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Thread: FALUN GONG/Falun Dafa

  1. #1396
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    Shen Yun

    You've seen the ads. But what's the deal with Shen Yun?
    By Alix Martichoux, SFGATE Updated 1:24 pm PST, Saturday, December 22, 2018


    Photo: NewTang Dynasty TV
    Photos provided by Shen Yun Performing Arts show a portion of the dance show.

    Unless you live under a rock, you've probably seen a billboard or heard dozens of ads for Shen Yun Performing Arts.

    In the Bay Area, people are so used to seeing the ads on TV and on the sides of buses come December, people even joke winter should be renamed "Shen Yun season." Since I started writing this article about two minutes ago, I've already seen a Shen Yun spot run on KTVU.

    Jonathan Kauffman

    @jonkauffman
    San Francisco seasons, 2017-2018:
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    Rain If We're Lucky

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    But what is it? The answer is a little complicated.

    Shen Yun bills itself as "the world's premier classical Chinese dance and music company." They have performances in 93 cities around the country, from Billings, Mont., to Little Rock, Ark., to three Bay Area locations. The dress code suggests you might want to wear a tuxedo or evening gown since you're "in for a special treat." If you buy a ticket to a show (which run from $80 to $400 in San Francisco), you can expect two hours of traditional Chinese dance accompanied by a live orchestra.

    And if you're to believe Shen Yun's own advertisements, you'll get so much more. The hyperbolic 2018 ad promises the performance will "move you to tears" and change how you see the world.



    The former minister of culture of the Czech Republic is quoted in the advertisement calling it "truly a touch of heaven."

    But (surprise, surprise), the ads may be overselling it a bit.

    Some people who go to the show complain they didn't know what they were in for. Because nowhere in the effusive advertisements is it mentioned that Shen Yun has a political bent. Shen Yun translates to "divine rhythm," and according to the show's website, the artists who put on Shen Yun practice Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a belief system that encompasses meditation, tai chi-type exercises, and "strict morality" (smoking, alcohol, and extramarital or same-sex sexual relations go against the teachings).

    A 2017 Guardian article by Nicholas Hune-Brown describes one part of the show:

    The curtain rose on a group of young students sitting in peace, meditating and reading oversized yellow Falun Gong books. The dancers performed elaborately pantomimed good deeds – helping an old woman with a cane, chasing down a woman who had dropped her purse. But when one unveiled a Falun Gong banner, suddenly a trio of men wearing black tunics emblazoned with a red hammer-and-sickle entered. The communist thugs began beating people up, clubbing and kicking innocent Falun Gong followers.

    Scenes like that didn't sit well with all viewers.

    The Fresno Bee's arts writer Donald Munro saw Shen Yun in 2016, and called the show "a beautiful and odd production that veers wildly between two extremes: delicate artistic excellence on one hand and a brusque, heavy-handed effort to inculcate political and spiritual viewpoints on the other."

    Many people posting reviews on Yelp weren't as eloquent.

    "Be warned: Religious sermon!" reads a Yelp review from someone who saw the show in Fresno. "I WALKED OUT as soon as anti-evolution statements were made on the screen. False advertising!"

    "I rate this a Zero star. This show is purely CULT PROPAGANDA. Do not waste your money and time for this," said Ron F. from Pittsburg, Calif.

    The Chinese government is not a fan either. The practice of Falun Gong is forbidden in China and its members are routinely persecuted. In condemning the "so-called 'Shen Yun'" performance, the embassy's website calls Falun Gong a "...cult that seriously harms the society and violates human rights, and is a cancer in the body of the modern and civilized society."

    The Guardian reports "there's no evidence of the kind of coercive control that the label suggests." Besides, it's not like the Chinese government has a stellar human rights record. According to Shen Yun's website, many of the dance company's members were persecuted and tortured for practicing Falun Gong in China.

    Falun Gong started as a form of exercise in 1992. Followers would gather in public spaces to do qigong, which combines slow movements and meditation. Falun Gong combined those physical practices with spirituality and Taoist moral principles. In the late 90s, as Falun Gong gained steam and millions of followers, the Chinese Communist Party may have felt threatened by its size and popularity, so it cracked down. Thousands of practitioners were imprisoned or in some cases tortured. The founder, Li Hongzhi, now lives in New York.

    Multiple attempts to speak with a Shen Yun spokesperson, by phone and by email, for this story were unsuccessful.

    Love it or hate it, Shen Yun has provoked some strong opinions. Here's a selection of Yelp reviews of Shen Yun's Bay Ares shows.

    For many disgruntled Shen Yun attendees, it's not necessarily that the show itself is bad — though to be fair, some complain it is. Most of the negative reviews were people upset they were blindsided by the political content.

    According to Shen Yun's website, it's an "experience like no other." And on that note, it appears pretty much everyone agrees.
    If you live in the SF Bay Area, the inundation of Shen Yun ads is ridiculous, bigger than any promotion right now. They got major bank for that kind of advertising blitz.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
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  2. #1397
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    More on Shen Yun

    I guess San Antonio sees this a little differently.

    Immerse Yourself in Chinese Culture at the Shen Yun Performance at the Tobin
    Posted By Bryan Rindfuss on Wed, Dec 26, 2018 at 10:04 am


    Courtesy of Shen Yun Performing Arts

    Dichotomies and conflicts abound in the contested world of Shen Yun, a New York-based outfit with a mission “to use performing arts to revive the essence of Chinese culture — traditionally considered a divinely inspired civilization.” For starters, the organization, which comprises five separate companies of roughly 40 dancers, each accompanied by live orchestras fusing Eastern and Western sounds, aims to preserve ancient Chinese traditions while performing in front of digitized scenery that’s been likened to everything from video-game graphics to IMAX movies.

    Far more important is the fact that Shen Yun is essentially the cultural arm of Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa), a movement that arose from China’s “qigong boom” of the 1990s only to morph from a movement/breathing-based concept into a spiritual practice that’s ferociously condemned (and officially banned) by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a dangerous cult. Add to this equation that enigmatic, U.S.-based Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi has spoken publicly about alien invasions and his followers’ levitation abilities and it’s not surprising that folks often draw comparisons to the absurdities of scientology. Unwittingly, the CCP’s ongoing war with Falun Gong and Shen Yun — which runs the gamut from imprisonment and torture to global interference and the cancellation of performances — has inspired sympathy from Westerners and sparked Shen Yun to assume a more political stance.

    As a result, Shen Yun now addresses the persecution of Falun Gong followers in routines based on human-rights abuses and the criminalization of meditation. Further muddying the waters, Li has taken measures to separate the cash cow that is Shen Yun from Falun Gong — at its core a conservative entity that’s opposed to ****sexuality and premarital sex.

    Unsurprisingly, the majority of these details go largely unnoticed at Shen Yun’s frequently sold-out shows, where exhaustively trained dancers and acrobats move in pitch-perfect unison, gliding (levitating?) effortlessly through the air in elegant costumes adorned with yards of billowing fabric.




    $83.50-$183.50, 7:30pm Fri Dec. 28, 2pm & 7pm Sat Dec. 29, 1pm Sun Dec. 30, Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle, (210) 223-8624, tobincenter.org.
    Gene Ching
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  3. #1398
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    Real Bodies...


    ‘Real Bodies’ in UK anatomical exhibition could be executed Chinese prisoners, says doctor

    The 20 skinless bodies, sourced via Dalian Medical University, have prompted calls for an investigation
    The Guardian
    Published: 12:47pm, 9 Aug, 2018


    Human remains are seen at the “Real Bodies” exhibition in Sydney, Australia, in April. The travelling anatomical show is currently in Birmingham in Britain. Photo: EPA

    The bodies of 20 people featured in a UK museum exhibition could be those of Chinese prisoners once detained in labour camps, and recipients of the death penalty in China, according to a leading doctor.
    The Real Bodies exhibition, currently at the Birmingham NEC, publicly displays the skinless preserved Chinese bodies. But there are now calls for an investigation into their identities and cause of death to be held while they are in the UK.
    The bodies were provided to the event organisers, Imagine Exhibitions, through the Dalian Medical University in China.
    Campaigner Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at City Hospital Birmingham, said that the university’s facilities in the city of Dalian were within driving distance of labour and prison camps.


    An attendant cleans an exhibit at the “Real Bodies” anatomical show in Sydney, in April. The travelling show is currently in Birmingham in Britain. Photo: EPA
    I have huge questions about why all these unclaimed bodies come from Dalian in sizeable numbers and how many bodies Imagine Exhibitions have actually got
    Dr David Nicholl, City Hospital Birmingham
    Coupled with the large number of bodies of the same age and gender, and the lack of any identity information, Nicholl suspects the bodies could be those of executed inmates.
    “I have huge questions about why all these unclaimed bodies come from Dalian in sizeable numbers and how many bodies Imagine Exhibitions have actually got,” he said.
    “My own registrar went to this exhibition. I asked him to note down the gender and age of the bodies. They are all young men – none of them are elderly, which I have to say is pretty suspicious given that there are a number of labour camps within a matter of hours’ drive of Dalian.
    “If you look at these exhibitions they are never gender balanced – it’s always largely men. Most people who die, die when they’re older, so to have an exhibition like this is really suspicious.”
    Nicholl says event organisers were never given consent by individuals or their families for the bodies to be used.
    “I think the public are being conned,” he said.
    “Why are we having exhibitions like this in this country if they can’t prove consent?”
    Israel banned the exhibition in 2012 in a decision taken by judges in the Israeli Supreme Court, said Nicholl.


    Human remains are seen at the “Real Bodies” exhibition in Sydney, Australia, in April. The travelling anatomical show is currently in Birmingham in Britain. Photo: EPA
    I refuse to entertain these ridiculous accusations without a shred of evidence to back these baseless claims
    Tom Zaller, president of Imagine Exhibitions
    US investigative reporter and author Ethan Gutmann also alleges that the bodies in the exhibition could be political prisoners who practised Falun Gong, a religion banned in China in the late 90s.
    This move is thought to have resulted in thousands of people being imprisoned and executed in labour camps.
    Gutmann believes that one of the places bodies of persecuted people may have been taken to was Dalian Medical University, as it is in the same province as Masanjia labour camp, one of the largest camps in China “specialising in Falun Gong”.
    “It’s a crime against humanity,” he said.
    “Several hundred thousand people were executed purely for being Falun Gong and you have a company which is potentially sending evidence all over the world.”
    Nicholl and Guttman are among the doctors, human rights activists, MPs and Lords who have signed a letter to Theresa May stating that the exhibition should be shut down.
    Guttman says he hopes the specimens will be DNA tested.
    “The DNA can be extracted and used to prove relations,” he said. “If we make some matches, we can identify family lines and you could ask them, do you have a missing person?
    “People in England have a right to know what they are seeing and people in China have a right to know what happened to their loved ones.”


    Human remains are seen at the “Real Bodies” exhibition in Sydney, Australia, in April. The travelling anatomical show is currently in Birmingham in Britain. Photo: EPA

    The Dalian Medical University released a statement in response saying: “All of these specimens are unclaimed bodies and are legally authorised to be received by the city morgue.
    “The specimens that are being presented in Real Bodies: The Exhibition were originally received from the city morgue and then transferred to medical universities in China and ultimately were legally donated to Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique Laboratory for preservation, dissection and exhibition.”
    The statement rejected allegations that the specimens died of unnatural causes, detailing that following inspection “there is absolutely no evidence” that they “received trauma or physical abuse associated with torture, execution or other violent injury”.
    The president of Imagine Exhibitions, Tom Zaller, called the suspicions about the bodies “fake news”.
    “I refuse to entertain these ridiculous accusations without a shred of evidence to back these baseless claims,” he said.
    The exhibition includes more than 200 human organs, foetuses and body parts, also sourced from China, and has already been viewed by millions around the world.

    This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: bodies on show ‘could be executed prisoners’
    THREADS
    Where Shaolin Promoters hide the bodies...
    FALUN GONG/Falun Dafa
    Gene Ching
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  4. #1399
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    fake

    Dec 21, 2019 Ξ
    Hundreds of fake Facebook profiles tied to Epoch Times
    posted by Randall



    Facebook Friday removed hundreds of accounts generated by the Epoch Times which included profile photos produced using artificial intelligence, reported the New York Times.

    The Epoch Times is backed by the Falon Gong and tied to disinformation campaigns with a pro-Trump bias.

    “This was a large, brazen network that had multiple layers of fake accounts and automation that systematically posted content with two ideological focuses: support of Donald Trump and opposition to the Chinese government,” Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said to the New York Times.

    It featured the fake news Trump likes to rail about except of course when it benefits him. The Epoch Media group denied to the New York Times that it is behind the accounts removed by Facebook and claimed Facebook did not contact it.

    The Epoch Media Group acknowledged some of its former employees are involved with the banned accounts, but said that is not evidence of a connection.

    According to Fast Company, the Epoch Times strongly opposes the Chinese communist party with a decidedly strong pro-Trump bias.

    In August, NBC News reported the Epoch Times purchased 11,000 pro-Trump ads on Facebook at a cost of $1.5 million in six months. The ads spread conspiracy theories and criticized “fake news” media. Facebook banned the Epoch Times from advertising following the report.

    Both the Epoch Times and the Shen Yun dance troupe make up the bulk of the outreach efforts of the Falon Gong. The Falon Gong is a spiritual practice in China which the Chinese government began to consider a threat in 1999 due to its large following.
    Shen Yun is in the SF area now and once again, we're overwhelmed by the amount of advertising - billboards, TV commercials, web ads - Falun Gong has bank.
    Gene Ching
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  5. #1400
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    Note that this is Epoch Times

    I wonder if Mr. Dacy realizes what this might do to his visa application if he ever wants to go to PRC.

    Shen Yun Is ‘One of the Greatest Things I’ve Ever Seen’ Says Kung Fu Teacher
    January 27, 2020


    Ryan Dacy enjoyed Shen Yun at the San Diego Civic Theater, on Jan. 26, 2020. (Jana Li/The Epoch Times)

    SAN DIEGO—Culture is like a diamond. It has many facets. Traditional Chinese culture is especially rich in variety and depth, having given rise to martial arts such as kung fu and the highly expressive, technically stunning art form known as classical Chinese dance.

    Out of New York, Shen Yun Performing Arts is touring the world, showcasing traditional Chinese culture’s many facets. At the San Diego Civic Theater on Jan. 26, 2020, a local kung fu teacher Ryan Dacy took in Shen Yun and said “it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.”

    Ryan Dacy teaches “choy li fut” style of kung fu at White Dragon Martial Arts School near San Diego. He praised Shen Yun from the point of view of a martial artist.

    “It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. Watching it and I can see the kung fu and martial arts aspects of it. The amount of trainings and stuff that go into it. It’s absolutely beautiful. The mixture of the slow and fast. Very kind of tai chi-esque. It’s just absolutely amazing. I love the stories behind it, too. It’s beautiful. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve seen,” Dacy said.

    Dacy felt that the tumbling, flipping, jumping and kicking moves seen in Shen Yun had a connection to his own martial arts practice. It’s true that classical Chinese dance developed in parallel to martial arts, just as the word for dance and the word for martial arts in Chinese are ****nyms.

    Dacy said that the dancers’ dedication parallels the principles required in his classes. “And the motivation to learn these very specific skills. And timing is something that we want to work on when I teach my students, is working on that timing, waiting for that perfect time. To strike with that perfect time, to do that spin rounds that really make the eyes opened. Wow, that’s amazing,” he said.



    A hallmark of authentic Chinese culture is its depth of emotion and long history of profound legends. Dacy felt strong feelings from some of the touching stories on stage that day.

    “A lot of emotions for different parts,” he said. He described one piece in particular, “Abetting the Wicked,” and the profound sacrifice and redemption that was acted out.

    Sorrow and hope, fear and compassion intersect in the piece Dacy referred to, which depicts real scenes from the persecution of innocent spiritual believers in China today.

    “What I got from it was, you know, that the family and the brotherly love is just more important than—the rights and freedom is more important than just a job,” Dacy said.

    Various aspects of the production lent to the emotional impact of the storytelling.

    “The music is beautiful. I used to be in a band when I was in middle school. So, I like the music. It really makes you feel the emotion behind what they are doing. The show just tells you this story. You don’t need the words for the stories to be told,” Dacy added.

    Dacy spoke more about the performance’s classical Chinese dance and its patented backdrops.

    “I love it so much. They did an amazing job,” he said.

    “The backdrop is impressive. … I have not seen an incorporation like that. For the one that, ‘boom,’ and he has in his hands. That’s [a] fantastic job how they incorporated it. The music and dancing—like perfect on sync for everything. That must have taken years of practicing. It’s really impressive.”


    Shen Yun Performing Arts Global Company’s curtain call at the San Diego Civic Theater, on Jan. 26, 2020. (The Epoch Times)

    “I highly recommend it. I am going to tell some of the other instructors about it because I can see the martial arts aspects of it. And I absolutely recommend it,” Dacy added.

    With reporting by Jana Li and Brett Featherstone.
    The Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time and has covered audience reactions since the company’s inception in 2006.
    Gene Ching
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  6. #1401
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    Shen Yun must be in LA now...




    Inside the Shadowy World of Shen Yun and Its Secret Pro-Trump Ties

    The touring dance extravaganza’s parent organization is reportedly spending big bucks to promote the president on Facebook
    By Samuel Braslow -March 9, 2020

    Each spring the city is flooded by a deluge of advertising—from bright, colorful billboards to glossy mailers to round-the-clock TV commercials—heralding the imminent arrival of a quirky Chinese dance troupe named Shen Yun. Since the group first appeared in L.A. a decade ago, its exotic mix of traditional Chinese dance, Cirque du Soleil-like acrobatics, and anticommunist messaging has won a devoted audience. Critics may scoff at its outre theatrics, and the Chinese government has dismissed it as an “anti-society cult” with “tacky taste and low artistic standards,” but the show regularly sells out across the country. This year, as Shen Yun prepares for a six-week run in Southern California in May, it is coming under scrutiny for its close association with the Epoch Times, a fiercely pro-Trump conspiracy website recently mired in scandal for its ties to a massive network of fraudulent Facebook accounts.

    Both Shen Yun and Epoch Times are funded and operated by members of Falun Gong, a controversial spiritual group that was banned by China’s government in 1999. Less a religion than a spiritual doctrine, Falun Gong melds traditional Taoist principles with occasionally bizarre pronouncements from its Chinese-born founder and leader, Li Hongzhi. Among other pronouncements, Li has claimed that aliens started invading human minds in the beginning of the 20th century, leading to mass corruption and the invention of computers. He has also denounced feminism and ****sexuality and claimed he can walk through walls and levitate. But the central tenet of the group’s wide-ranging belief system is its fierce opposition to communism.

    In 2000, Li founded Epoch Times to disseminate Falun Gong talking points to American readers. Six years later he launched Shen Yun as another vehicle to promote his teachings to mainstream Western audiences. Over the years Shen Yun and Epoch Times, while nominally separate organizations, have operated in tandem in Falun Gong’s ongoing PR campaign against the Chinese government, taking directions from Li.


    Members of Falun Gong sat in silent protest outside the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles
    PHOTO BY KEIPHER MCKENNIE/GETTY IMAGES)

    Despite its conservative agenda, Epoch Times took pains until recently to avoid wading into partisan U.S. politics. That all changed in June 2015 after Donald Trump descended on a golden escalator to announce his presidential candidacy, proclaiming that he “beat China all the time.” In Trump, Falun Gong saw more than just an ally—it saw a savior. As a former Epoch Times editor told NBC News, the group’s leaders “believe that Trump was sent by heaven to destroy the communist party.”

    Relatively unknown before 2016, Epoch Times enjoyed a surge in traffic after the presidential election thanks to stridently pro-Trump content. NBC News reported in 2017 that the site was drawing millions of visitors a year, more than The New York Times and CNN combined. But Falun Gong didn’t restrict its pro-Trump stance to the paper.
    Facebook revealed in December that Epoch Media Group, which publishes Epoch Times, had furtively pumped nearly $10 million in ads through a hidden network of fake accounts and pages. In the past few years it has produced more pro-Trump advertising than any other group, including the Trump campaign. The ads have promoted anti-impeachment sentiment, anticommunist propaganda, and conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and other opponents of the president.


    SHEN YUN ON YOUTUBE

    Though Shen Yun and Epoch Times both fall under Falun Gong’s umbrella, the parent organization’s politics haven’t seemed to have impacted the dance troupe’s bottom line. According to public filings, Shen Yun generated nearly $30 million in revenue in 2017, the most recent year for which records are available—a $7 million increase from the year before. But Shen Yun spends none of its own money on marketing. Instead it relies on a vast army of devout volunteers and donors who produce ads, buy billboards, and send out millions of mailers promoting the show.

    Among Falun Gong members there is an “expectation that all practitioners … basically put their lives on hold for the weeks or even months leading up to [Shen Yun’s shows],” a former member wrote in Medium. A San Francisco Chronicle story reported that from 2015 to 2017 Shen Yun-linked groups spent at least $39.3 million on advertising—a staggering amount for a nonprofit of its size. (For comparison, fashion house Guess spent $37.1 million worldwide in 2017.) While employing such massive resources to benefit a cultural exposition seems harmless, using the same apparatus to influence a presidential election is more problematic. Facebook removed over 600 accounts tied to Epoch Times, but by that point, the group’s 55 million Facebook followers had already been exposed to a flurry of misleading ads, antivaxxer talking points, and QAnon conspiracies.

    Now if only Facebook could do something about the billboards.
    If you live in a major metropolis, do you get inundated with Shen Yun propaganda? If so, where? And if you don't, have you ever seen these Shen Yun billboards? Here in the SF Bay Area, the ads are EVERYWHERE. They are worse than the Bloomberg presidential ads were a few weeks ago.
    Gene Ching
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  7. #1402
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneChing View Post
    If you live in a major metropolis, do you get inundated with Shen Yun propaganda? If so, where? And if you don't, have you ever seen these Shen Yun billboards? Here in the SF Bay Area, the ads are EVERYWHERE. They are worse than the Bloomberg presidential ads were a few weeks ago.
    I get their stuff in the mail quite often, and I see their ads on TV a lot as well. The mailers go straight into the recycle bin.

    Falun Gong’s beliefs around Trump remind me of when I heard some Christian evangelicals equating Trump to Jesus Christ(!).

    If they believe that Trump was sent by Heaven to destroy the CCP, they’re going to be badly disappointed. He doesn’t have anywhere near the power nor the motivation. If I were a betting man, I’d say that the CCP will be around long after Trump has shuffled off this mortal coil, and it will probably outlive all of us. Do I like communism? No. But you must be a realist about these things.
    Last edited by Jimbo; 03-11-2020 at 09:33 AM.

  8. #1403
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    So will we see rigfhtwing extremists at Shen Yun shows?

    MAGA voters discovered a new home online. But it isn't what it seems.
    The fast-growing social network SafeChat has a "Star Wars" barlike atmosphere in which white nationalists mingle with Chinese dissidents. And there's plenty of conspiracy theories, too.

    A man finishes his vigil outside the Supreme Court in support of Donald Trump.
    Trump supporters have flocked to alternative social media networks, including SafeChat, a fast-growing platform known for its tolerance of MAGA content. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

    By MARK SCOTT and TINA NGUYEN

    03/16/2021 04:30 AM EDT

    As former President Donald Trump’s supporters have flocked to alternative social media networks, many are turning to SafeChat, a fast-growing platform known for its tolerance of high-octane MAGA content.

    In the nine weeks since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, SafeChat’s app has been downloaded more times than in all of 2020, quickly becoming a hotbed of conspiracy theories and disinformation that paints President Joe Biden’s new administration in the worst possible light.

    But the once-obscure social network, which touts its security protections and respect for free speech, is not just MAGA-friendly. It’s also a conduit that enables fringe groups attacking the Chinese Communist Party to speak directly to — and influence — Trump supporters, creating a "Star Wars" barlike atmosphere where AR-15 enthusiasts and a growing number of white nationalists can mingle with Chinese dissidents.

    According to a review of corporate records and online activity by POLITICO, SafeChat has close links to The Epoch Times, an English-language media outlet affiliated with Falun Gong, the Chinese spiritual movement known for its antagonism toward the Chinese Communist Party and described by critics as a “cult.”

    The Epoch Times saw its online readership grow fivefold, to 51 million monthly visitors to its website, during Trump’s time in the White House.

    It’s part of a growing network of Falun Gong-affiliated media outlets that is creating its own far-right social media pipeline — one that amplifies MAGA themes while promoting the agenda of groups dedicated to the ouster of the Chinese Communist Party.

    Founded in the early 1990s, the Falun Gong movement was banned by Beijing less than a decade later. It continues to criticize the Chinese government for religious persecution and unlawful restrictions on its supporters’ human rights. When Trump won the 2016 election, it latched on to his anti-Beijing message to promote far-right conspiracy theories and increasingly partisan attacks on anyone opposing the MAGA movement.

    By acting as an online conveyor belt of anti-Biden and pro-Trump disinformation, the network of Falun Gong-linked sites is playing a role in shaping the next generation of the MAGA narrative against the former president’s enemies, particularly on the issue of China.

    “There’s a concerted effort by anti-Chinese Communist Party voices to move right-wing voters and QAnon followers against China,” said Elise Thomas, an open-source analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that tracks online extremism.

    “The fact that people associated with the Falun Gong are trying to use SafeChat to tap into the MAGA-sphere is definitely concerning,” said Thomas, who has charted the rise of Falun Gong-related digital activity.

    SafeChat had been bubbling along in online obscurity for much of 2020. But after the November election, the platform began to gain traction with Falun Gong social media influencers who promoted it hard to their followers as an alternative to mainstream social media networks — popularity that picked up exponentially after the Capitol riot.

    “Many people say SafeChat is very good. I quickly got over 4K followers there,” Jennifer Zeng, a former Epoch Times journalist, told her more than 150,000 Twitter followers on Jan. 22.

    The app also began to attract notice as Trump’s most ardent supporters began turning away from mainstream social media. Online users in pro-Trump Facebook groups, for instance, urged their followers to ditch the Big Tech behemoth for the upstart platform. SafeChat emerged as a welcome alternative that offered a steady stream of conservative content featuring accusations of voter fraud, support for Trump during his recent impeachment trial and harsh criticism of the new administration.

    Last month, its website received almost 900,000 visitors — a fourfold increase compared with December, according to SimilarWeb, a web traffic analytics firm. By comparison, the website for Parler, one of the most popular MAGA platforms, was getting roughly 10 million monthly visitors before it was shut down in February.


    The logo of the social media platform Parler is displayed in Berlin, Jan. 10, 2021. | Christophe Gateau/dpa via AP

    Until the Jan. 6 riot, the majority of the platform’s visitors came from Vietnam and Hong Kong, countries long associated with the Falun Gong movement. But now, the United States represents more than a fifth of SafeChat’s online activity — a triple-digit monthly growth spike — exceeded only by traffic originating from Vietnam, based on SimilarWeb data.

    SafeChat does not publicly acknowledge any connections to the Epoch Times or Falun Gong on its app and declined to comment on a series of questions from POLITICO about its ties to them.

    “SafeChat is a neutral and safe platform for people to get information so that they can make their own decisions,” the company said in a statement.

    The Epoch Times also told POLITICO it had no association with the SafeChat platform, nor any involvement in how its content was promoted on the platform.

    But SafeChat was originally rebranded from an older social media platform, known as DV Chat, by Trung Vu, a former chief executive at The Epoch Times’ Vietnam, which was also registered at the same California address, according to a review of the state’s corporate records. Vu registered the company, but the ownership of SafeChat is unclear.

    In January 2020, DV Chat changed the company’s name to SafeChat and named a new chief executive, Matthew Tullar. Like Vu, Tullar had worked for The Epoch Times over a four-year period through 2016, based on his LinkedIn profile. Tullar later served as marketing director for another Falun Gong-affiliated media outlet, The BL, for whom he hosted an online talk show that put out a steady stream of pro-Trump opinions.

    One month later, in February 2020, SafeChat got a new chief executive: Patrick Mauler, who, like Vu, worked for New Tang Dynasty — an online video outlet with close ties to Falun Gong.

    Several high-profile personalities on the SafeChat platform also previously worked for The Epoch Times, which is one of the biggest and most strident pro-Trump outlets in far-right media.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
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    Seth Holehouse, who spent seven years at The Epoch Times before leaving in late 2015, has amassed more than 18,000 followers on his SafeChat channel.

    Late last year, he gained online stardom after Trump tweeted videos in which Holehouse alleged widespread voter fraud. He has used his newfound fame to pump out videos from his SafeChat account accusing Biden of being in Beijing’s pocket and promoting Trump’s exoneration at his second impeachment trial.

    In a video published on Jan. 12, Holehouse told his followers on YouTube to download SafeChat. He touted its “military-grade encryption” technology, commitment to pro-MAGA free speech and independent servers that would prevent it from being removed from Google and Apple’s app stores.

    “SafeChat is a much more robust app. It’s almost as if you were to think of combining Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and a little bit of YouTube,” he said in the video.

    When reached for comment, Holehouse did not answer questions about his involvement or ties to The Epoch Times.

    The fledgling network is not alone in wooing conservative voters. Other online social media networks and encrypted message boards — most notably Parler, the pro-Trump platform that was shut down soon after the Capitol riot — have quickly gained hundreds of thousands of new users in search of an online home amid recriminations that Facebook, Google and Twitter censor right-wing voices.

    Yet few of the platforms have the financial muscle and wide reach of The Epoch Times. Riding the MAGA wave during the Trump era, the organization captured a massive social media following and gained entry into mainstream conservative political circles.

    “It makes perfect sense for a high demand group in bed with Big Data to build a content pipeline,” added Sarah Hightower, an independent researcher focusing on Asian cults, upon reviewing SafeChat’s content. “Even on the business end, groups like Falun Gong are still incredibly controlling.”

    SafeChat’s growing popularity within the MAGA ecosystem is rooted in the perception that it is a safe space for the former president’s supporters.

    To entice new users to SafeChat’s still-nascent platform — its monthly app downloads still number fewer than 70,000, according to AppFigures, a company that tracks such metrics — the social network has trumpeted its security bona fides, promoting its encryption technology to MAGA supporters to keep their online discussions private.

    Yet the platform’s privacy policy says SafeChat’s encryption applies to only video and voice calls between two people on its platform. For everything else, including political conversations in its much more popular public channels, the company collects reams of information on its users. That includes the content of people’s posts, individuals’ locations and even the keystrokes from specific smartphones.

    Such data collection — particularly information taken from individual messages — would not be possible if the platform had wide-ranging so-called end-to-end encryption, according to Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert at the Harvard Kennedy School.

    “On pretty much everything on this site, they can read what you’re writing,” he said. “The word encryption is not some legally binding term.”

    SafeChat declined to answer questions about its encryption technology.

    The social network has also created unofficial pages on its network for other pro-Trump conservative outlets — like Breitbart News, Newsmax and One America News Network — that advance the impression that it’s a MAGA safe space.

    The dedicated SafeChat channels pump out daily content from those outlets, though making it clear they are not officially connected to them.

    It is unclear why SafeChat is building these landing pages for right-wing outlets, while not including similar pages for mainstream news organizations. Disinformation experts, some of whom have an expertise in social media, suggested it could be either to portray the chat app as larger than it currently is, or to woo other right-wing media outlets into establishing an official presence on the platform.

    “It could be strategic or opportunistic,” said Thomas, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue analyst, referring to the possible motivation.

    That courtship might be working. The Gateway Pundit, the conservative site known for spreading hoaxes, took over its own unofficial channel on Feb. 1, quickly amassing thousands of followers and in turn promoting the network to its wider audience.

    The Gateway Pundit did not respond to a request for comment.

    In the waning months of the Trump administration, The Epoch Times and other Falun Gong-outlets tried to build credibility with the mainstream conservative movement, through its support for Trump and its focus on a common enemy: the Chinese Communist Party.

    That includes promoting similarly baseless claims as other MAGA outlets, like accusations that Barack Obama’s administration spied on Trump’s 2016 election campaign, as well as cheerleading the former president’s staunch anti-Beijing stance.

    “If the D.C. establishment and Democratic campaigns apparatus doesn’t really think about this and internalize what this means, they’re going to be blindsided by this boomerang of misinformation in the next election cycle,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a left-leaning watchdog group that has tracked the growth of The Epoch Times.

    “It shouldn’t be merely dismissed as the fringe and irrelevant,” he added, in reference to SafeChat. “Time and again, too many have been too slow to acknowledge the early warnings and implement strategies to stay ahead of emerging threats. SafeChat is yet another canary in the coal mine setting off those early alarm bells.”

    Despite its fast growth, it’s still unclear whether SafeChat will be able to break out of the pack of similar pro-Trump social networks that have gained traction in recent weeks.

    Reviews on both Apple and Google’s app stores for the platform specifically cite it as a viable alternative to Parler and Gab.com, a site primarily known for hosting white supremacists and other racist material.

    “[So] many coming online from Facebook, GAB is down more than it is online, hope that changes soon,” one reviewer noted on the Apple App Store on Jan. 18. “SafeChat works flawlessly and love how it is set up and the secure chat is much needed in this time of the Marxist takeover of America.”

    A recent review of best-performing SafeChat posts highlighted how the platform is succeeding in delivering the red meat that MAGA followers hunger for: video clips of Trump talking to Newsmax, former football star Herschel Walker dismissing efforts at financial reparations for African Americans, and claims that Biden was about to overturn the Second Amendment.

    An online discussion, posted on Feb. 14, about how Trump supporters were showering the former president with praise, garnered more than a thousand combined likes, shares and comments. Others promoted disinformation that Hillary Clinton and Vice President Kamala Harris could face impeachment; another claimed that the Capitol Hill riot was a hoax.

    Yet in recent weeks, downloads for SafeChat’s app have slowed from skyrocketing growth last month, based on AppFigure’s data.

    Other alternatives like TheDonald.win, an online message board where far-right rioters planned some of their attacks during the Jan. 6 riot, have descended into internal bickering as MAGA groups splinter over how best to take the movement forward.

    So far, SafeChat appears to be avoiding that. But on its darker edges, overt threats of violence are not uncommon. An Epoch Times story — posted on the outlet’s unofficial SafeChat channel with almost 15,000 followers — about how Republicans who had voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial were facing a conservative backlash, generated hundreds of comments.

    Most were likes and shares, but there were also calls to attack these lawmakers.

    “Dirty rotten *******s,” said an online commentator when discussing The Epoch Times story. “Hang ‘em high for betrayal and sedition.”
    Is it called Anticom just like Antifa?
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

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