On Saturday evening in Valdosta, Georgia, as President Donald Trump was once again undermining faith in U.S. democracy by spreading baseless conspiracy theories to thousands of maskless supporters, a group of workers was busy ensuring those very same lies would resonate with attendees long after they left the rally.
The workers were distributing physical copies of the Epoch Times, a Falun Gong-funded newspaper that’s been one of the loudest supporters of the Trump campaign’s misinformation.
The workers unloaded a truckload of newspapers, then handed them out to Trump fans and put them on the windshields of cars parked at the rally.
Among the delights that readers had to look forward to inside the paper was an op-ed from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, with the headline: “The thieves who stole our election got sloppy.”
Using Trump rallies as a way to boost readership is just one part of the Epoch Times’ strategy to insinuate itself into right-wing circles.
The paper is also being delivered by hand to people’s mailboxes across the U.S., and reporters from the Epoch Times and its network of affiliates are a constant presence at the “Stop the Steal” rallies held across the country in recent weeks.
Like One America News Network and Newsmax, Epoch Times is among a growing list of media outlets that are favored by the Trump campaign over the mainstream media and former favorites, such as Fox News.
The reason is that Epoch Times, like OAN and Newsmax, is willing to continue spreading the lie that the result of the presidential election is still in doubt.
As a result, the Trump campaign is giving Epoch Times special access. The Washington Post reported that reporters from the Epoch Times and One America News were among the only outlets with access to Georgia's election “hearing” last Thursday.
The newspaper began life as a tiny publication pushing an anti-China message and promoting the Falun Gong, a secretive and relatively obscure Chinese spiritual movement that was persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party.
But in 2016, the publication pivoted to become a rabidly pro-Trump outlet, in part thanks to Trump’s strongly anti-China stance. At the same time, Epoch Times embraced social media in a big way, to build a massive online audience, and not always organically.
They built an audience by recycling positive news articles and posting viral videos. However, once it had built its audience, it began churning out pro-Trump disinformation and looked to convert its followers into paid subscribers.
But, after spending more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements on Facebook last year, the publication was banned from buying ads on the social network for failing to reveal that it was itself behind the ad campaign — which features many ads that promoted conspiracy theories about Trump’s opponents.
Today, the Epoch Times is not a single publication but a sprawling network of affiliates that publish and broadcast in over 20 languages across the globe.
The reason for the Epoch Times’ renewed push to promote Trump and his conspiracy theories is the publishers know that a Biden presidency is likely to be much less hostile toward Beijing.
“They don’t judge Mr. Trump on his domestic policies but view him as a vehicle for their China hopes,” Rui Zhong, a researcher at the Washington-based Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, told the Wall Street Journal.
And it is unsurprising to see the Epoch Times double down on its pro-Trump stance, given its efforts to date have yielded significant successes. They’ve included a statement in July from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marking the 21st anniversary of China’s persecution of the Falun Gong and another supportive statement just last week:
But there’s a more dangerous edge to the content pushed by the Epoch Times group, which in the past has boosted QAnon conspiracy theories.
Ahead of a live stream of Trump’s rally in Georgia on Saturday night, NTD America, an affiliate of Epoch Times, broadcast Trump supporters calling for “civil war” to save the country from the “satanic” and “communist” Democrats who are stealing the election.