Epoch Times wields one of the biggest social media followings of any news outlet.
[Editor’s Note: This otherwise great article makes a fundamental linguistic mistake. It repeatedly refers to Falun Gong as a “spiritual” group, sect, practice or movement. Let’s get clear about something: Falun Gong is a dangerous and deceptive cult. Too often media is careless with language and in the process miss essential elements of important stories. With its growing destructive influence the Epoch Times is wielding, proper terminology is essential . — Mark L. Taylor]
By Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins
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.
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.
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. …