MAGA-LAND’S FAVORITE NEWSPAPER
How The Epoch Times became a pro-Trump propaganda machine in an age of plague and insurrection
The rural hamlet of Cuddebackville, New York, is home to a guru named Li Hongzhi, who calls his 427-acre compound Dragon Springs. At the center of the compound—a kind of timber frame Shangri-la—stands a massive replica of a Tang Dynasty temple. On March 19, 2020, Li wrote a message to his disciples titled “Rationality.”
The message was about COVID-19, which was by then crippling New York City, 80 miles to the southeast. “Plagues and pestilence, by their very nature, are arranged by the Gods,” Li began. “When humans become corrupt in their hearts, they will generate karma, fall sick, and suffer calamities.”
Li gradually worked up to his point, referring to the Chinese Communist Party by its initials: The pandemic “has come with a purpose and with a target. It has come to eliminate the followers of the evil Party and those who go along with the evil CCP.” As a remedy, Li suggested a kind of social distancing:
“At present, the hardest-hit countries are those that associate closely with the evil CCP, and the same goes for individuals. So, what can be done? Stay away from the evil CCP and don’t align with the evil Party.”
A few months later, in July, I was clicking around on YouTube when something predictable happened: An ad popped up for the weirdly ubiquitous Epoch Times. Equally predictably, the ad starred a thin man with a hint of an Eastern European accent. He was enthusiastically leafing through the print edition of the newspaper, pointing at articles.
When people stumble upon The Epoch Times, they usually find it through ads like this one, which in 2019 blanketed Facebook and have now migrated largely to YouTube. The pitchman—his name is Roman Balmakov, he’s 30, he went to high school in Ohio—is more recognizable than any of the publication’s writers. Read more…