Marconics gatherings spark Covid concerns in Chester Owners: We are Covid compliant, attention is a 'witch hunt'

Cars bearing license plates from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Florida sit in front of the VTica building during a weeklong Marconics event last week. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

By Cynthia Prairie &
Shawn Cunningham
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

As many as 25 to 35 cars — most bearing out-of-state license plates — parked at the old Jiffy Mart and adjacent streets in downtown Chester last week alarmed members of the Chester community as Covid-19 cases continue to rise nationwide and as Vermont severely tightened rules for gatherings and suspended the travel map that has shown which counties residents of the northeast could travel from without quarantining.

The attraction? A week-long training event billed as “Spiritual Alchemy & Marconic Healing Seminars.” Several years ago, Marconics, a Massachusetts company, began renting the empty building that once housed the Vermont Institute of Contemporary Art. The company has been holding its training events there ever since without incident, even suspending workshops as the pandemic tightened its grip around the rest of the country.

By late last week — following a lot of Facebook chatter and inquiries from individuals, the police and this newspaper — company owners had made some changes to how they do business. They suspended their events scheduled for December, made future workshops dependent upon state mandates and added Covid-19 information to their website, which had been missing up until then.

And then on Tuesday, after an inquiry, one founder wrote to The Telegraph that, “Once the restrictions ease and we are able to resume hosting our training events, we can’t see putting ourselves through this level of scrutiny again in Chester.”

Business is business, even under Covid

An announcement on the Marconics website which appeared on Friday evening noting that further trainings in Vermont would be suspended until further notice

With Vermont Covid-19 infections growing,  last week’s gathering created tension not only for those who are concerned for their own health and the health of their families and friends but also for those who are grateful for the business — mostly to inns and restaurants — that these events bring into this town of 3,154. Many times, the pull of both is occurring within the same person.

“I appreciate the money (that the workshops bring in) but there is an ethical consideration,” says one innkeeper, who asked for anonymity. “I’m concerned for Chester, obviously. But there are a bunch of people coming here, mingling here then going back to their home communities, so it’s not just” a matter of concern only for Chester.

Main Street resident Bruce Parks says, “I like to go and visit places around town but I don’t want to go where these people have been.”  Parks adds, “I have nothing against them personally … but at 77, I’m worried about my own health.”

Robert Nied, a nearby resident, communicated extensively by email in late October with Marconics founder Lisa Wilson. He says, “Timing is everything. If this was last November and they want to bring a bunch of people into town, everyone would be fine. If it were a normal time, we would welcome them because they would benefit local businesses.” In late October, Nied and Wilson exchanged lengthy emails over Nied’s concern that Marconics leaders had not told attendees of the state regulations nor were attendees following them.

At the time, Nied noted in one email that he could not find any reference to Covid-19 on the Marconics website. Wilson replied, “We don’t post our guidelines on the website as we have teachers who teach in various states and countries and the rules vary. Once someone has registered … we provide them with our covid safety procedures along with” state or country specific requirements.

In a later email to The Telegraph, Wilson clarified that the safety procedures were given out to the students through a link to the guidelines on the state website and not by explaining the rules outright.

The innkeeper wonders if the links that that the group puts in its emails to Vermont restrictions is enough, adding, “Click-throughs don’t work among a lot of texts.” The innkeeper added, “Probably two-thirds of the people who call to book don’t know about the travel restrictions, so it’s not just Marconics. But the Marconics is more frustrating because I feel it is their responsibility as an organization to inform their students.”

Seeking details from Marconics

The Chester Telegraph was hoping to conduct a phone interview with Wilson. However, Wilson did not want to be interviewed over the telephone, writing that she lacked “availability” to do so and asked that The Telegraph email questions.

The VTica building on Tuesday Nov. 17

Initial questions were the basics: Does Wilson live in the area and is the business registered in Vermont? (The company, which has been based in Martha’s Vineyard and Westfield, Mass., since its founding in 2014, does not appear to be registered to do business in Vermont. The Telegraph searched state databases under Marconics and the three people who seem to have been associated with the business for several years.)

But the bulk of the questions were specifics about communication of state requirements with prospective students and the exact safety protocols followed inside the building such as:

  • How many people are in the main room of VTICA at any one time? Do they practice social distancing of 6 feet? What is the square footage of that space? Is there an occupancy sign?
  • What is the maximum number of people who have attended this week’s seminars at one time? How do you configure them in the building for 6-feet distancing?

Wilson refused to answer any of those questions, writing “… we feel threatened and are not inclined to provide any further information about us personally or about our business. We feel that you even writing this story is putting us in physical danger.”

You can read the exact email we sent here. And you can read Wilson’s reply here.

Police speak with Marconics reps

The one question that Wilson did answer was about her interaction with the Chester Police Department, which contacted the organization by phone but did not physically inspect the building and its two apartments, also rented by the business. The police made the call following inquiries to Town Hall about the gathering.

Chester Police Det. Adam Woodell told The Telegraph that he spoke with Marconics founders Alison David Bird and Lisa Wilson by phone on Thursday, Nov. 12 regarding the coronavirus and the state’s guidelines.

Woodell says, “They explained what they were doing and the safeguards they had in place,” noting that Bird and Wilson said everyone inside the building was wearing a mask and observing other precautions.  Woodell says that when they heard complaints about groups of people taking breaks outside without masks, Marconics representatives asked them to keep their masks on outdoors.

“I said it looks like you are doing your best to follow the guidelines,” says Woodell, noting that Bird said “No, we are strictly following the guidelines.”

Wilson’s account differs, saying that the officer “felt we were doing more than enough to be in compliance with guidelines.”

Woodell says he explained that the state’s approach to virus prevention is “education before enforcement,” and that while he was checking in with the Marconics group, the Police Department also reported the situation to the State of Vermont.

Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud noted that the local police are not empowered to enforce Covid regulations.  He added that for the safety of the police, they limit in-person contacts for education, and thus made the phone call instead of visiting.

Mark Bosma at the Vermont Joint Information Center confirmed that the “emphasis is on education,” but noted that local law enforcement can refer extreme or repeated cases to the Attorney General. People can report concerns to their local law enforcement agency for follow up or make a report through the Executive Order Reporting Tool.  

Woodell said that Bird and Wilson told him that their “level 4” workshop would take place on Friday and Saturday and involve only four participants and that they have canceled their seminars slated for December. A passerby on Depot Street on Friday counted 20 cars parked around the former VTica building. But on Saturday, one car remained in the VTica lot.

Applicable state rules predated conference

Last Thursday, Ted Brady, deputy secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, told The Telegraph that companies need to follow the appropriate guidance for their specific  business. In an email to The Telegraph, Wilson said Marconics would fall under guidelines “for the church and private club business sectors — as we are a hybrid of both.”

Covid prevention instructions on the front door of the VTica building

Brady said a business needs to figure out what it is and “follow the more restrictive guidelines (among its business categories) in the interest of public health.” The interview with Brady took place before more restrictive guidelines were imposed on Friday: that no one can travel to or from Vermont without quarantining and social gatherings are limited to your own household.

But for business, Brady said, capacity is the key: 50 percent of the fire occupancy or one person per 100 square feet of space. In any event, he said, they need to allow 6 feet per person for social distancing.

Brady noted that every business must also know “if their customers have followed the quarantine guidelines.”

In 2010, the gallery portion of VTica was rated for an occupancy of 95 people, but the permit issued by Vermont’s Division of Fire Safety notes that alternative layouts would need to be approved by its office. Assistant State Fire Marshal Steve Dumont told The Telegraph that he could find no new filing for a change in occupancy.

The gallery space in the building – leaving out the reception desk, office, kitchen, front vestibule, restrooms and closets – is between 1,800 and 1,900 square feet or enough space for no more than 18 attendees under the state’s less-strict Covid-19 guidelines, which were tightened on Friday.

Founder calls queries a ‘witch hunt;’ residents offer solutions

An unintended consequence of so many Chester residents questioning the Marconics gathering and commenting on it on social media is Wilson’s feeling that Marconics and its students are being targeted.  “It is disappointing that a handful local residents seem to be interested in launching a witch hunt,” she wrote to The Telegraph.

In another email, she said she was “disappointed to see the accusations and assumptions that have been leveled at us and our students/practitioners, as well as insulting/disparaging comments about our business and spiritual beliefs and vague threats to us and our students such as we should be punished and there should be an open hunting season on tourists.”

And in the Tuesday email to The Telegraph, she said, “The McCarthy Era witch hunt that was launched against us these last several days has resulted in harassment, threats, insults and defaming statements on a public town facebook forum, having our teacher stalked, having our students’ privacy violated as they were photographed repeatedly while outside the venue, and people peeking in the windows.”

(The Facebook page, Chester, VT, is a private page for residents, business owners and second-homeowners. Cynthia Prairie founded the page in January 2011, a year before she founded The Chester Telegraph.)

While earlier admitting that some students were not wearing masks at a previous event, in a later email to The Telegraph, Wilson wrote, “they have no reason to NOT comply with the guidelines, and we have no reason to believe they didn’t. Our practitioners are of the spiritual ilk …”

In another email to The Telegraph, she said she told the Chester Police that “there has been a lot of hostility directed at us through the Chester VT  Facebook page and I personally received a hostile email demanding that we close, followed by a series of text messages saying that people don’t want us here,” hostility that she said she  “was able to diffuse [sic].”

She continued: “The officer we spoke to stated that people on Facebook feel free to say whatever comes to their mind without necessarily meaning it.”

She also said she told police that, “One of our teachers was followed last night as she left the building.  … instead of driving home, she pulled into the parking lot at Smitty’s and the car followed her in. She was able to quickly pull out of the lot and lost the car … He told us that they would be happy to provide police support to us, should we need it and that we should protect ourselves and stay safe.”  Det. Woodell could not be reached for comment on that  assertion.

Wilson also wrote that she was concerned that “people who are fearful, and rally under a mob mentality have the potential to be dangerous and violent.”

In addition to suspending trainings in Vermont, Marconics extended that action to the United States as a whole on Friday Nov. 13

In several emails, she referenced the financial boost that Marconics students bring to town, in her last email, saying “It’s a shame for the local businesses who have supported us and benefited from our students who ate in their restaurants, stayed in the inns, and shopped in their stores. We feel sorry for them as we know they will be financially impacted too by the loss our business.”

In looking over two social media discussions, most of the comments were from those concerned about the health and safety of the town and a few were the expected snarky comments, among them something about joining the “galactic federation.”

But some offered suggestions on how such groups could manage their events better, such as holding meetings over Zoom, or for in-person: “Meals could be delivered/catered. … Why not have a contract with Southern Pie for breakfast/lunch/coffee and one with the Fullerton for dinners…”

In an interview, Nied suggested smoothing the waters over beforehand: “If Lisa feels threatened by the community’s reaction and the community feels threatened by the large gathering of out-of-state attendees, maybe a meeting would help mitigate some of the tension. Maybe Lisa would be willing to participate in an open Zoom call with the community to explain what she hopes to do going forward, so that future — post-Covid — events will be better received by the residents of Chester.”

 

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Filed Under: BusinessesChesterCommunityCovid 19 CoverageFeaturedLatest NewsMandated shutdowns

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Bill Lane says:

    According to a statement today, Gov. Scott addressed the “skeptics,” who may ignore the science or choose not to believe it.

    “Please don’t call it patriotic or pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not,” he said. “Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened. And right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus — not the protections we put in place.”

  2. Joan Wacker says:

    I’ve read all the comments and I agree. We are not upset over what they teach, as we are of their habits while here. Marconics should have their own regulations, such as, everyone registered to attend classes, MUST be tested before entering our State. It’s just common sense as we’re seeing another surge.
    I have two daughters, each living in another State, whom I would so love to see. They’re not coming, not Thanksgiving, not even Christmas. It’s a sad state of affairs, but we’ll get through it if people do everything possible to prevent the spread.
    I think Chester is extremely diligent about wearing masks. I commend them for doing their part.

  3. Roderick Bates says:

    As a science-based skeptic whose view of the Chester Telegraph and its staff does not extend to accusing them of following Joe McCarthy, I must say that this article is rich with humor and absurdity.

    One wonders if the cries of “witch-hunt” should be regarded as paranoia or self-promotion.

    The two following quotes from their website are, as they themselves might say, illuminating:

    “Ascension … requires bio-spiritual regenesis, through a Re-calibration of the multi-dimensional holographic body.”

    “Marconics anchors the Oversoul in the 8th Dimension and brings it progessively down into merger with the Fifth Dimensional Archetypal Mind and the Emotional Mind in the 2nd Dimension.”

    I defy the reader to find in these quotes even one assertion which can be objectively verified and reproduced. How are you sure it is the 8th Dimension, not the 7th or 9th? Oh, and by the way, what exactly is this 8th Dimension? Show me an X-ray which identifies the “holographic body.” Or does it perhaps show up in a CAT scan, or an MRI?

    Or is this all totally imaginary flummery?

    Thank you, Chester Telegraph, for a highly entertaining read.

  4. Charlea Baker says:

    Horrifying. This is what I hear from Marconic’s response: “We are entitled to our Covid denial. As long as we pay you money we have purchased the freedom to spread infection and endanger you and your community. Any concern is a witch hunt.”

    Appalling arrogance. How DARE we question their careless disregard and flaunting pandemic rules???

    This has nothing to do with the topic of their gatherings. What good does money do if people in Chester get sick and die? How many dollars is a human life worth?

  5. Deborah velto says:

    Thank you for this information about this group. This certainly seems like a non-essential Activity that is benefiting no one from our community. You actually are not welcome here, nor is anyone from out of state putting our community at risk. I saw your large group of people going in and out of their cars. The rest of us are locked down because of nonsense like this. Thank you to the community members who reported it. Where are these people eating? Shopping? Did they go into smitttys? The gas station? Like the other reader said, I’m constantly avoiding businesses in town because of plates. Stay home, and stay out of Vermont….at least for the time being!

  6. Tom Knockenhauer says:

    What an article. Blaming us for their poor habits.
    My dad would have said, don’t let the door hit your *** as your heading out of town.

    Did jiffy let them use the parking lot, or did they just use it. 🇺🇸

  7. Lydia Pope says:

    First and foremost, they need to follow our quarantine rules to the letter if they want to come here, it’s that simple. And no one is vouching for that, neither the business nor places where they might be staying. Nor the police officer who deemed via a phone call that they appeared to be following the rules.

    Secondly, I saw the cars there during the week. Thought it was a funeral, but still thought that it was all wrong. There were certainly in excess of 18 or 19 cars, half or so out of state. And I don’t suppose they all came alone, 1 person per car. So while I’m hardly Sherlock Homes, I’m not sure how anyone could say they were complying with per square foot rules based on the vehicle count.

    Thought it was interesting that they tell attendees about the state rules after they register, wonder if they are then out of their fees or deposit if they cancel? Which might mean less likely to do so …

    Sad that business will be lost, but even sadder if lives are lost. Wake up people. And yes, maybe they should take future business elsewhere, as in not VT if they can’t guarantee compliance with our quarantine, square footage and other rules …

  8. Sue Starr says:

    Interesting story. I wasn’t aware of this, because I stay at home except to collect food at various outdoor locations and curbside pickups. I personally haven’t found an interest which required me to travel to a different state and attend events. I was too busy growing our own vegetables, making bread, making cheese, and doing a lot of seemingly back-to-the-earth things while staying at home, isolating. I look forward to the day, after we are vaccinated, when I can do things like shop inside a store, and sit in a restaurant.

    Because Vermonters have been so careful and so responsible, our state has had some of the lowest infection rates in the nation. A side effect of our sacrifice has been the increased attractiveness of Vermont as a tourist destination/refuge. I have no idea whether this played into the actions of the business in the article, perhaps not since it seems they have been having events for quite a while. Have any of the actual tourists commented on their quarantine compliance and expectations regarding Covid guidelines?

  9. Susan Bourne says:

    Thank you for this article and its coverage. I am one who was concerned enough about so many out-of-state cars appearing for a Marconics training that I called the Chester Town Office. I was also concerned about some of the cars parking in the old Jiffy Mart lot by people attending the Marconics trainings that were over lines into to the sidewalk area, as well as into the lane of road traffic.

    It seems to me there is no witch hunt here — only Chester folks concerned about their own safety and the safety of others, as well as an instance of folks seeking to know if there is verifiable compliance by Marconics folks — like any others who visit Chester — with current Vermont guidelines and quarantines set up by our Governor and put in place for the highest safety of all during Covid times.

    It is not what Marconics may or may not be teaching that is of concern here. It is whether or not participants from other states who come to the trainings in Chester have quarantined themselves for 14 days prior to training sessions — and whether or not masks and social distancing are being used wisely and respecfully by those visitors.

    I feel that concerns about Marconics gatherings are not so much an example of vigilatism as they are rather an example of community concern and activism. Marconics and other trainings would appear to be welcome to gather in Chester — as long as they follow and clearly inform their participants about current Covid guidelines in place in Chester and in Vermont.

    These are the times — and we are living and making our way in them. Let us be as kind and vigilant as we can be as we pursue the highest health and safety for all.

  10. Arlene Mutschler says:

    Well unless this group have been living on Mars the last 6 months? They had to be aware that there are restrictions in the world over Covid. They should have questioned the lack of restrictions? Or distancing or masks? The organization itself should have their own restrictions. If an attendee contracted covid? They would’ve been held responsible. In my travels, If I see a parking lot with more out of state plates than green plates, I do NOT go into that store. No matter what store. I havent stopped at Fullerton’s for lunch in several months as that parking lot is full of out of state plates. Nor any of the stores in the green. Same with Smitty’s. Dont go on the weekends.

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