Since 2016, the Falun Gong-backed newspaper has used aggressive Facebook tactics and right-wing misinformation to create an anti-China, pro-Trump media empire.
For years, The Epoch Times was a small, low-budget newspaper with an anti-China slant that was handed out free on New York street corners. But in 2016 and 2017, the paper made two changes that transformed it into one of the country’s most powerful digital publishers.
The changes also paved the way for the publication, which is affiliated with the secretive and relatively obscure Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong, to become a leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation.
First, it embraced President Trump, treating him as an ally in Falun Gong’s scorched-earth fight against China’s ruling Communist Party, which banned the group two decades ago and has persecuted its members ever since. Its relatively staid coverage of U.S. politics became more partisan, with more articles explicitly supporting Mr. Trump and criticizing his opponents.
Around the same time, The Epoch Times bet big on another powerful American institution: Facebook. The publication and its affiliates employed a novel strategy that involved creating dozens of Facebook pages, filling them with feel-good videos and viral clickbait, and using them to sell subscriptions and drive traffic back to its partisan news coverage.
In an April 2017 email to the staff obtained by The New York Times, the paper’s leadership envisioned that the Facebook strategy could help turn The Epoch Times into “the world’s largest and most authoritative media.” It could also introduce millions of people to the teachings of Falun Gong, fulfilling the group’s mission of “saving sentient beings.”
Today, The Epoch Times and its affiliates are a force in right-wing media, with tens of millions of social media followers spread across dozens of pages and an online audience that rivals those of The Daily Caller and Breitbart News, and with a similar willingness to feed the online fever swamps of the far right.
It also has growing influence in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. The president and his family have shared articles from the paper on social media, and Trump administration officials have sat for interviews with its reporters. In August, a reporter from The Epoch Times asked a question at a White House press briefing.
It is a remarkable success story for Falun Gong, which has long struggled to establish its bona fides against Beijing’s efforts to demonize it as an “evil cult,” partly because its strident accounts of persecution in China can sometimes be difficult to substantiate or veer into exaggeration. In 2006, an Epoch Times reporter disrupted a White House visit by the Chinese president by shouting, “Evil people will die early.”
Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist and a former chairman of Breitbart, said in an interview in July that The Epoch Times’s fast growth had impressed him.
“They’ll be the top conservative news site in two years,” said Mr. Bannon, who was arrested on fraud charges in August. “They punch way above their weight, they have the readers, and they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
But the organization and its affiliates have grown, in part, by relying on sketchy social media tactics, pushing dangerous conspiracy theories and downplaying their connection to Falun Gong, an investigation by The Times has found. The investigation included interviews with more than a dozen former Epoch Times employees, as well as internal documents and tax filings. Many of these people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation, or still had family in Falun Gong.
Embracing Mr. Trump and Facebook has made The Epoch Times a partisan powerhouse. But it has also created a global-scale misinformation machine that has repeatedly pushed fringe narratives into the mainstream.
The publication has been one of the most prominent promoters of “Spygate,” a baseless conspiracy theory involving claims that Obama administration officials illegally spied on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. Publications and shows linked to The Epoch Times have promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory and spread distorted claims about voter fraud and the Black Lives Matter movement. More recently, they have promoted the unfounded theory that the coronavirus — which the publication calls the “CCP Virus,” in an attempt to link it to the Chinese Communist Party — was created as a bioweapon in a Chinese military lab.
The Epoch Times says it is independent and nonpartisan, and it rejects the suggestion that it is officially affiliated with Falun Gong.
Like Falun Gong itself, the newspaper — which publishes in dozens of countries — is decentralized and operates as a cluster of regional chapters, each organized as a separate nonprofit. It is also extraordinarily secretive. Editors at The Epoch Times turned down multiple requests for interviews, and a reporter’s unannounced visit to the outlet’s Manhattan headquarters this year was met with a threat from a lawyer.
Representatives for Li Hongzhi, the leader of Falun Gong, did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did other residents of Dragon Springs, the compound in upstate New York that serves as Falun Gong’s spiritual headquarters.
Many employees and Falun Gong practitioners contacted by The Times said they were instructed not to divulge details of the outlet’s inner workings. They said they had been told that speaking negatively about The Epoch Times would be tantamount to disobeying Mr. Li, who is known by his disciples as “Master.”
The Epoch Times provided only partial answers to a long list of questions sent to its media office, and declined to answer questions about its finances and editorial strategy. In an email, which was not signed, the outlet accused The Times of “defaming and diminishing a competitor” and displaying “a subtle form of religious intimidation if not bigotry” by linking the publication to Falun Gong.
“The Epoch Times will not be intimidated and will not be silenced,” the outlet added, “and based on the number of falsehoods and inaccuracies included in the New York Times questions we will consider all legal options in response.”
Clarifying the Truth
Falun Gong, which Mr. Li introduced in China in 1992, revolves around a series of five meditation exercises and a process of moral self-improvement that is meant to lead to spiritual enlightenment. Today, the group is known for the demonstrations it holds around the world to “clarify the truth” about the Chinese Communist Party, which it accuses of torturing Falun Gong practitioners and harvesting the organs of those executed. (Tens of thousands across China were sent to labor camps in the early years of the crackdown, and the group’s presence there is now much diminished.)
More recently, Falun Gong has come under scrutiny for what some former practitioners have characterized as an extreme belief system that forbids interracial marriage, condemns homosexuality and discourages the use of modern medicine, all allegations the group denies.
When The Epoch Times got its start in 2000, the goal was to counter Chinese propaganda and cover Falun Gong’s persecution by the Chinese government. It began as a Chinese-language newspaper run out of the Georgia basement of John Tang, a graduate student and Falun Gong practitioner.
By 2004, The Epoch Times had expanded into English. One of the paper’s early hires was Genevieve Belmaker, then a 27-year-old Falun Gong practitioner with little journalism experience. Ms. Belmaker, now 43, described the early Epoch Times as a cross between a scrappy media start-up and a zealous church bulletin, with a staff composed mostly of unpaid volunteers drawn from the local Falun Gong chapters.
“The mission-driven part of it was, let’s have a media outlet that not only tells the truth about Falun Gong but about everything,” Ms. Belmaker said.
Mr. Li, Falun Gong’s founder, also saw it that way. In speeches, he referred to The Epoch Times and other Falun Gong-linked outlets — including the New Tang Dynasty TV station, or NTD — as “our media,” and said they could help publicize Falun Gong’s story and values around the world.
Two former employees recalled that the paper’s top editors had traveled to Dragon Springs to meet with Mr. Li. One employee who attended a meeting said Mr. Li had weighed in on editorial and strategic decisions, acting as a kind of shadow publisher. The Epoch Times denied these accounts, saying in a statement, “There has been no such meeting.”
The line between The Epoch Times and Falun Gong is blurry at times. Two former Epoch Times reporters said they had been asked to write flattering profiles of foreign performers being recruited into Shen Yun, the heavily advertised dance performance series that Falun Gong backs, because it would strengthen those performers’ visa applications. Another former Epoch Times reporter recalled being assigned to write critical articles about politicians including John Liu, a Taiwanese-American former New York City councilman whom the group viewed as soft on China and hostile to Falun Gong.
These articles helped Falun Gong advance its goals, but they lured few subscribers.
Matthew K. Tullar, a former sales director for The Epoch Times’s Orange County edition in New York, wrote on his LinkedIn page that his team initially “printed 800 papers each week, had no subscribers, and utilized a ‘throw it in their driveway for free’ marketing strategy.” Mr. Tullar did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Belmaker, who left the paper in 2017, described it as a bare-bones operation that was always searching for new moneymaking ventures.
“It was very short-term thinking,” she said. “We weren’t looking more than three weeks down the road.”
A Trump Pivot
By 2014, The Epoch Times was edging closer to Mr. Li’s vision of a respectable news outlet. Subscriptions were growing, the paper’s reporting was winning journalism awards, and its finances were stabilizing.
“There was all this optimism that things were going to level up,” Ms. Belmaker said.
But at a staff meeting in 2015, leadership announced that the publication was in trouble again, Ms. Belmaker recalled. Facebook had changed its algorithm for determining which articles appeared in users’ newsfeeds, and The Epoch Times’s traffic and ad revenue were suffering.
In response, the publication assigned reporters to churn out as many as five posts a day in a search for viral hits, often lowbrow fare with titles like “Grizzly Bear Does Belly Flop Into a Swimming Pool.”
“It was a competition for traffic,” Ms. Belmaker said.
As the 2016 election neared, reporters noticed that the paper’s political coverage took on a more partisan tone.
Steve Klett, who covered the 2016 campaign for the paper, said his editors had encouraged favorable coverage about Mr. Trump after he won the Republican nomination.
“They seemed to have this almost messianic way of viewing Trump as the anti-Communist leader who would bring about the end of the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Klett said.
After Mr. Trump’s victory, The Epoch Times hired Brendan Steinhauser, a well-connected Tea Party strategist, to help make inroads with conservatives. Mr. Steinhauser said the organization’s goal, beyond raising its profile in Washington, had been to make Falun Gong’s persecution a Trump administration priority.
“They wanted more people in Washington to be aware of how the Chinese Communist Party operates, and what it has done to spiritual and ethnic minorities,” Mr. Steinhauser said.
All In on Facebook
Behind the scenes, The Epoch Times was also developing a secret weapon: a Facebook growth strategy that would ultimately help take its message to millions.
According to emails reviewed by The Times, the Facebook plan was developed by Trung Vu, the former head of The Epoch Times’s 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, a former DKN employee said. Employees used fake accounts to run the pages, a practice that violated Facebook’s rules but that Mr. Trung said was necessary to protect employees from Chinese surveillance, the former employee said.
Mr. Trung did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the 2017 email sent to Epoch Times workers in America, the Vietnamese experiment was a “remarkable success” that made DKN one of the largest publishers in Vietnam.
The outlet, the email claimed, was “having a profound impact on saving sentient beings in that country.”
The Vietnamese team was asked to help Epoch Media Group — the umbrella organization for Falun Gong’s biggest U.S. media properties — set up its own Facebook empire, according to that email. That year, dozens of new Facebook pages appeared, all linked to The Epoch Times and its affiliates. Some were explicitly partisan, others positioned themselves as sources of real and unbiased news, and a few, like a humor page called “Funniest Family Moments,” were disconnected from news entirely.
Perhaps the most audacious experiment was a new right-wing politics site called America Daily.
Today, the site, which has more than a million Facebook followers, peddles far-right misinformation. It has posted anti-vaccine screeds, an article falsely claiming that Bill Gates and other elites are “directing” the Covid-19 pandemic and allegations about a “Jewish mob” that controls the world.
Emails obtained by The Times show that John Nania, a longtime Epoch Times editor, was involved in starting America Daily, along with executives from Sound of Hope, a Falun Gong-affiliated radio network. Records on Facebook show that the page is operated by the Sound of Hope Network, and a pinned post on its Facebook page contains a promotional video for Falun Gong.
In a statement, The Epoch Times said it had “no business relationship” with America Daily.
Many of the Facebook pages operated by The Epoch Times and its affiliates followed a similar trajectory. They began by posting viral videos and uplifting news articles aggregated from other sites. They grew quickly, sometimes adding hundreds of thousands of followers a week. Then, they were used to steer people to buy Epoch Times subscriptions and promote more partisan content.
Several of the pages gained significant followings “seemingly overnight,” said Renee DiResta, a disinformation researcher with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Many posts were shared thousands of times but received almost no comments — a ratio, Ms. DiResta said, that is typical of pages that have been boosted by “click farms,” firms that generate fake traffic by paying people to click on certain links over and over again.
The Epoch Times denies using click farms or other illicit tactics to expand its pages. “The Epoch Times’s social media strategies were different from DKN, and used Facebook’s own promotional tools to gain an increased organic following,” the outlet said, adding that The Epoch Times cut ties with Mr. Trung in 2018.
But last year, The Epoch Times was barred from advertising on Facebook — where it had spent more than $1.5 million over seven months — after the social network announced that the outlet’s pages had evaded its transparency requirements by disguising its ad purchases.
This year, Facebook took down more than 500 pages and accounts linked to Truth Media, a network of anti-China pages that had been using fake accounts to amplify their messages. The Epoch Times denied any involvement, but Facebook’s investigators said Truth Media “showed some links to on-platform activity by Epoch Media Group and NTD.”
“We’ve taken enforcement actions against Epoch Media and related groups several times,” said a Facebook spokeswoman, who added that the social network would punish the outlet if it violated more rules in the future.
Since being barred from advertising on Facebook, The Epoch Times has moved much of its operation to YouTube, where it has spent more than $1.8 million on ads since May 2018, according to Google’s public database of political advertising.
Where the paper’s money comes from is something of a mystery. Former employees said they had been told that The Epoch Times was financed by a combination of subscriptions, ads and donations from wealthy Falun Gong practitioners. In 2018, the most recent year for which the organization’s tax returns are publicly available, The Epoch Times Association received several sizable donations, but none big enough to pay for a multimillion-dollar ad blitz.
Mr. Bannon is among those who have noticed The Epoch Times’s deep pockets. Last year, he produced a documentary about China with NTD. When he talked with the outlet about other projects, he said, money never seemed to be an issue.
“I’d give them a number,” Mr. Bannon said. “And they’d come back and say, ‘We’re good for that number.’”
‘The Moral Objective Is Gone’
The Epoch Times’s pro-Trump turn has upset some former employees, like Ms. Belmaker.
Ms. Belmaker, now a freelance writer and editor, still believes in many of Falun Gong’s teachings, she said. But she has grown disenchanted with The Epoch Times, which she sees as running contrary to Falun Gong’s core principles of truth, compassion and tolerance.
“The moral objective is gone,” she said. “They’re on the wrong side of history, and I don’t think they care.”
Recently, The Epoch Times has shifted its focus to the coronavirus. It pounced on China’s missteps in the early days of the pandemic, and its reporters wrote about misreported virus statistics and Chinese influence in the World Health Organization.
Some of these articles were true. But others pushed exaggerated or false claims, like the unproven theory that the virus was engineered in a lab as part of a Chinese biological warfare strategy.
Some of the claims were repeated in a documentary that both NTD and The Epoch Times posted on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than five million times. The documentary features the discredited virologist Judy Mikovits, who also starred in the viral “Plandemic” video, which Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms pulled this year for spreading false claims.
The Epoch Times said, “In our documentary we offered a range of evidence and viewpoints without drawing any conclusions.”
Ms. Belmaker, who still keeps a photo of Master Li on a shelf in her house, said she recoiled whenever an ad for The Epoch Times popped up on YouTube promoting some new partisan talking point.
One recent video, “Digging Beneath Narratives,” is a two-minute infomercial about China’s mishandling of the coronavirus. The ad’s host says The Epoch Times has an “underground network of sources” in China providing information about the government’s response to the virus.
It’s a plausible claim, but the video’s host makes no mention of The Epoch Times’s ties to Falun Gong, or its two-decade-long campaign against Chinese communism, saying only that the paper is “giving you an accurate picture of what’s happening in this world.”
“We tell it like it is,” he says.
that have like their here’s a deceptive
one that i’ve read it was really fucked
up they were talking about this kid who
was I think he was 17 who died from
kovat and they said he was and they were
said he was healthy no under no other
health issues they said but then we read
the article deeper it turns out he had
diabetes he had
type one diabetes and he was 400 pounds
and it’s like wait a minute
the that’s not no issues these articles
are full of shit and they write those
articles just so that you click on them
because they get the the fucking ad
revenue from clicks and so they’re
incentivized to trick you into being
scared they’re like oh my god a 17 year
old died what happened my 17 year old
holy fuck and then you click on it and
if you don’t read you know six seven
paragraphs into the article you don’t
find out that this was a 400-pound
diabetic kid that you know that’s what
have died from the flu three months
earlier it would have been the same shit
yeah yeah you know so the numbers are
fudged so I don’t want to believe your
numbers don’t come to me with more scare
tactics about like the numbers are
spiking well you already said that 50%
of the positives are false positives
well at least finally they’re saying
when they’re said the numbers are
spiking I haven’t heard the 50% fault
video there was the the chick that is
ill with Falchi the other one she was
saying 50% yeah I don’t know how old the
video was with it our testing is we’re
coming up and if you have one percent of
whatever and we test it and 50 you know
about half of the positives or false
positive Jesus and then I don’t wear a
and you have to wear masks they said the
whole reason we have to flatten the
curve is because you can live on
anything for up to like nine days and
even an asymptomatic person can still
transmit it then it comes out they say
the exact opposite yeah now they’re
saying asymptomatic people very very
rarely twelve-minute I don’t choose to
believe that Joe I’m gonna relieve what
they told me the first time not gonna do
it not the new facts that they have now
so we’re still gonna wear masks all the
time yeah people get mad at you if you
suggest differently there’s a lot of
people that like being scared too and
you’re like fuck you love it we’re your
goddamn masks we need to protect people
love it but meanwhile snow policed who’s
gonna protect you and you who’s gonna
protect your family me meanwhile there
was no be these people weren’t freaking
out when you’ve seen these mass protests
and the spikes guess what happened right
after the protest and at least they’re
saying that now at least they’re saying
they’re being forced into saying is
the protests well of course it’s just
one way to get attacked to get people to
skate let’s scare them to stop revolting
let’s give them let’s get them chill out
you got you know now the numbers are
spiking guys do you think it’s that
calculated that that’s what they’re
doing I think there’s a lot of
calculated shit going on
there’s too many weird things going on
I’m like who’s calculating I’m though I
think that it’s dr. evil I think it is I
think that they’re in like their thing
and next we’re gonna launch the sharks
with laser beams on their head what
happened to murder Hornets they came and
went real quick I was really worried
about them aliens bro fuck I put it out
there and you come well ends are coming
before before the election Dave’s like
listen man I got to do something I got
to figure this out it’s all been
approved by the governor everybody’s you
know distanced six feet apart they all
maintain social distancing during the
show they wear masks during the show how
long what’s this how long are we to keep
doing this Texas governor is people to
stay home states report surges of nuke
ovid 19 cases yeah you want to see the
photo of the Austin protests you’ve seen
it it’s crazy
you know Austin which is the most
progressive city in Texas had this
insane protest which listen I think is
great I do I think it’s great that
people want to show solidarity that
people want to to get out there and and
let everybody know that they’re they’re
not down with police brutality and that
they’re there they’re down with racial
equality and that you got all these
thousands and thousands of people
together to have the same positive
message I love it however that Co vid
doesn’t give a fuck about racial
equality or social justice if you’re if
you’re not healthy it’s gonna get you I
don’t know and the case is spike but the
other thing about Texas is a giant
percentage of it I think somewhere in
the neighborhood at 50% is actually in
prisons so when they’re talking about
statewide issues did you have an image
so I can get an image for you I got a
good one for you oh that’s a good one
yeah that’ll cause problem
look at his fucking people but one thing
they have found out if you guys if you
guys are gonna protest protest during
the day and this is why there’s been a
new study that came out that said that
kovat 19 dies almost instantly in
contact with sunlight
no Trump’s say that like two months ago
and everyone said he was crazy no he was
saying like put lights to the body no he
said when the summer comes that he knows
it but it’s not but it’s not the heat
it’s actually light so the nighttime is
just as dangerous in the summer it is as
it is during the day it’s not heat it’s
not a temperature issue I’m sure some
temperature kills it Joe this thing is
not real bro this is not real it’s not
really a joint it is the fucking flu
yeah let’s do it dude it’s not real you
don’t think it’s real I think that the
flu is real I think that people get sick
from the flu every year and die I think
that it’s a it’s a bad thing I don’t
think that all of this nonsense is going
on and they keep keep perpetuating it
and keep perpetuating keep perpetuating
it come on I just not buying anything I
just you guys you change your views and
change your opinions it’s like it’s like
if you were the writer of a TV show say
friends your job would be to write a 30
minute episode that was funny and
intriguing and dramatic and fucking
scary or whatever the fuck
and like the the media just writes an
episode and then the next day they like
write a new episode and write a new
episode and like change their shit I
such bullshit I understand what you
saying I’m gonna give you a different
perspective okay this is the different
perspective the different perspective is
legit biologists have analyzed the
actual virus itself and they find all
sorts of problems with this virus I had
Brett Weinstein on the podcast the other
day he’s a professor a legit biologist
and he was discussing all of the
indicators in the virus that seemed to
point to the fact that this has probably
been leaked from a lab and explained it
in terms of the way viruses evolve I’m
gonna do a terrible job of paraphrasing
it because I’m a moron and he’s
brilliant but when he said in the long
run what he’s basically saying is this
is a very legit virus
it’s very complicated because of the
fact that it’s been fucked with because
this is not a virus like you know like a
regular cold or like anything else that
we’ve encountered before this is
something that’s really complicated and
may have evolved because it came from a
lab his perspective is it may have
evolved to transmit better indoors and
it’s very vulnerable to UV light which
also might be part of you know it being
from a lab and not something that
existed in the wild that actually just
jumped from a bat to a Pangolin to a
person or what have you so legit
scientists and biologists who are not a
part of the narrative they’re not
working for any government agency
they’re not a part of the news media
that’s trying to transmit propaganda
they are concerned with it and they’re
concerned with it for very specific
scientific reasons now me as a person
who doesn’t know what the fuck any of
that stuff I just said means really I
just repeat it
it sounds like I’m smart but they the
the smart people actually are worried
about it for very specific reasons that
he could explain to you now it’s not
vulnerable for a lot of people they’re
not gonna be vulnerable like pro
athletes we were talking about those NBA
players to get it listen those are top
of the food chain stud athletes they
shake it off they’re not experiencing
any symptoms you know over and over and
over again there’s a lot of people that
get injured selber shook it off there’s
a lot of people that get it shake it off
they barely get it they barely even know
they have it
but they’re really robust healthy people
the concern is people that aren’t old
people that are vulnerable when they get
it man they get it bad and I was reading
an article today about a woman who’s
been sick with kovat for a hundred days
now and she still has days she has like
these horrible flu-like symptoms and she
gets real wheezy but I think she has
multiple sclerosis and she’s got some
other underlying health conditions so
those people have to really be worried
about this because it’s not predictable
and they don’t know how to treat it
totally especially in the beginning
turned out when they put people on
ventilators my buddy Michael yo got it
and he got it early on and his doctor
told him if I put you on a ventilator
you’re probably gonna die because your
body’s gonna stop breathing for itself
it’s good to let
but the ventilator do all the work the
ventilator like 90% of people put on
ventilators I think or 80 80 per side
for anything ever died is that true I
don’t know that’s what I said
80 to 80 percent so when the question is
almost like we need 40,000 ventilators
because we’re who are you saving when
80% of those people are gonna die
the thing is though like I think the
ventilator one way you could look at it
the ventilator is such a last-ditch
effort that by the time you get that
what is that was it
ice-cold why is it school delicious what
happy for you much what a good man he
brings his own beer you fucking study
with all kinds of um I brought you some
ignite stuff too Oh Danson found out the
Dan Bilzerian tell me he’s writing a
book yeah I think he did write his book
yeah that one’s for Marshall my dog’s
been using it too it’s really good stuff
you know Dan everything’s the best he’s
he’s jumped balls deep into weed and CBD
yeah right look at that dog CBD it even
says it on there I fucked up with CBD MD
and I took some of their dogs CBD was
delicious peanut butter flavor
I think it’s final I’m sure why not CBD
but they make it flavors for dogs what’s
up cool ass more shit what is the RAM
said I think it’s a goat head I asked
him once about and I care member what
the answer was I think it’s always been
like his thing that’s that’s like Satan
right what is the one the the devil that
has the goat head is it Beelzebub sounds
good it sounds like they’ll be correct
Thank You Satan no what is it
you gotta be careful you know you get
people so high that they get super
paranoid and they look down that goat
Oh Baphomet that’s right I’ve seen him
on things before that’s like something
Duncan would know a lot about come on
man hey Dan why is that guy on the cover
your fucking partner where’s that goat
dude with with eagle-wing go dude oh
look guys creepies fuck with his
pentagram on his head houston I see you
capacity could soon be exceeded as kovat
19 hospital agents worsen command and
all the videos come out and it’s like
people and going to the hospitals and
there’s no lines that they’re trying to
make it out to be you know there’s a lot
of there’s a lot of fuckery going on
with this misinformation and that’s
there’s a little bit of the newest of
the newer but there’s also real shit
going on okay dr. Peter Hotez he’s been
on the podcast before National School of
Tropical Medicine diseases Tropical
Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine
he’s a brilliant guy yeah it says the
city of Houston which is known for its
medical schools has a large
concentration of beds and research
hospitals and whatnot and they’re very
close to running out of all of their ICU
beds he said he called on the state to
reimpose more aggressive social
distancing restrictions so he’s not a
he’s not a foolish person if he’s saying
this he’s a legit scientist and a doctor
and he knows a tremendous amount about
diseases I met him many many years ago
The money went to a small group of social media experts that included Jonathon Morgan, the chief executive of New Knowledge, a cybersecurity firm.
They created a Facebook page intended to look like the work of conservative Alabamians, and used it to try to split Republicans and promote a conservative write-in candidate to take votes from Mr. Moore.
They also used thousands of Twitter accounts to make it appear as if automated Russian bot accounts were following and supporting Mr. Moore, according to an internal report on the project. The apparent Russian support for Mr. Moore drew broad news media coverage.
Democratic political strategists say the small Alabama operation — which accounts for a minuscule share of the $51 million spent in the contest — was carried out as a debate about tactics intensified within the party.
Democrats had been shocked to learn of Russia’s stealth influence campaign to damage Hillary Clinton and promote Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential race. But at least a few Democrats thought their party could not shun such tactics entirely if others were going to continue to use them.
Sen. Doug Jones on Thursday called for a federal probe into allegations that online disinformation tactics were used against his opponent during last year’s Alabama special election, which Jones narrowly won over Republican Roy Moore.
Jones (D-Ala.) compared the tactics to those deployed by Russia during and after the 2016 election.
“What is obvious now is that we have focused so much on Russia that we haven’t focused on the fact that people in this country could take the same playbook and do the same damn thing,”
The allegations stem from news reports, first in The Washington Post on Tuesday, in which researcher Jonathon Morgan acknowledged creating a misleading Facebook page targeting conservative voters in Alabama and also buying retweets to test his ability to provide “lift” for social media messages. Politico first reported on Jones’s comments... Morgan told The Post that he created a Facebook page for conservatives because he was hoping to mimic existing disinformation operations
The week before Christmas may go down as the strangest and most revealing of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Over just a few days, his sheer
- venality and
were laid bare. But it was also a time for Trumpian good deeds that allowed us a glimpse at how he might have governed if he had been shrewder — and had a genuine interest in the good that government can do.
.. Let’s start with his display of gangsterism and utter indifference to the law in a tweet Sunday calling his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “Rat” for telling the truth about various matters, including his dealings with Russia to build a Trump tower in Moscow and the president’s payoffs before the 2016 election to hide his alleged sexual conduct.
“Rat,” as many have pointed out, is a legendary organized-crime epithet, and we really are gazing at something like the Trump Family Syndicate. On Tuesday, the New York state attorney general, Barbara Underwood, forced the closure of the Donald J. Trump Foundation for what she described as “a shocking pattern of illegality.” She said the foundation functioned “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”
And, yes, this was an all-in-the-family thing. The foundation’s board consistedof Trump himself, his three adult children and the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg. Incidentally, if you wonder why Trump hates the media so much, consider that it was the painstaking work of The Post’s David Fahrenthold that first blew the lid off Trump’s scamming disguised as charity.
.. But that wasn’t all. Two reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee made it abundantly clear that Trump was Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate in 2016 — and remained Putin’s guy after he won.
This is a key civil rights issue of our time. (Voting rights is another, and on this problem Trump is pushing entirely in the wrong direction.) The long sentences the new law would roll back hit African Americans the hardest. That’s particularly true of the disparity in the treatment of crack and powder cocaine sellers that the legislation would mitigate.
It’s often observed that Trump has few discernible political principles. A problem in many respects, this did give Trump enormous flexibility when he came into office. What if he had governed in other areas with the same eye toward bipartisan agreement that led him to criminal-justice reform?
Imagine a big infrastructure bill or a far less regressive approach to tax reform. Democrats would have been hard-pressed not to work with him. Instead, Trump just kept dividing us and stoking his base. He lazily went along with traditional conservatives on taxes and corporate lobbyists in the regulatory sphere because governing was never really the point. And now, he is reaping the whirlwind.
We have also identified more than 400 websites that our analysis indicates are likely to be Russian propaganda outlets aimed at American audiences. More than 100 of these websites we have confirmed as under the direction of the Russian government or we believe to be Russian with a very high degree of confidence.
In the month of October alone, we tracked 110,000 social media posts that referenced a United States midterm candidate, topic or hashtag and contained a link to one of these websites. More than 10,000 of these posts contained a link to one of the websites we have either confirmed as Russian-directed or believe to be Russian with a very high degree of confidence.
The top three websites linked to these social media posts are the site of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network (5,275 links); The Duran, a right-wing news and opinion site (1,328 links); and Sputnik, a news and commentary site run by the Russian government (1,148 links).
.. We have also identified 1,451 social media posts aimed specifically at midterm voters from social media accounts assessed with high confidence as belonging directly to Russian influence operations. These posts are largely focused on
- the geopolitics of the Middle East,
- the Saudi-assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the
- Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.
.. Last month, the most-shared article of known Russian origin for the month on Twitter was an article from The Duran purporting to show how groups financed by the billionaire Democratic fund-raiser George Soros “plotted with Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to eliminate conservative ‘right wing propaganda.’”.. The Russia-linked social media accounts were active during the Kavanaugh hearings,
- drawing attention to sexual and domestic abuse allegations against various 2018 Democratic candidates and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. They have been
- amplifying anti-immigrant sentiment, including conspiracy theories about the caravan of migrants in Central America, and have
- promoted the idea that the mail-bomb campaign of the Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc Jr. was a Democratic plot.
.. we estimate that at least hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of United States citizens have engaged with the content of Russian propaganda online... The consensus among academic researchers and Russia experts in the intelligence community is that Russia does not take a timeout from information battles. It considers itself to be in a constant state of information warfare. Its online influence operations are inexpensive and effective, and afford Russia an asymmetric advantage given the freedoms of expression afforded to Western democracies.
There is no right to bear arms in Russia, and under this regime there never will be. According to court papers, Butina nevertheless convinced some naive members of the National Rifle Associationthat she was a genuine activist. In doing so, she gained access to their world.
.. They were both seeking to assist political movements they believed to be pro-Kremlin (the Communist Party of the 1930s; the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party of the 2010s). They were both backed by Kremlin money, diverted through cutouts (the Communist International, in the former instance; a couple of Russian oligarchs, allegedly, in the latter).
.. Butina, even if considering only her role as an open, pro-Kremlin activist, also has many counterparts, agents of influence who are openly agitating for Russian interests, now on the far-right edge of Western politics instead of the far-left.
- Gianluca Savoini, the leader of the enigmatic Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, seems to perform a similar role in Italian politics, even showing up recently as a member of an official Italian government delegation to Moscow.
- Bela Kovacs , a Hungarian member of the European Parliament, is on trial in Budapest on a charge of spying on European Union institutions on behalf of Russia.
.. they too are part of a long-term project, though it’s not a proletarian revolution. Instead, it’s a kleptocratic coup d’état: The modern Kremlin project seeks to undermine Western democracies, break up the E.U. and NATO, and put corrupt relationships rather than the rule of law at the center of international commerce.
.. it’s worth remembering why Golos and his network failed. In large part,
- it was because the center-left — especially the anti-Soviet wing of the American trade union movement — rejected Soviet-style communism in the United States. It’s also because,
- in the 1940s and 1950s, the American political establishment, Democratic and Republican, unified around the need to defeat Soviet-style communism in Europe. And it’s because,
- even in the depths of the Depression, the majority of Americans were never beguiled by the appeal of authoritarianism.
.. A wing of the Republican Party is preparing to double down and support the Russian autocracy, which it believes, mistakenly, is “Christian.”
.. To push back against them, as well as their equivalents from the rest of the autocratic world, we will need not only to catch the odd agent but also to
- make our political funding systems more transparent, to
- write new laws banning shell companies and money laundering, and to
- end the manipulation of social media.
It took more than a generation for Americans to reject the temptations of communist authoritarianism; it will take more than a generation before we have defeated kleptocratic authoritarianism too — if we still can.