then there were the products.
The website sold survivalist food and gold coins (in anticipation of a currency crash). For $569, readers could get a digital subscription to the site, plus “one year basic food unit.” On Nov. 18, 1999, the site advertised 10 ounces of gold coins for $3,350. Gold indexes for that day would have put 10 ounces of gold at $2,676, according to historical price lists, turning him a neat profit of more than $650 on each purchase.
After the turn of the millennium passed without doomsday, Y2K Newswire was redesigned as a one-page fact sheet. “Contrary to what was (mis)reported in several newspapers and websites, Y2K Newswire was never in the Y2K supplies business. It never made a dime from product sales or recommendations,” the page read, after a warning that the government had been prepared to declare martial law over Y2K.
The site went offline. But Adams wasn’t close to finished with his digital career.
He registered the first of what would soon become a sprawling network of websites, most of them relating to health and conspiracy theories. Most of the sites link to each other, a popular trick that improves their placement in search results. He registered his now-flagship site Natural News in 2005, domain records show, before starting to run regular articles in 2008. Health articles dominated the site in its early days. Many voiced skepticism of the medical profession, or promoted alternative treatments, but the site lacked most of its current politics.
Adams began promoting his own personal health miracle. At 30, he claimed, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. After researching wellness, “he cured himself of diabetes in a matter of months and transformed himself into the picture of perfect health in mind, body and spirit,” one of his biographies reads.
He also promoted products he claimed would help cure his readers.
In August 2007, Adams wrote a 5,800-word “independent review” of the Amazon Herb Company, a multi-level marketing organization selling herbal supplements. (The article and others originally appeared on his site News Target, but were transferred to Natural News with their original timestamps intact.)
“This special report offers a detailed, third-party review of the Amazon Herb Company from a truly independent perspective (meaning that I'm not an employee or associate of the company, and I have absolutely no financial ties with them, either),” Adams wrote in the glowing review.
But his relationship with the company and one of its distributors was more complicated than he let on.
Adams has authored at least eight articles promoting Amazon Herb Company, five of which encourage readers to buy the products directly from distributor Terry Pezzi.
“And no, I don't get any kickbacks or anything like that,” he wrote in a 2005 product plug. “I only recommend Terry because she's earned my trust.”
Adams appears to have trusted Pezzi so much, they quietly went into business together in 2006 or 2007, according to Arizona nonprofit business records.
Pezzi used to be president of Terra Christa Communications, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. In the nonprofit’s last tax filing available online from 2003, it reported making nearly all its money from a $100,000 government grant—$99,693 went to Pezzi’s salary. In 2007, Adams took over as president and Pezzi became treasurer, Arizona business records show, and renamed it the “Consumer Wellness Center.”
Adams did not disclose his business relationship with Pezzi in his endorsements of her store. His long independent review of the company came out months after they officially became business partners. In an article on ways to cure breast cancer without medicine two months later, he again recommended buying Amazon Herbs directly from Pezzi.
From Y2K Newswire to Natural News, Adams has laced his articles with asides about his integrity.
“You might notice that I do not recommend any other network marketing companies,” he wrote in his review of Amazon Herb Company. “That's no accident. I've had many contact me, but have not encountered any company like the Amazon Herb Company. Some network marketing companies have tried to buy my influence (they don't know me very well, do they?)”
Amazon Herb wouldn’t be Adams’ only sales pitch with a personal stake.
In the mid-2000s, he moved to Ecuador and authored multiple articles billing his town of Vilcabamba as a health nut’s paradise. “Vilcabamba, Ecuador is remarkably free from most kinds of pollution: Electromagnetic, air and water,” he wrote in 2010. “No planes fly overhead dropping chemtrails on the population, either.” The cost of hiring four Ecuadorian workers “was significantly less than one full-time helper working in the U.S.,” he noted. In a podcast, he also suggested the country as an escape from possible “civil unrest or martial law” in America’s future.
Several of those articles, including the one that praised Vilcabamba as a chemtrail-free haven, went on to promote real estate in the Vilcabamba gated community where Adams lived. The articles encouraged potential buyers to contact an email address, where Adams was listed as an agent. His own home, which he described as the “ultimate preparedness property” was also for sale. On a now-deleted Natural News page, Adams advertised his property for $695,000. Natural News also promoted a 2011 workshop in Vilcabamba: $450 for locals and $950 for visitors.
Adams eventually left Ecuador, and now describes himself as living in Austin, Texas. He might be the second-most-famous conspiracy theorist in the city. Infowars founder Alex Jones also lives and broadcasts from Austin. Adams has co-hosted occasional Infowars episodes since at least 2012, and in 2018 launched a weekly show on the conspiracy network.
Although Adams’ writings have always contained a conspiratorial thread (his Y2K blog warned of “martial law”), the trend came to dominate Natural News during the end of the Obama era. The site’s store tells the history of this shift. In 2010, when Natural News began selling its own products, most were hippie food products like cheesy kale chips, or raw macadamia nut butter. The more questionable products included a buffet of supplements, and “parasite cleansing” droplets. Today’s store takes on a more apocalyptic tone. Under a category called “nuclear and biological,” readers can buy breathing masks for children and a $160 electromagnetic field reader.
Meanwhile, far-right conspiracy theories have begun to crowd out articles on the benefits of turmeric powder.
“When I began writing for them in 2010—I wrote for about four and a half years—it was mainly health,” one former Natural News writer who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Daily Beast. “There was still some political commentary... it’s become more extreme in their viewpoints. That, coupled with some other things going on with that site and how they were restructuring writers, was one reason I left. I didn’t agree with a lot being said on the site.”
On May 31, the “latest articles” column featured eight scaremongering articles, most of them attacking the left, before reaching an article titled, “Research finds spirulina lowers blood pressure.” Although conspiracy articles were common during the ex-writer’s time with the site, they were less likely to dominate the health coverage on the home page.
Adams attracted mass media attention in 2014, when he published an article likening biotech company Monsanto to the Nazis, accusing media outlets of collaborating with the company, and appearing to encourage assassinating those involved. “It is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity,” he wrote, later clarifying that he was paraphrasing a quote about killing Nazis.
Since then, he’s taken up aggressive stances against vaccines and against the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which he claimed was a hoax perpetrated to steal Americans’ guns.
A month after the school shooting, Adams launched Hoggwatch, a website attacking David Hogg, a teenager who survived the shooting. Hogg and other students advocated for new gun control measures after 17 of their classmates were murdered. On Hoggwatch, Adams ran articles with headlines like “Dear David Hogg, you’re a lying, opportunistic, insufferable little toe rag,” and called the teenager a “fascist.”
Hoggwatch has since removed all articles from its homepage. But Adams’ influence still appears to be on the rise elsewhere on the web. As anti-vaccination conspiracy theories (and subsequent measles outbreaks) rise, Natural News has become a hub for anti-vaxxers.
And like the anti-vaccination movement, Natural News thrives on Facebook. A 2015 ThinkProgress article placed Natural News at nearly 1.5 million Facebook likes. By May 2019, the page had more than 2.9 million.
In addition to anti-vax panic, those fans get a steady stream of Adams’ ongoing culture war. Once a doomsday prophet about imminent “martial law,” Adams now authors articles calling on President Donald Trump to “invoke the Insurrection Act to save America from lawless ‘enemies within’ who threaten our constitutional republic,” one recent headline read.
Those “enemies” who would be subject to arrest under Adams’ vision included “corrupt liberal judges who defy the President’s orders to secure the U.S. border,” “journo-terrorists who pretend to be journalists but are actually anti-American traitors,” tech CEOs, anti-fascists, figures in the imaginary “deep state,” and liberal university professors.
“We are now fighting for our lives,” Adams concluded his call for purges. “We are blessed to have Donald J. Trump as our President as America faces off against treasonous actors, deep state traitors and authoritarian globalists who despise this nation and what it stands for.”
At the bottom of the article was an ad for Natural News’ proprietary “organic moringa leaf powder.” It was one of the last traces of the health site Natural News once claimed to be.