In a bizarre twist to the domestic politics of both the United States and China, a Falun Gong–linked newspaper has emerged as one of the staunchest defenders of Donald Trump’s presidency.
In recent weeks, the newspaper — offered for free in most US cities and published around the world — has published articles and graphics that would be a credit to Breitbart, promoting some of the most strident and paranoid claims from the Trump administration and its defenders.
In one tour de force infographic, published last week, the paper laid out in excruciating and sweeping detail the claim that “Spygate” — the claim that the real heart of the Russia investigation is illegal American spying on Trump’s campaign — is “the biggest political scandal in modern history.”
A section devoted entirely to the Trump presidency on the Epoch Times’ website is remarkably free of the scandals that have plagued the administration since before the president was sworn in. Instead, the stories include a photo essay on a recent Trump rally in Montana, an “Angel Mom’s” push for the president to seal the border with Mexico, and Trump’s call for Sen. Elizabeth Warren to apologize after her DNA test last week. Other political stories show a clear nod to Trump’s base, including one with the headline “Democrat Operative for Soros-Funded Group Arrested for Assaulting Republican Campaign Manager.”
The site’s opinion section offers an even clearer stance on Trump’s time in office — often written by authors without much in the way of clout. “Our leftist media describes the Trump presidency as tumultuous — a construct they have manufactured, one that doesn’t exist,” one article claims. Another chides the media’s coverage of the Brett Kavanaugh saga, noting that “[l]ike Trump, Kavanaugh was depicted as the nominee of white male privilege and ‘toxic masculinity,’ a beer-swilling Deplorable and an avatar of creeping authoritarianism.” Even in pieces that don’t directly deal with Trump — like one that argues that the endgame of climate change advocacy is socialism — the administration's line holds.
“Being independent, we investigate issues overlooked — or avoided — by other media outlets,” Jan Jekielek, a senior editor with the Epoch Times, told BuzzFeed News in an emailed response to questions about the paper’s editorial stance. “We do this because we believe journalism must play the role of being truly responsible to society. We aim to highlight solutions and what’s good in society, including in our reporting on the Trump administration, rather than focusing on the conflicts that divide us.”
Part of that mission, it seems, involves including a story praising the new movie from Diamond and Silk, who are Trump supporters and social media stars, among the Editor’s Picks section of the website. (The movie has been almost entirely overlooked by everyone but right-wing press.) The byline of that article is credited to “Epoch Times Staff.” It also includes publishing an article — written by an author of “Nobody Asked For My Opinion … But Here It Is Anyway!” — claiming that the media has “hidden” a key part of the Jamal Khashoggi disappearance story.
When asked about the infographic, Jekielek said the Epoch Times “stand[s] behind the findings of the infographic and accompanying article, which provide a factual analysis of individuals and events, along with extensive sourcing and references for anyone to independently verify.”
After this article's publication, editor-in-chief Jasper Fakkert published a letter to the Epoch Times' readers to "offer a few thoughts" about the paper's editorial approach.
"Whether one agrees with the policies of the Trump administration or not, there is no denying that President Donald Trump’s presidency is transforming America," Fakkert wrote. "This is something that most Americans genuinely care about."
"We see the Trump administration’s efforts to change socialist policies in America, as well as set policies to counter infiltration and subversion by China, as remarkable reversals from past policies, and sincere efforts that, if fully realized, will benefit America and the world as a whole," Fakkert continued.
When viewing the open letter, a feature on the website caused the page to continue to load more content after Fakkert's conclusion, rolling over to a new article: "Never Trumpers Learn: Resistance Is Futile"
The shift at the Epoch Times seems to have flown under the radar. Until recently, it may have been best known for its links to Falun Gong, a movement that China labeled a “cult” in the 1990s following several mass demonstrations — and has been outlawed in the country since 1999. Members have claimed brutal repression by the government, up to and including reports of “organ harvesting,” in the years since.
But the Epoch Times — which is little discussed, despite its ubiquity on New York street corner boxes — appears to have been intensely focused on courting Trump for most of this year. In April, publisher Stephen Gregory and Fakkert co-bylined an interview with an obscure Republican running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The candidate claimed a friend of Trump’s had said “Donald Trump reads [the Epoch Times] every day and it’s the one newspaper that he believes to be a truthful and correct paper. … It’s the only one he trusts.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the president’s reading habits.
The Epoch Times’ owners and management have denied direct links to Falun Gong. "The paper's not owned by Falun Gong. It doesn't speak for Falun Gong. It doesn't represent Falun Gong. It does cover the persecution of Falun Gong in China," Gregory has said in the past.
But during a 2006 incident an Epoch Times–credentialed reporter shouted at then-president George W. Bush during a visit from then-president Hu Jintao. The reporter specifically asked Bush to “stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong."
Gregory has himself written several articles in the last year about Falun Gong events.
The exact logic behind the newspaper’s recent promotion of Trump is unclear, but it may be connected to the administration’s current feud with Beijing over trade. As ties between the Trump administration and China have deteriorated, the Epoch Times has ramped up its rhetoric against Trump’s enemies, foreign and domestic. Founded in 2000 as a way to “provide uncensored news to a people immersed in propaganda and censorship in China,” aligning itself with the Trump White House’s attempts to curtail China’s rise would make sense for the paper.
Fakkert, in his open letter, noted that soon after the paper's founder, John Tang, launched the Epoch Times, several of its reporters inside China were jailed. "We have been committed from the beginning to getting the truth out under difficult circumstances, and this is and will forever be part of our DNA," Fakkert wrote.
"We see the CCP’s persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, and the remarkable and heroic ways in which they have responded to that persecution, as one of the most underreported stories of the last 20 years," Fakkert continued.
Ming Xia, a professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, told the Washington Post that Falun Gong is “eager to win political recognition from high-level officials in the United States eager to win political recognition from high-level officials in the United States.”
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lately, the paper made it into the headlines again when one of its photographers handed President Trump an envelope during an event at the White House last month. It’s still unclear exactly what the envelope contained.