Beware, “The Epoch Times” are here … and there, and everywhere

(An earlier version of this opinion piece appeared in the Halifax Examiner “Morning File” of January 15, 2021.)

The “sample copy” of the newspaper landed innocently enough in our house.

On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, Canada Post delivered a “complimentary” issue of  The Epoch Times right to our door in rural northern Nova Scotia.

It came with a “limited-time offer” for a special subscription deal to what looked – if one knew no better – like a normal newspaper.

I was one of those, unaware that in the past year, investigative journalists had revealed The Epoch Times  to be a “shamelessly pro-Trump paper,” and a “global propaganda machine” that offers a “mix of alternative facts and conspiracy theories that has won it far-right acolytes around the world.”

A 2017 study in Germany found that The Epoch Times “disseminates antidemocratic false news and conspiracy theories, incites hatred against migrants and indirectly advertises for the AfD,” the country’s far-right political party.

Yet the masthead of the newspaper makes The Epoch Times sound benign as a newborn babe, a paper that stays “outside of political interests,” and is “dedicated to seeking the truth through insightful and independent journalism.”

Recipients of the free copy are invited to take advantage of a “$1 first month trial offer.” The “best deal” subscription is six months at $3.43 a week, or $89 plus tax. Subscribers get a weekly paper with 40 pages in four sections.

The Epoch Times, says the masthead, has readers in 36 countries and 22 languages, with a  Canadian English version that has been operating for 16 years, with a “loyal readership” in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton.

As for its origins, it says only that it was founded in 2000 by “Chinese expats in North America.”

As I said, benign.

Or so the mysterious people behind The Epoch Times would have us believe.

Dig a little, however, and the paper looks anything but benign.

The epic – and possibly apocalyptic – ambitions of The Epoch Times

Last year NBC News reported at length about The Epoch Times, noting that:

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.

I scoured the pages of the sample copy and found no mention of the cult-like Chinese spiritual organization, Falun Gong, which is reportedly behind The Epoch Times and its related media outlets. You can read all about those in the excellent article by Simon van Zuylen-Wood published this week in The Atlantic, “MAGA-land’s Favorite Newspaper: How The Epoch Times became a pro-Trump propaganda machine in an age of plague and insurrection.”

According to van Zuylen-Wood, The Epoch Times “was founded in 2000 by John Tang, an Atlanta-based follower of the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong,” a movement that now:

…claims to have millions of adherents, encourages believers to abandon lust, greed, alcohol, and other worldly “attachments.” Some of the more unusual characteristics of its outlook include a distrust of medical doctors and a belief in malevolent, Earth-roaming aliens who created impious technology (such as video games). In 1999, the Chinese government concluded that Falun Gong was growing too popular. Beijing labeled the movement a cult and suppressed it. But Falun Gong flourished abroad among the Chinese diaspora, and its teachings took on a fervent anti-Communist bent.

And, van Zuylen-Wood writes:

The newspaper, whose revenues have quadrupled in the Trump years, has used every opportunity to call Biden’s victory into doubt. It has interviewed promoters of election-related falsehoods ad nauseam and eagerly publicized the January 6 Trump rally that turned into an insurrection at the Capitol. Even after the violence of January 6, The Epoch Times has continued to publicize doubts about the outcome of the presidential election. One of its columnists postulated that the riot was a “false flag” operation.

In 2019, NBC also reported on how Facebook had helped fuel the rise of The Epoch Times, and described the newspaper as the biggest advocate of Trump on Facebook, having spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements between March and August 2019.

According to NBC, The Epoch Times’ “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.”

Epoch Times have come …. to many of us

Well, it looks as if that “mainstream” The Epoch Times wants to reach stretches right across Canada.

It turns out I wasn’t the only one in the province of Nova Scotia, or even in Canada, who received the newspaper this week, lurking inside the mail pile.

Far, far from it.

Many Facebook friends – and their friends – report having received the same unwelcome newspaper in their mailboxes or driveways.

Using those Facebook reports, I’ve cobbled together a very preliminary list of places in Canada where people say they’ve been hit by The Epoch Times this week.

In Nova Scotia, I’ve heard Canada Post was delivering copies in Amherst, Antigonish, Parrsboro, Truro, and in Halifax, Hants, Kings and Pictou counties.

In response to a tweet that Tim Bousquet, Halifax Examiner founder, publisher and investigative reporter, sent about The Epoch Times on January 15, there were more reports of it showing up in Fall River, Lower Sackville, Musquodoboit Harbour, Cape Breton, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

I’ve also been told it landed in the Okanagan Valley in BC, Red Deer and Edmonton in Alberta, in rural Manitoba and in the capital, Winnipeg, as well as in Toronto and Ottawa.

So, a trans-Canada dump.

Which means that untold thousands of people – or hundreds of thousands, or many more, who knows? – are being exposed to some very slick propaganda disguising itself as “independent” journalism.

The same may well be happening in countries around the world, as The Epoch Times has reportedly been extraordinarily successful in fuelling the far right in Europe in recent years.  But this latest carpet-bombing in Canada certainly suggests that those behind The Epoch Times have epic ambitions of spreading far-right conservatism and conspiracy theories in this country.

This is by no means the first time that Canada Post has delivered The Epoch Times – uninvited – to Canadian homes.

In 2020, CBC reported that a postal workers union local in Toronto had complained about the delivery of a “special coronavirus edition of The Epoch Times,” which claimed it should be called the “CPP virus” after the Chinese communist party. The federal government then declined a request from the union local that Canada Post stop delivering the paper, saying that The Epoch Times didn’t meet the criminal threshold for hate speech.

In these post-truth times – and the age of QAnon conspiracy theories so far-fetched that it beggars  belief that anyone can possibly believe them – times that that I am trying very, very, very hard to believe will end post-Trump, it is hardly surprising that The Epoch Times has no problem presenting itself as the opposite of what it actually is, and expecting that people will fall for their alternate version of reality.

Take this awe-inspiring claim it makes in small print in the special subscription offer:

The Epoch Times is a bastion of hope in this age of misinformation. Honest news like it used to be – no spin, no hidden agendas. Give it a try, and see what a newspaper based on truth and tradition feels like.

Gag me with a spoon, or anything you can find.

Inside the sample issue, we are treated to articles conflating Canada’s Liberal government with the Chinese communist party, and to a double-page spread showing the “infiltration” of international organizations and agencies by Chinese representatives – as if other governments of other countries don’t also have representatives at those international organizations and agencies.

There is even an Oped by Canada’s Conrad Black that I can’t tell you about because – my apologies – I just can’t force myself to read it, having already gagged enough.

On page 9, there is an opinion piece by Ryan Moffat, described as a “journalist based in Vancouver,” who writes about the “destructive fallout of male emasculation.” Moffat basically says that because it is no longer socially acceptable for boys and men to be horribly violent, aggressive and destructive bullies, they are being horribly violent, aggressive and destructive bullies because that is their nature, and shame on us for being so hard on them and for expecting them – from time to time – to face the consequences for their actions.

I am taking deep breaths and keeping the spoon at bay, so I can get through typing this next bit of Moffat’s piece:

Manhood was once a term that encompassed responsibility, stoicism, honour and strength. There was an inherent nobility that characterized the idealized man – a self-sacrificing meta hero who could overcome hardship while adhering to a moral code.

Sigh.

Fomenting Sinophobia

There is a great deal to criticize about the Chinese regime.

I’ve done a fair bit of that myself, in writing about what China is doing on the African continent, scooping up resources, causing massive environmental destruction, building mega-projects that benefit Chinese investors, and plunging entire nations into unpayable debt, much like the Western countries have done for centuries, ever since the first Europeans made their way to Africa to exploit and despoil.

But The Epoch Times coverage of China veers into the hysterical, over-the-top fear-mongering, which does nothing but foment Sinophobia and xenophobia. And it has totally lost the plot by moving into paranoid screeds about socialism leading to communism, and by promoting conspiracy theories that would be laughable were they not so dangerous.

QAnon conspiracy theorists were prominent at the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill, and in the past two years, some QAnons have taken online conspiratorial delusions to the streets, in real attacks on real people, as the Halifax Examiner reported here.

The Epoch Times claims to be North America’s “fastest growing newspaper” – which, if true, is ominous. But perhaps it’s not surprising.

As far-right groups, white supremacists, and conspiracy theorists lose their vast platforms and echo chambers on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and with their alternative platform Parler now offline, they will be looking for new and welcoming outlets to spread their regressive ideas and hatred.

The Epoch Times certainly seems a fitting venue for them, ready to fill that bill.

Saved for the next “great toilet paper shortage”

Many Canadians who received the newspaper this week, however, have other ideas about what The Epoch Times is good for.

On social media, one person said it was a great “fire starter” (she meant literally, and not politically and socially). Others said they found it made a great liner for their bird cage, or the compost bin, or the kitty litter box.

Someone bemoaned the “trees lost” in making that newspaper.

Another said she would save it for the outhouse, when the next “great toilet paper shortage hits…but I may have to store it outside somewhere the vibes are so bad.”

One woman said she put it back in her mailbox, and wrote on it “Far Right Propaganda – Return To Sender.”

Still, a few people commented on Facebook that they found it “refreshing” and some said they planned to subscribe.

And that, to me, is very bad news indeed – as depressing as the right-wing propaganda and conspiracy theories that fill the pages of The Epoch Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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