In recent weeks, many residents in Atlantic Canada discovered free copies of The Epoch Times in their mailbox. The Epoch Times is a newspaper, widely considered to be far-right, based in New York, which publishes articles many consider to be conspiracy theories, often addressing concerns about the Chinese Government.
It is unclear why this American publication is being distributed in Atlantic Canada, though it is evident that right-wing extremism surged in Atlantic Canada following the 2016 American election of Donald Trump.
According to UNB sociologist David Hofmann, 2016 was a turning point which saw right-wing extremist movements grow around the world. A research team working with Hofmann identified 29 active right-wing extremist groups in Atlantic Canada, including the Proud Boys and the Northern Guard.
Hofmann’s research shows that from 2016 on, right-wing extremist activity increased each year, culminating in 40 incidents in 2019. The research identifies activities including protests, vandalism, and violence.
According to Hofmann, many of these groups brand themselves as “good old Canadian boys,” yet, “in private circles, they’re virulent, hateful and so on, so forth.”
In April 2020, CBC reported that postal carriers were being forced to deliver The Epoch Times paper to Canadians in several provinces, despite the paper containing headlines falsely claiming that COVID-19 was a biological weapon with links to the Chinese Communist Party.
The Epoch Times was created in May 2000 and now publishes in 21 languages. Today it publishes video content catering to a conservative audience, addressing issues regarding Trump, China, the Falun Gong religious movement, and what they see as a rise in socialism in the United States.
According to a report by NBC News, The Epoch Times has amassed over 3 billion views across a variety of streaming platforms, ranks 11th in views among video creators across major platforms, and outranks all traditional publishers in video content.
The creator of The Epoch Times, John Tang, is a member of Falun Gong, a Chinese new religious movement founded in the early ’90s. The publication has drawn significant media criticism for publishing what has been called “propaganda” for the Falun Gong.
Falun Gong believes the moral decay of the Chinese Communist Party will culminate in a “Dharma-ending period” akin to a religious judgement day during which those who Falun Gong believes to be “communists” are punished.
In 1999, the Chinese Government initiated a crackdown on Falun Gong, calling it an “evil cult” in the country’s largest official newspaper People’s Daily. This label is disputed and rejected by the Epoch Times, which deems it “slanderous and discriminatory”. Due to perceived persecution from the Chinese Government, many Falun Gong members immigrated to the United States, forming ex-patriot communities. The Epoch Times management has denied direct association with the religious movement.
“The paper’s not owned by Falun Gong. It doesn’t speak for Falun Gong,” stated the publication.
In recent years, the paper focused its attention on articles portraying U.S. President Donald Trump in a positive light. The Republican party has shown close interest, and potential connection, to the Epoch Times, with many featured in online videos and frontpage stories. Jasper Fakkert, the Editor-in-Chief of The Epoch Times, stated that Donald Trump frequently reads the paper and believes it to be “a truthful and correct paper.”
“We see the Trump administration’s efforts to change socialist policies in America…[and] if fully realized, will benefit America and the world as a whole,” stated Fakkert.
This article has been updating following contact from individuals who felt it was “one sided.” The Epoch Times identifies as “an independent, non-partisan media outlet.” The original article included reference to the Epoch Times Editor-in-Chief as a Republican party candidate, and mention of an Epoch Times headline claiming that COVID-19 was a biological weapon of the Chinese Communist party, both of which were incorrect. The Epoch Times story on COVID-19 did ask “is the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan an accident occasioned by weaponizing the virus at that [Wuhan P4 virology] lab.”