Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #1090 Fascism: 2019 World Tour, Part 5 (Destabilizing China)

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This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

Intro­duc­tion: We begin with brief review of the Falun Gong cult and its con­nec­tions. Part of a con­stel­la­tion of orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als work­ing with for­mer Trump chief of staff Steve Ban­non to neu­tral­ize Chi­na, Falun Gong has gar­nered the sup­port of CIA deriv­a­tive Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors in the effort.

The Falun Gong teach­es that: post menopausal women can regain men­stru­a­tion, con­sid­ered manda­to­ry for spir­i­tu­al evo­lu­tion; gays are demo­nized; mixed race peo­ple are demo­nized; cult mem­bers are dis­cour­aged from seek­ing mod­ern med­ical treat­ment; space aliens are inhab­it­ing human bod­ies and are respon­si­ble for mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy such as air­planes and com­put­ers; tiny beings are said to be invad­ing human bod­ies and caus­ing “bad kar­ma;” mas­ter Li Hongzhi knows the secrets of the uni­verse; mas­ter Li Hongzhi can lev­i­tate and walk through walls; mas­ter Li Hongzhi can install a phys­i­cal “Falun”–swastika–in the abdomen of fol­low­ers which revolves in var­i­ous direc­tions; Falun Gong teach­ing demo­nizes fem­i­nists and pop­u­lar music; there will be a “Judge­ment Day” on which com­mu­nists and oth­ers deemed unwor­thy by mas­ter Li Hongzhi will be neu­tral­ized.

Falun Gong–largely through its Epoch Times newspaper–has estab­lished a major social media pres­ence and is a key ally of Pres­i­dent Trump’s re-elec­tion effort: “. . . . In April, at the height of its ad spend­ing, videos from the Epoch Media Group, which includes The Epoch Times and dig­i­tal video out­let New Tang Dynasty, or NTD, com­bined for around 3 bil­lion views on Face­book, YouTube and Twit­ter, rank­ing 11th among all video cre­ators across plat­forms and out­rank­ing every oth­er tra­di­tion­al news pub­lish­er, accord­ing to data from the social media ana­lyt­ics com­pa­ny Tubu­lar. That engage­ment has made The Epoch Times a favorite of the Trump fam­i­ly and a key com­po­nent of the president’s re-elec­tion cam­paign. . . . .”

Pro­gram High­lights Include: The enor­mous amount of mon­ey under con­trol of Falun Gong; sim­i­lar­i­ties to the Uni­fi­ca­tion Church; the anti-com­mu­nist dog­ma of the cult (again, not unlike the Uni­fi­ca­tion Church); the role of the inter­net and social media–Facebook, in particular–in the growth of Falun Gong’s oper­a­tions; the spin put by NBC on Falun Gong’s beliefs.

1.We begin with brief review of the Falun Gong cult and its con­nec­tions. Part of a con­stel­la­tion of orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als work­ing with for­mer Trump chief of staff Steve Ban­non to neu­tral­ize Chi­na, Falun Gong has gar­nered the sup­port of CIA deriv­a­tive Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors in the effort.

The Falun Gong teach­es that: post menopausal women can regain men­stru­a­tion, con­sid­ered manda­to­ry for spir­i­tu­al evo­lu­tion; gays are demo­nized; mixed race peo­ple are demo­nized; cult mem­bers are dis­cour­aged from seek­ing mod­ern med­ical treat­ment; space aliens are inhab­it­ing human bod­ies and are respon­si­ble for mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy such as air­planes and com­put­ers; tiny beings are said to be invad­ing human bod­ies and caus­ing “bad kar­ma;” mas­ter Li Hongzhi knows the secrets of the uni­verse; mas­ter Li Hongzhi can lev­i­tate and walk through walls; mas­ter Li Hongzhi can install a phys­i­cal “Falun”–swastika–in the abdomen of fol­low­ers which revolves in var­i­ous direc­tions; Falun Gong teach­ing demo­nizes fem­i­nists and pop­u­lar music; there will be a “Judge­ment Day” on which com­mu­nists and oth­ers deemed unwor­thy by mas­ter Li Hongzhi will be neu­tral­ized.

Falun Gong–largely through its Epoch Times newspaper–has estab­lished a major social media pres­ence and is a key ally of Pres­i­dent Trump’s re-elec­tion effort: “. . . . In April, at the height of its ad spend­ing, videos from the Epoch Media Group, which includes The Epoch Times and dig­i­tal video out­let New Tang Dynasty, or NTD, com­bined for around 3 bil­lion views on Face­book, YouTube and Twit­ter, rank­ing 11th among all video cre­ators across plat­forms and out­rank­ing every oth­er tra­di­tion­al news pub­lish­er, accord­ing to data from the social media ana­lyt­ics com­pa­ny Tubu­lar. That engage­ment has made The Epoch Times a favorite of the Trump fam­i­ly and a key com­po­nent of the president’s re-elec­tion cam­paign. . . . .”

“Trump, QAnon and an impend­ing judg­ment day: Behind the Face­book-fueled rise of The Epoch Times” by Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins, NBC News, 08/20/2019

Start­ed almost two decades ago with a stat­ed mis­sion to “pro­vide infor­ma­tion to Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties to help immi­grants assim­i­late into Amer­i­can soci­ety,” The Epoch Times now wields one of the biggest social media fol­low­ings of any news out­let.

By the num­bers, there is no big­ger advo­cate of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Face­book than The Epoch Times.

The small New York-based non­prof­it news out­let has spent more than $1.5 mil­lion on about 11,000 pro-Trump adver­tise­ments in the last six months, accord­ing to data from Facebook’s adver­tis­ing archive — more than any orga­ni­za­tion out­side of the Trump cam­paign itself, and more than most Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have spent on their own cam­paigns.

Those 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. The Epoch Times looks like many of the con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets that have gained fol­low­ings in recent years.

But it isn’t.

Behind the scenes, the media outlet’s own­er­ship and oper­a­tion is close­ly tied to Falun Gong, a Chi­nese spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty with the stat­ed goal of tak­ing down China’s gov­ern­ment.

It’s that moti­va­tion that helped dri­ve the orga­ni­za­tion toward Trump, accord­ing to inter­views with for­mer Epoch Times staffers, a move that has been both lucra­tive and ben­e­fi­cial for its mes­sage.

For­mer prac­ti­tion­ers of Falun Gong told NBC News that believ­ers think the world is head­ed toward a judg­ment day, where those labeled “com­mu­nists” will be sent to a kind of hell, and those sym­pa­thet­ic to the spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty will be spared. Trump is viewed as a key ally in the anti-com­mu­nist fight, for­mer Epoch Times employ­ees said.

In part because of that unusu­al back­ground, The Epoch Times has had trou­ble find­ing a foothold in the broad­er con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment.

“It seems like an inter­lop­er — not well inte­grat­ed social­ly with­in the move­ment net­work, and not ter­ri­bly well-cir­cu­lat­ing among right-wingers,” said A.J. Bauer, a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor of media, cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tion at New York Uni­ver­si­ty, who is part of an ongo­ing study in which he and his col­leagues inter­view con­ser­v­a­tive jour­nal­ists.

“Even when dis­cussing more fringe‑y sites, con­ser­v­a­tive jour­nal­ists tend to ref­er­ence Gate­way Pun­dit or Infowars,” Bauer said. “The Epoch Times doesn’t tend to come up.”

That seems to be chang­ing.

Before 2016, The Epoch Times gen­er­al­ly stayed out of U.S. pol­i­tics, unless they dove­tailed with Chi­nese inter­ests. The publication’s recent ad strat­e­gy, cou­pled with a broad­er cam­paign to embrace social media and con­ser­v­a­tive U.S. pol­i­tics — Trump in par­tic­u­lar — has dou­bled The Epoch Times’ rev­enue, accord­ing to the organization’s tax fil­ings, and pushed it to greater promi­nence in the broad­er con­ser­v­a­tive media world.

Start­ed almost two decades ago as a free news­pa­per and web­site with a stat­ed mis­sion to “pro­vide infor­ma­tion to Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties to help immi­grants assim­i­late into Amer­i­can soci­ety,” The Epoch Times now wields one of the biggest social media fol­low­ings of any news out­let.

In April, at the height of its ad spend­ing, videos from the Epoch Media Group, which includes The Epoch Times and dig­i­tal video out­let New Tang Dynasty, or NTD, com­bined for around 3 bil­lion views on Face­book, YouTube and Twit­ter, rank­ing 11th among all video cre­ators across plat­forms and out­rank­ing every oth­er tra­di­tion­al news pub­lish­er, accord­ing to data from the social media ana­lyt­ics com­pa­ny Tubu­lar.

That engage­ment has made The Epoch Times a favorite of the Trump fam­i­ly and a key com­po­nent of the president’s re-elec­tion cam­paign. The president’s Face­book page has post­ed Epoch Times con­tent at least half a dozen times this year— with sev­er­al arti­cles writ­ten by mem­bers of the Trump cam­paign. Don­ald Trump Jr. has tweet­ed sev­er­al of their sto­ries, too.

In May, Lara Trump, the president’s daugh­ter-in-law, sat down for a 40-minute inter­view in Trump Tow­er with the paper’s senior edi­tor. And for the first time, The Epoch Times was a main play­er at the con­ser­v­a­tive con­fer­ence CPAC this year, where it secured inter­views with mem­bers of Con­gress, Trump Cab­i­net mem­bers and right-wing celebri­ties.

At the same time, its net­work of news sites and YouTube chan­nels has made it a pow­er­ful con­duit for the internet’s fringi­er con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, includ­ing anti-vac­ci­na­tion pro­pa­gan­da and QAnon, to reach the main­stream.

Despite its grow­ing reach and pow­er, lit­tle is pub­licly known about the pre­cise own­er­ship, ori­gins or influ­ences of The Epoch Times.

The outlet’s opac­i­ty makes it dif­fi­cult to deter­mine an over­all struc­ture, but it is loose­ly orga­nized into sev­er­al region­al tax-free non­prof­its. The Epoch Times oper­ates along­side the video pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, NTD, under the umbrel­la of The Epoch Media Group, a pri­vate news and enter­tain­ment com­pa­ny whose own­er exec­u­tives have declined to name, cit­ing con­cerns of “pres­sure” that could fol­low.

The Epoch Media Group, along with Shen Yun, a dance troupe known for its ubiq­ui­tous adver­tis­ing and unset­tling per­for­mances, make up the out­reach effort of Falun Gong, a rel­a­tive­ly new spir­i­tu­al prac­tice that com­bines ancient Chi­nese med­i­ta­tive exer­cis­es, mys­ti­cism and often ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive cul­tur­al world­views. Falun Gong’s founder has referred to Epoch Media Group as “our media,” and the group’s prac­tice heav­i­ly informs The Epoch Times’ cov­er­age, accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees who spoke with NBC News.

Exec­u­tives at The Epoch Times declined to be inter­viewed for this arti­cle, but the pub­lish­er, Stephen Gre­go­ry, wrote an edi­to­r­i­al in response to a list of emailed ques­tions from NBC News, call­ing it “high­ly inap­pro­pri­ate” and part of an effort to “dis­cred­it” the pub­li­ca­tion to ask about the company’s affil­i­a­tion with Falun Gong and its stance on the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

Inter­views with for­mer employ­ees, pub­lic finan­cial records and social media data illus­trate how a secre­tive news­pa­per has been able to lever­age the devot­ed fol­low­ers of a reclu­sive spir­i­tu­al leader, polit­i­cal vit­ri­ol, online con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and the rise of Trump to become a dig­i­tal media pow­er­house that now attracts bil­lions of views each month, all while pub­licly deny­ing or down­play­ing its asso­ci­a­tion with Falun Gong.

Behind the times

In 2009, the founder and leader of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, came to speak at The Epoch Times’ offices in Man­hat­tan. Li came with a clear direc­tive for the Falun Gong vol­un­teers who com­prised the company’s staff: “Become reg­u­lar media.”

The pub­li­ca­tion had been found­ed nine years ear­li­er in Geor­gia by John Tang, a Chi­nese Amer­i­can prac­ti­tion­er of Falun Gong and cur­rent pres­i­dent of New Tang Dynasty. But it was falling short of Li’s ambi­tions as stat­ed to his fol­low­ers: to expose the evil of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and “save all sen­tient beings” in a forth­com­ing divine bat­tle against com­mu­nism.

Rough­ly trans­lat­ed by the group as “law wheel exer­cise,” Falun Gong was start­ed by Li in 1992. The prac­tice, which com­bines bits of Bud­dhism and Tao­ism, involves med­i­ta­tion and gen­tle exer­cis­es and espous­es Li’s con­tro­ver­sial teach­ings.

“Li Hongzhi sim­pli­fied med­i­ta­tion and prac­tices that tra­di­tion­al­ly have many steps and are very con­fus­ing,” said Ming Xia, a pro­fes­sor at the Grad­u­ate Cen­ter of the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York who has stud­ied Falun Gong. “Basi­cal­ly it’s like fast food, a quick­ie.”

Li’s teach­ings quick­ly built a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing — and ran into ten­sion with China’s lead­ers, who viewed his pop­u­lar­i­ty as a threat to the com­mu­nist government’s hold on pow­er.

In 1999, after thou­sands of Li’s fol­low­ers gath­ered in front of Pres­i­dent Jiang Zemin’s com­pound to qui­et­ly protest the arrest of sev­er­al Falun Gong mem­bers, author­i­ties in Chi­na banned Falun Gong, clos­ing teach­ing cen­ters and arrest­ing Falun Gong orga­niz­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers who refused to give up the prac­tice. Human rights groups have report­ed some adher­ents being tor­tured and killed while in cus­tody.

The crack­down elicit­ed con­dem­na­tion from West­ern coun­tries, and attract­ed a new pool of fol­low­ers in the Unit­ed States, for whom Chi­na and com­mu­nism were com­mon adver­saries.

“The per­se­cu­tion itself ele­vat­ed Li’s sta­tus and brought tremen­dous media atten­tion,” Ming said.

It has also invit­ed scruti­ny of the spir­i­tu­al leader’s more uncon­ven­tion­al ideas. Among them, Li has railed against what he called the wicked­ness of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, fem­i­nism and pop­u­lar music while hold­ing that he is a god-like fig­ure who can lev­i­tate and walk through walls.

Li has also taught that sick­ness is a symp­tom of evil that can only be tru­ly cured with med­i­ta­tion and devo­tion, and that aliens from undis­cov­ered dimen­sions have invad­ed the minds and bod­ies of humans, bring­ing cor­rup­tion and inven­tions such as com­put­ers and air­planes. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has used these con­tro­ver­sial teach­ings to label Falun Gong a cult. Falun Gong has denied the government’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

The Epoch Times pro­vid­ed Li with an Eng­lish-lan­guage way to push back against Chi­na — a posi­tion that would even­tu­al­ly dove­tail with Trump’s elec­tion.

In 2005, The Epoch Times released its great­est sal­vo, pub­lish­ing the ”Nine Com­men­taries,” a wide­ly dis­trib­uted book-length series of anony­mous edi­to­ri­als that it claimed exposed the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party’s “mas­sive crimes” and “attempts to erad­i­cate all tra­di­tion­al moral­i­ty and reli­gious belief.”

The next year, an Epoch Times reporter was removed from a White House event for Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao after inter­rupt­ing the cer­e­mo­ny by shout­ing for sev­er­al min­utes that then-Pres­i­dent George W. Bush must stop the leader from “per­se­cut­ing Falun Gong.”

But despite its small army of devot­ed vol­un­teers, The Epoch Times was still oper­at­ing as a fledg­ling start­up.

Ben Hur­ley is a for­mer Falun Gong prac­ti­tion­er who helped cre­ate Australia’s Eng­lish ver­sion of The Epoch Times out of a liv­ing room in Syd­ney in 2005. He has writ­ten about his expe­ri­ence with the paper and described the ear­ly years as “a giant PR cam­paign” to evan­ge­lize about Falun Gong’s belief in an upcom­ing apoc­a­lypse in which those who think bad­ly of the prac­tice, or well of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty, will be destroyed.

Hur­ley, who wrote for The Epoch Times until he left in 2013, said he saw prac­ti­tion­ers in lead­er­ship posi­tions begin draw­ing hard­er and hard­er lines about accept­able polit­i­cal posi­tions.

“Their views were always anti-abor­tion and homo­pho­bic, but there was more room for dis­agree­ments in the ear­ly days,” he said.

Hur­ley said Falun Gong prac­ti­tion­ers saw com­mu­nism every­where: for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton, movie star Jack­ie Chan and for­mer Unit­ed Nations Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Kofi Annan were all con­sid­ered to have sold them­selves out to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, Hur­ley said.

This kind of cov­er­age fore­shad­owed the news organization’s embrace of con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries like QAnon, the over­ar­ch­ing the­o­ry that there is an evil cabal of “deep state” oper­a­tors and child preda­tors out to take down the pres­i­dent.

“It is so rabid­ly pro-Trump,” Hur­ley said, refer­ring to The Epoch Times. Devout prac­ti­tion­ers of Falun Gong “believe that Trump was sent by heav­en to destroy the Com­mu­nist Par­ty.”

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Li declined an inter­view request. Li lives among hun­dreds of his fol­low­ers near Drag­on Springs, a 400-acre com­pound in upstate New York that hous­es tem­ples, pri­vate schools and quar­ters where per­form­ers for the organization’s dance troupe, Shen Yun, live and rehearse, accord­ing to four for­mer com­pound res­i­dents and for­mer Falun Gong prac­ti­tion­ers who spoke to NBC News.

They said that life in Drag­on Springs is tight­ly con­trolled by Li, that inter­net access is restrict­ed, the use of med­i­cines is dis­cour­aged, and arranged rela­tion­ships are com­mon. Two for­mer res­i­dents on visas said they were offered to be set up with U.S. res­i­dents at the com­pound.

Tiger Huang, a for­mer Drag­on Springs res­i­dent who was on a U.S. stu­dent visa from Tai­wan, said she was set up on three dates on the com­pound, and she believed her abil­i­ty to stay in the U.S. was tied to the arrange­ment.

“The pur­pose of set­ting up the dates was obvi­ous,” Huang said. Her now-hus­band, a for­mer Drag­on Springs res­i­dent, con­firmed the account.

Huang said she was told by Drag­on Springs offi­cials her visa had expired and was told to go back to Tai­wan after months of dat­ing a non­prac­ti­tion­er in the com­pound. She lat­er learned that her visa had not expired when she was told to leave the coun­try.

Cam­paign sea­son

By 2016, The Epoch Times Group appeared to have heed­ed the call from Li to run its oper­a­tion more like a typ­i­cal news orga­ni­za­tion, start­ing with The Epoch Times’ web­site. In March, the com­pa­ny placed job ads on the site Indeed.com and assem­bled a team of sev­en young reporters oth­er­wise uncon­nect­ed to Falun Gong. The aver­age salary for the new recruits was $35,000 a year, paid month­ly, accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees.

Things seemed “strange,” even from the first day, accord­ing to five for­mer reporters who spoke with NBC News — four of whom asked for anonymi­ty over con­cerns that speak­ing neg­a­tive­ly about their expe­ri­ence would affect their rela­tion­ship with cur­rent and future employ­ers.

As part of their ori­en­ta­tion, the new reporters watched a video that laid out the Chi­nese per­se­cu­tion of Falun Gong fol­low­ers. The pub­lish­er, Stephen Gre­go­ry, also spoke to the reporters about his vision for the new dig­i­tal ini­tia­tive. The for­mer employ­ees said Gregory’s talk framed The Epoch Times as an answer to the lib­er­al main­stream media.

Their con­tent was to be crit­i­cal of com­mu­nist Chi­na, clear-eyed about the threat of Islam­ic ter­ror­ism, focused on ille­gal immi­gra­tion and at all times root­ed in “tra­di­tion­al” val­ues, they said. This meant no con­tent about drugs, gay peo­ple or pop­u­lar music.

The reporters said they worked from desks arranged in a U‑shape in a sin­gle-room office that was sep­a­rat­ed by a locked door from the oth­er staff mem­bers who worked on the paper, dozens of Falun Gong vol­un­teers and interns. The new recruits wrote up to five news sto­ries a day in an effort to meet a quo­ta of 100,000 page views, and sub­mit­ted their work to a hand­ful of edi­tors — a team of two Falun Gong-prac­tic­ing mar­ried cou­ples.

“Slave labor may not be the right word, but that’s a lot of arti­cles to write in one day,” one for­mer employ­ee said.

It wasn’t just the amount of writ­ing but also the con­ser­v­a­tive edi­to­r­i­al restric­tions that began to con­cern some of the employ­ees.

“It’s like we were sup­posed to be fight­ing so-called lib­er­al pro­pa­gan­da by mak­ing our own,” said Steve Klett, who cov­ered the Trump cam­paign for The Epoch Times as his first job in jour­nal­ism. Klett likened The Epoch Times to a Russ­ian troll farm and said his arti­cles were edit­ed to remove out­side crit­i­cism of Trump.

“The worst was the Pulse shoot­ing,” Klett said, refer­ring to the 2016 mass shoot­ing in which 50 peo­ple includ­ing the gun­man were killed at a gay night­club in Orlan­do, Flori­da. “We weren’t allowed to cov­er sto­ries involv­ing homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, but that bumps up against them want­i­ng to cov­er Islam­ic ter­ror­ism. So I wrote four arti­cles with­out using the word gay.”

Klett said that the pub­li­ca­tion also began to skew in favor of Trump, who had tar­get­ed Chi­na on the cam­paign trail with talk of a trade war.

“I knew I had to for­get about all the worst parts of Trump,” Klett said.

Klett, how­ev­er, would not end up hav­ing to cov­er the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Eight days before the elec­tion, the team was called togeth­er and fired as a group.

“I guess the exper­i­ment was over,” a for­mer employ­ee said.

The con­tent

The Epoch Times, dig­i­tal pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny NTD and the heav­i­ly adver­tised dance troupe Shen Yun make up the non­prof­it net­work that Li calls “our media.” Finan­cial doc­u­ments paint a com­pli­cat­ed pic­ture of more than a dozen tech­ni­cal­ly sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tions that appear to share mis­sions, mon­ey and exec­u­tives. Though the source of their rev­enue is unclear, the most recent finan­cial records from each orga­ni­za­tion paint a pic­ture of an over­all busi­ness thriv­ing in the Trump era.

The Epoch Times brought in $8.1 mil­lion in rev­enue in 2017 — dou­ble what it had the pre­vi­ous year — and report­ed spend­ing $7.2 mil­lion on “print­ing news­pa­per 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, while indi­vid­ual dona­tions and sub­scrip­tions to the paper make up less than 10 per­cent of its rev­enue.

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.

That expo­nen­tial growth came around the same time The Epoch Times expand­ed its online pres­ence and increased its ad spend­ing, hon­ing its mes­sage on two basic themes: enthu­si­as­tic sup­port for Trump’s agen­da, and the expo­sure of what the pub­li­ca­tion claims is a labyrinthi­an, glob­al con­spir­a­cy led by Clin­ton and for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma to tear down Trump. One such con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry, loose­ly called “Spy­gate,” has become a com­mon talk­ing point for Fox News host Sean Han­ni­ty and con­ser­v­a­tive news web­sites like Bre­it­bart.

The paper’s “Spy­gate Spe­cial Cov­er­age” sec­tion, which fre­quent­ly sits atop its web­site, the­o­rizes about a grand, years­long plot in which for­mer Oba­ma and Clin­ton staffers, a hand­ful of mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tors and gov­ern­ment bureau­crats plan to take down the Trump pres­i­den­cy.

In his pub­lished response, pub­lish­er Gre­go­ry said the media outlet’s ads “have no polit­i­cal agen­da.”

While The Epoch Times usu­al­ly strad­dles the line between an ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive news out­let and a con­spir­a­cy ware­house, some pop­u­lar online shows cre­at­ed by Epoch Times employ­ees and pro­duced by NTD cross the line com­plete­ly, and spread far and wide.

One such show is “Edge of Won­der,” a ver­i­fied YouTube chan­nel that releas­es new NTD-pro­duced videos twice every week and now has more than 33 mil­lion views. In addi­tion to claims that alien abduc­tions are real and the drug epi­dem­ic was engi­neered by the “deep state,” the chan­nel push­es the QAnon con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry, which false­ly posits that the same “Spy­gate” cabal is a front for a glob­al pedophile ring being tak­en down by Trump.

One QAnon video, titled “#QANON – 7 facts the MEDIA (MSM) Won’t Admit” has almost 1 mil­lion views on YouTube. Oth­er videos in the channel’s QAnon playlist, which include videos about 9/11 con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and one titled “13 BLOODLINES & their Dia­bol­i­cal End Game,” gained hun­dreds of thou­sands of views each.

Travis View, a researcher and pod­cast­er who stud­ies the QAnon move­ment, said The Epoch Times has san­i­tized the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry by push­ing Spy­gate, which drops the wildest and more pruri­ent details of QAnon while retain­ing its con­spir­a­to­r­i­al ele­ments.

“QAnon is high­ly stig­ma­tized among peo­ple try­ing to push the Spy­gate mes­sage. They know how tox­ic QAnon is,” View said. “Spy­gate leaves out the spir­i­tu­al ele­ments, the child sex traf­fick­ing, but it’s cer­tain­ly inte­gral to the QAnon nar­ra­tive.”

Gre­go­ry denied any con­nec­tion with “Edge of Won­der,” writ­ing in a state­ment that his orga­ni­za­tion was “aware of the enter­tain­ment show,” but “is in no way con­nect­ed with it.”

But The Epoch Times has itself pub­lished sev­er­al cred­u­lous reports on QAnon and for years, the web­series hosts Rob Counts and Ben­jamin Chas­teen were employed as the company’s cre­ative direc­tor and chief pho­to edi­tor, respec­tive­ly. In August 2018, six months after the cre­ation of “Edge of Won­der,” Counts tweet­ed that he still worked for Epoch Times. Counts and Chas­teen did not respond to an email seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion on their roles.

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