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3/20: Lee Siu Hin -- The Epoch Times, Trump's Favorite Cult Propaganda Machine Supporting the White House, and How U.S. Anti-COVID Efforts Have Been Derailed (Part One)
The Epoch Times, Trump’s Favorite Cult Propaganda Machine Supporting the White House, and How U.S. Anti-COVID Efforts Have Been Derailed
by Lee Siu Hin
March 20, 2021
(Part One of the Two Part Series)
The Epoch Times, the propaganda arm of the U.S.-backed Chinese cult Falun Gong, has built an unholy alliance among anti-China, anti-communist Republicans, far right domestic terrorists, and Donald Trump by organizing carpet-bombing amounts of unlimited fake news coverage against China, as well as by creating a tsunami amount of Facebook bot pages and YouTube QAnon channels supporting Trump’s reelection campaign and discrediting the Democrats.
Their hard work has paid-off. Over the past several years The Epoch Times has become one of Trump’s favorites among the White House press corps, gaining access to press conferences while many journalists from the People’s Republic of China have been barred from the U.S. government.
No doubt The Epoch Times became the MAGA-land’s favorite newspaper because their unprincipled and dark “election was stolen” fake news coverage had excited millions of far-right, pro-Trump Republicans across the U.S. resulting in the January 6th, 2021, Washington, DC, Capitol riots that killed five people.
Even more cynical, the signature The Epoch Times’ racist “CCP Virus” fake news, along with massive pro-Trump extremist propaganda, has been one of the factors contributing to the global surge of racist and hateful Chinaphobic and anti-Asian violence.
Their active propaganda influence on anti-science, “no mask” anti-vaxxer movements has been indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of their supporters becoming infected with COVID, and tens of thousands of them dying across the U.S.
Backed by the U.S., most of The Epoch Time’s global propaganda operations still have a Chinese edition targeting the People’s Republic of China and aiming to overthrow the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China. Increasingly, however, they are using the same tactics to enter mainstream U.S. society (their English language edition copies the style of The New York Times), uniting the far-right and supporting its rise around the world on behalf of the U.S. global fascist strategies.
While already discredited and isolated from the mainstream Chinese-American community as a social movement, The Epoch Times Chinese edition still has small pockets of local anti-Communist readers (mainly right-wing immigrants from the Chinese mainland) catering to their hunger for anti-Chinese porn pleasure.
What they’ve done in the Chinese community for the past 20 years is EXACTLY the same as what they have been doing in mainstream American society for the past five.
The rise of The Epoch Times isn’t “new” nor “accidental,” it’s a product of U.S. cold war covert PsyOp actions against other countries, and a brain-child of the U.S. fascist far-right.
Who is The Epoch Times, anyway?
For Chinese-Americans, Falun Gong and The Epoch Times represent the most extreme fringe elements of their community.
The Epoch Times was created by the anti-China Falun Gong cult exiled to the U.S. in 2000 in Atlanta, Ga. For the past 20 years, they have been using massive email spamming and guerrilla marketing to distribute their free newspaper. The Epoch Times originally only published a Chinese edition which they distributed for free in order to put Chinese community newspapers out of business. They ran unprincipled campaigns harassing any opposition to them from the Chinese community, imagining a day when they might force us to accept their dark ideology and to unite under their banner to violently oppose China. However, they have failed; they have been completely discredited in the mainstream Chinese-American community.
Therefore, what The Epoch Times has done for the past several years in the effort to support Trump, help the rise of QAnon, and destroy American democracy is nothing new to us: a case of the U.S. shooting themselves in the foot.
It would be quite naïve for anyone to believe that the all-out PsyOp disinformation campaign against China – including the fake websites, fake social network groups, fake online influencers, fake news, fake videos, vicious Internet hacking and even fake TV signals, massive email bot campaigns, an army of systematically organized online rumor campaigns, harassment and intimidation of individuals and groups who disagree with them – that this whole CIA textbook-type massive campaign could be organized by a small group of amateur Falun Gong volunteers.
One of the reasons to doubt this: the U.S. government had treated them as a legitimate media organization from their inception in 2000 during the Clinton Democratic administration. At that point their wild and deceptive exposes of China, their so-called “coverage” of China, were frequently highlighted by mainstream corporate media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. They gained White House press access (especially during the Trump-era) while major Chinese media such as China Global Television Network (CGTN) were labeled as “foreign agents” and usually denied press access to the White House.
Most Americans began noticing the true nature of The Epoch Times propaganda in 2019 when it was putting a great effort into supporting Trump and the QAnon conspiracies. It is really stranger then fiction how The Epoch Times has become a pro-Trump propaganda machine in the age of COVID and insurrection.
However, it was not that Falun Gong/The Epoch Times had decided to form an alliance with the right-wing and Trump to achieve the overthrow of the Chinese government's political goals; instead it was that the right-wing had found that what they had created was useful for pushing their own cynical domestic agenda.
The Epoch Times model can be traced back to the early 1990s when Hong Kong was still a British colony awaiting return to China at 1997. The British and U.S. secretly funded Hong Kong businessman Jimmy Lai, helping him to found the anti-communist media empire Next Media and its newspaper Apple Daily. The newspaper looks like the NY Daily News, a tabloid whose sensational anti-communist/anti-China misinformation is passed off as every day media coverage. Apple Daily is also organizing a smear campaign against left-wing pro-China activists in Hong Kong.
Multiple investigative reports exposed the covert financial and political ties between Apple Daily, Taiwan and the U.S. State Department that had been created for launching the Hong Kong color revolution. Apple Daily gets money and secretly pays bribes to local anti-communist politicians and organizations to act against Beijing and the local Hong Kong Special Administration Region (HKSAR) government. Apple Daily was the main covert financier and overt propaganda arm for the so-called Hong Kong Umbrella movements of 2014 and 2019.
Openly The Epoch Times and Apple Daily don’t have any business ties, but many investigative reports have found that they work together closely.
Historically, the U.S. has backed similar far-right cult, anti-communist propaganda machines in the past. The most famous example was the 1980s Washington Times, founded by the Unification Church (The “Moonies”), a South Korean cult secretly funded by Japanese far-right organized crime to support right-wing Reagan Republicans in order to gain a political foothold inside the Beltway.
What makes The Epoch Times different from other traditional right-wing conservative media is their global propaganda capacity. They have been using members of anti-China forces in the Chinese community around the world as a stepping stone to quickly go global. With mysterious “high-up” technological support, they have adopted the tactics of going digital for outreach and organizing movements that carryout direct street actions.
They work tactically and creatively to explore different media and messaging strategies; they hire white news reporters to make their English-language edition look “mainstream” and “professional.” In 2014 their staff reporters, photographers, and designers even won 16 awards at the annual New York Press Association Conference – although the names are similar, don't mistake this for the New York Press Club.
They seem to have unlimited money to spend on their dark, crazy anti-China propaganda campaigns. The annual budget of their media empire, which includes The Epoch Times, New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD), The Beauty of Life (BL), hundreds of Facebook and YouTube front groups, as well as Sun Yuan dance company, amounts to at least $66 million dollars per year.
Many people do not know The Epoch Times runs as a nonprofit organization; their main income comes from newspaper advertisement and subscriptions; their financial fortune has gone up and down over the years.
According to the IRS, The Epoch Times’ 2016 financial record showed revenue of $3.9 million; in 2017 the revenue was $8.1 million – double what it had been the previous year – and it reported spending $7.2 million on “printing newspapers and creating web and media programs.” Most of its revenue comes from advertising and “web and media income,” according to the group’s annual tax filings; individual donations and subscriptions to the paper make up less than 10 percent.
But in 2019 their revenue rose to $15.5 million – it is likely their non-stop anti-Democrat pro-Trump news coverage had attracted many MAGA-supporters who bought subscriptions, enabling it to nearly quadruple its revenue during the first three years of the Trump administration, according to an AXIOS investigation.
New Tang Dynasty’s 2017 revenue, according to IRS records, was $18 million, a 150 percent increase over the year before. It spent $16.2 million.
In late 2019, Facebook banned BL from using fake accounts. By then, Facebook said, the group had spent close to $9.5 million promoting itself, accruing 55 million followers worldwide.
The more glamorous Shen Yun in 2018 reported a profit of $26 million and net assets of $122 million.
These figures are just for their U.S. operations and doesn’t include their several dozen global operations where the totals could run in the hundreds of millions every year.
In comparison to these budgets, the 2018 revenue of Pacifica Radio, the largest and most historically progressive radio network in the U.S. (where I’d worked as an unpaid-producer for 15 years), was around $11.5 million.
Then who is funding Falun Gong and The Epoch Times' massive multi-million dollar operation in the U.S. and the world? No one knows exactly – they are extremely secretive – but many rumors about it are circulating around the community. One of the speculations by the Chinese media is that Taiwan's pro-independence faction is a big funder, since Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily are financially connected to them.
Other than John Tang (the founder of the newspaper in 2000) who is chief executive of The Epoch Times and NTD, little else is known about the management of these organizations. Outside journalists are not granted access to the newsroom.
Some investigations found that Steve Bannon had some kind of relationship with The Epoch Times. In 2019, NTD co-produced and aired his docudrama, “Claws of the Red Dragon,” loosely based on the Chinese telecom company Huawei.
In May 2020, the Daily Beast discovered a benefactor named Huayi Zhang on the IRS filing of Universal Communications Network, the nonprofit that operates NTD and part of the Epoch Times media empire. Zhang, who for several years in the 2000s chaired the network’s board, was a principal at Renaissance Technologies, a mysterious hedge fund with many questionable ties, run by Robert Mercer. The link was suggestive, given that Bannon, a one time Mercer ally, has a connection to NTD.
The Global Carpet-Bombing Propaganda Machine
The massive Epoch Times in-your-face carpet-bombing propaganda blitz, which no doubt constitutes harassment and intimidation, began 20 years ago in Chinatown and has since spread across the world.
In Chinese culture we would call what they’re doing “Hurt us, happy for enemies.” Such actions have been dividing and hurting the Chinese-American community for many years. The tactic of intimidating anyone who disagrees with them is aimed at controlling Chinatown’s anti-communist/anti-China leadership role by launching their own all out assault against the People’s Republic of China. (Everyone in the Chinese community knows this.) This has angered everyone. Therefore, they have been mostly discredited and condemned by the Chinese-American community, as well as anti-communist and conservative religious people from the community.
While their first goal is still to overthrow the Communist Party of China (not the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP as it is commonly called by anti-China forces). But Falun Gong and The Epoch Times are no longer active in the Chinatown community movement; instead, for the past 15 years, they have been steadily moving away from the community and focusing on operating in mainstream American society.
They never give-up. With an unlimited supply of money, they just keep changing their tactics, becoming more creative as they test different strategies, gradually growing faster then any other traditional anti-communist Chinese-American faction.
Today, The Epoch Times publishes in 22 languages, including Persian, Hebrew, and Vietnamese. In the past year, articles from The Epoch Times garnered 123.7 million likes and shares on social media, according to the social media analytical tool Buzzsumo. It has tens of millions of social media followers and has become a true rival of successful conservative outlets, according to the latest New York Times investigation.
Think this way: they’re a combination of The Washington Times, Fox TV, QAnon bots, Facebook, and YouTube with tons of MAGA fanatic fans on call.
The Epoch Times successfully implements their long-time anti-China online strategy, utilizing major social networking sites as tools for repeatedly amplifying ridiculous far right QAnon conspiracy and false voter fraud claims.
At first, The Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty TV (NTD TV) had only Chinese editions. They intended to control and unify the world Chinese community under its banner for launching a wacky anti-China campaign to overthrow the government of the People’s Republic of China.
However, their efforts didn’t work well in Chinatown and they were never able to return to China. But U.S. far-right political forces saw that they had built a very large and effective high-tech cultish multifaceted propaganda machine – a good covert political asset. Starting in 2016 these media front groups – The Epoch Times, NTD TV, and Sound of Hope Radio, as well as BL (The Beauty of Life) – began to dedicate significant resources to entering the pro-Trump media campaign.
One of their successful strategies is how they use the Internet; moving from using their old time Bulletin Board System (BBS) discussion boards to spread rumors about China and to viciously attack any critics, they now use AI to create fake Facebook accounts pushing far-right theories and pro-Trump messages in the U.S.; they also use these sites to post large quantities of material attacking Trump's critics and rivals.
For the last several years, according to The New York Times investigation, The Epoch Times has been developing a secret weapon behind the scenes: a Facebook growth strategy that would ultimately help take its message to millions. According to emails reviewed by The New York Times, the Facebook plan was developed by Trung Vu, the former head of The Epoch Times’ Vietnamese edition, known as Dai Ky Nguyen, or DKN.
In Vietnam, Mr. Trung’s strategy involved filling a network of Facebook pages with viral videos and pro-Trump propaganda, some of it lifted word for word from other sites, and using automated software, or bots, to generate fake likes and shares.
While Facebook had banned many The Epoch Times and NTD fake accounts in recent years, a Media Matters investigation found that The Epoch Times with Facebook’s help was able to provide an enormous platform for “Stop The Steal” rally organizers and others trying to overturn the 2020 election.
Facebook enabled The Epoch Times to push the big lie on its platform ahead of the January 6th Capitol riots. According to Media Matters, they identified at least 1,000 posts with discussion related to election “fraud” from The Epoch Times’ Facebook pages between Election Day and January 6. Facebook did almost nothing about it.
According to Snopes.com, The Epoch Times spent at least $510,698 to help them in multiple ways to create their online front sites on Facebook and other social networking platforms, so that nothing would look unusual; meanwhile beneath the surface it’s a pro-Trump QAnon propaganda cult machine.
This outlet, which goes by the name The BL (The Beauty of Life) and whose apps can be downloaded at Apple and Google stores, first appeared around 2016. It is a large international operation. Its prodigious social media presence on Facebook is linked to at least 82 Facebook groups and pages with a total of over 28 million followers. It includes their main English-language page, BL.com, which has spent a total of $276,929 on Facebook ads. The BL TV and The BL Story each spent over $100,000 on Facebook ads. The BL Video, The BL News, and The BL Shedding Light spent another $12,000 or so.
The Beauty of Life is registered in Middletown, New York, to an address also registered to Falun Gong's Sound of Hope Radio Network and associated with the YouTube series Beyond Science. Snopes.com found that the outlet as a whole is literally the English-language edition of The Epoch Times Vietnam and that The Beauty of Life uses more than 300 fake Facebook profiles based in Vietnam and other countries, posting names, stock photos and celebrity photos on their profiles to emulate Americans; they administer more than 150 pro-Trump Facebook groups amplifying their content.
The Epoch Times and The New Tang Dynasty TV (NTD) have very good relations with YouTube; they have many front video channels in different languages (Chinese, English). Their official NTD YouTube channel has 1.34 million subscribers, and their YouTube personals have attracted hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
One such example: NTD had created one of its most popular YouTube channels, Edge of Wonder. They report all QAnon’s maddest claims, also weaving in spiritual messages from Falun Gong. They believe Obama is part of the conspiracy that killed JFK and that Queen Elizabeth II is implicated in its crimes. They also believe 5G phone towers will spread COVID-19, resulting in several 5G towers across the world being burned down by far-right mobs last summer.
It releases new videos produced by NTD twice a week, and currently has more than 33 million views. In addition to claiming that alien abductions are real and that the drug epidemic is caused by the “deep state,” the channel has also promoted other conspiracy theories and far-right thinking.
In Facts Matter with Roman Balmakov, another Epoch Times' YouTube channel, a goofy-looking guy devoted to the notion that the election is not over is featured; in less than a few months, the channel had amassed more than a half-million subscribers by mid-March, 2021..
Joshua Philipp, a melancholic 30-something with a thatch of thick black hair, is another Epoch Times YouTube star. He hosts a YouTube show called Crossroads, mostly about China, which has had hundreds of thousands of views.
All of these cult propaganda networks send the same message: Love Trump, hate CCP China; believe QAnon, smash Democrats.
Ahmed al-Rawi, who runs The Disinformation Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada, found that the most frequent terms used on The Epoch Times’ Canadian Facebook page are “China” and “Chinese.”
“They seem to be very active and determined to spread propaganda,” he said. “Their most popular social media posts are not very political, like a video on dogs, or a heartwarming sight of bikers supporting someone, or dolphins, and so on. It's an interesting way of attracting users before sending them more political messages.” Their messages reach 36 countries using 22 languages, acting as a global purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories.
The Epoch Times video ads – in which unidentified spokespeople thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the “Deep State,” and criticize “fake news” media – strike a familiar tone in the online conservative news ecosystem.
In April 2019 at the height of its ad spending, videos from the Epoch Media Group, which includes The Epoch Times and NTD, together had around 3 billion views on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, ranking 11th among all video creators across platforms and outranking every traditional news publisher, according to data from the social media analytics company Tubular.
However, these represent only a fraction of The Epoch Times/NTD’s network of dubious activities in the U.S. while they are also responsible for the spread of far right fallacies in Europe and elsewhere in the Americas.
According to the Nieman Lab investigation, they are now expanding the disinformation services with Tierra Pura, a separate, Argentina-based website publishing in both Spanish and Portuguese that spreads conspiracy theories and false information about COVID-19, QAnon, and U.S. election fraud. Tierrapura.org doesn’t reveal its link to The Epoch Times, saying only that it’s run by “a group of concerned citizens,” but a new investigation by the nonprofit EU Disinfo Lab reveals the site’s connection.
Tierra Pura is an example of how disinformation generated in one country can easily reach other countries through a common language: Tierra Pura originates from Argentina, but its content is disseminated in other Latin American countries sharing the same language and even on other continents, reaching audiences located in Spain. This situation makes it harder to hold accountable the people who spread harmful content as they can live thousands of miles away from the countries where their messages have an actual impact, according to the Nieman Lab investigation.
This shows that the Epoch Times media empire will make sure they can cover every corner of the world with a Plan B ready in case one of their markets is forced to shutdown.
With Facebook and Twitter having banned their sites, according to the latest New York Times investigation, they’ve decided to create their own social networking sites.
- Youmaker, a little-known video site, prominently featured a video alleging that a far-left extremist movement was plotting to destroy America.
- Sagebook, a Twitter-like social network filled with posts from right-leaning users, has a sidebar of trending topics contained the hashtags “Stop the Steal,” “Censorship” and “Facebook.”
- Right on Times, an obscure right-wing news aggregator, recently promoted favorable articles about Republican officials who refused to recognize Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the 2020 election.
The Epoch Times began to make use of the alternative social media platforms, like Sagebook and Youmaker, in late 2020. Youmaker draws about 1.5 million unique visitors per month, according to data from the website analytics company SimilarWeb. Sagebook attracted 38,000 monthly visitors and Right on Times is viewed by 15,000, according to SimilarWeb data.
On Sagebook, a stream of stories favorable to Mr. Trump and denouncing President Biden dominated the social network at the beginning of the year. “#StopTheSteal. This election isn’t over,” read one post on Sagebook.
It included a picture of a car with a sign stuck to its roof that read: “CCP spread Covid-19. Say no to communism,” according to The New York Times.
After the inauguration of President Biden on Jan. 20, 2021, these websites switched their focus to publishing anti-China fake news articles and criticizing Mr. Biden and his administration.
With Trump and The Epoch Times banned from major social networking sites, it isn’t surprising to see that they’re aiming to create a far-right online alternative for YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
About Lee Siu Hin
Lee Siu Hin, a Chinese-American immigrant activist from Los Angeles CA, is the founder and national coordinator of China-U.S. Solidarity Network (CUSN), National Immigrant Solidarity Network (NISN), a long-time community, labor, antiwar and immigrant rights activists for grassroots struggle. He's also a long-time Pacifica Radio KPFK Los Angeles unpaid reporter and producer, war correspondent went to middle-east, Europe, and Africa.
NISN, a grassroots-based national grassroots immigrant activist network; and CUSN, a network of academia and community activists in both countries committed to build a China-U.S. grassroots activist dialogue.
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