In late September, a US-based Chinese YouTuber called Lude delivered a cryptic message to his 200,000 subscribers.
- The New Federal State of China is a self-proclaimed pro-democracy group headed by Steve Bannon and billionaire Guo Wengui
- An Australian whistleblower is speaking out about how the group spreads misinformation and conspiracy theories online
- After leaving the group, he has been threatened by Mr Guo and his followers in Australia
He said there were “three hard drives” that contained explosive materials about Hunter Biden, the son of Presidential candidate Joe Biden.
It was alleged that the hard drives held evidence of Hunter Biden’s secret deals in China and Ukraine, as well as sex tapes with graphic scenes of sexual abuse.
“A fellow fighter of our whistleblowers’ movement got it,” Lude said in his show.
Lude is part of a group of online influencers led by the controversial Chinese billionaire, Guo Wengui (also known as Miles Kwok) and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon.
Their “whistleblowers’ movement”, rebranded this year by the duo as The New Federal State of China, soon became the centre of Hunter Biden’s laptop scandal.
The unverified videos and photos they posted allegedly showing Hunter Biden “engaging in sex and drug acts” have been watched by tens of millions of viewers, although most mainstream US media have not reported the allegations because the source and substance of the material could not be verified.
Former core members told the ABC the group is “very, very dangerous to any country”, and the misinformation it recklessly spreads will seriously harm democracy.
“[Guo’s media] is spreading misinformation. I think it’s trying to interrupt the United State elections,” said John Pan, a former core member of the group, speaking out for the first time.
Bannon and the billionaire
Guo Wengui is a fugitive from China who fled to the US in 2014 claiming political persecution.
He made his billions in property development in China, and in America runs media streaming platforms online.
Together with Steve Bannon, Mr Guo launched an aggressive anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) movement called the New Federal State of China in June this year, with branches in countries like the US, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
Through a plethora of media channels, spot rallies, flyer and email spam campaigns the movement has been instrumental in pushing out Mr Guo’s conspiracy theories and misinformation.
However, his controversial tactics and role in spruiking a number of dangerous conspiracy theories has made critics question his real motives.
Mr Guo’s company GTV Media Group is reportedly being investigated by the FBI and the Securities Exchange Commission.
His media partner, Mr Bannon, was arrested in August by US federal agents on fraud charges while on Mr Guo’s yacht.
Yet, Mr Guo and his supporters have also maintained the appearance of a united front.
They called it “the whistleblowers’ movement”, a media campaign with an aim to “take down the CCP” by any means necessary.
Dr Anne Kruger, the director of Asia Pacific at the fact check organisation FirstDraft, studied the group’s operations and said followers flood the internet with questionable material.
“Their main tactic is really to try to appeal to people that might have a gripe against the Chinese Communist Party and to push conspiracy theories,” Dr Kruger said
While their content usually only circulates around Mr Guo’s own media networks, there have been some instances where it crossed over to mainstream media.
One of the group’s most successful campaigns popularised discredited claims by a virologist who said COVID-19 was deliberately manufactured in a Chinese lab.
More recently, FirstDraft’s researchers found that Mr Guo’s supporter’s post about the Hunter Biden scandal from late September is the first traceable mention of the now-viral rumours.
In the following weeks, Guo’s websites have been flooding the internet with the Hunter Biden rumours.
“The timing of this just weeks out from the election at a crucial time in the US [election] campaign, shows that this has been planned and there’s been some coordination here to do maximum damage against the Biden campaign,” Dr Kruger said.
“I guess it’s not surprising when you see that they are very much anti-CCP and pro-Trump because that suits their political purposes.”
Within hours of the release of the sex tapes allegedly of Hunter Biden, Twitter and Facebook suspended more than a dozen social media accounts controlled by Mr Guo’s group.
A calculated political move
A former key insider from Guo’s movement agrees that YouTuber Lude’s release of incriminating but unverified material from Hunter Biden’s laptop, was a calculated political move.
“Lude is the number one propogandist for Guo Wengui. His channel is today supported by Guo Wengui,” said John Pan, who was amongst Mr Guo’s inner circle until December 2019.
Mr Pan is a Brisbane-based Chinese migrant-turned-dissident who came to Australia in 2010.
In recent years, he started his own YouTube channel, where he hosts political debates about Chinese politics and human rights issues.
As a human rights advocate, Mr Pan was immediately fascinated by Guo Wengui’s outlandish claims about officials’ corruption in China.
“I think this person may be saying something important. I should support him,” he said he thought at the time.
Mr Pan was referred to Mr Guo via a friend, and quickly became a core member of his inner circle, a group of Chinese dissidents and social media influencers.
This group, which started out with 18 members, discussed how to orchestrate viral media campaigns against the CCP.
“We’re talking about how we would promote the information that Guo was leaking out, how we spread that information to the world. No matter [if it was] true or false,” said Mr Pan.
Mr Pan says Mr Guo would usually share with the group “new information” about corruption in China and ask them to spread it across their networks.
Another one of Guo’s favourite topics according to Pan, was outing Chinese individuals as “CCP spies”.
For example, Mr Pan says Mr Guo instructed the group to out a Chinese woman and US resident as a CCP agent. There was no credible evidence to support Mr Guo’s allegations.
Leaked audio from the core group’s meetings also shows Mr Guo once encouraged his key followers during the Hong Kong democracy protests in 2019 to spread a rumour that martial law was imminent in the territory.
“The martial law command will impose massive restrictions on the movement of people in and out of Hong Kong … They will also clean up US and European institutions based in Hong Kong and foreigners with US and British passports,” Mr Guo shared from a document he claimed to receive from a “reliable informant within the CCP”.
As Mr Pan’s videos’ popularity skyrocketed, with some posts attracting tens of thousands of views, he also impressed the NY-based billionaire and Mr Bannon.
In a private message to Mr Pan, Mr Guo filmed Mr Bannon praising him and his show, and expressed his wish to make him a hero.
“I look forward to being on your show very shortly,” Mr Bannon said to Mr Pan.
“I would love to host him when he comes, bring him to Washington and have him give a speech and make sure there is a big audience … You guys are really the heroes,” Mr Bannon turned and told Mr Guo.
‘Go, bomb the CCP bandit’
After witnessing the movement’s dangerous tactics, Mr Pan became uncomfortable with its direction.
In late 2019, he decided to branch out and create his own charity to fight against human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang province.
A few days after having a conversation about it with Mr Guo, Mr Guo told his 1.4 million followers in his online broadcasts that Mr Pan was a “CCP spy”, and urged them to attack him.
“He started calling me a fraud and a scam. A Chinese government spy. I should deserve to die,” said Mr Pan.
“I can’t sleep. I’m quite shocked. I had a panic attack.”
On October 8 this year, a group of the online harassers picketed outside his house in Brisbane, waving flags and banners of the New Federal State of China and chanting slogans: “Kick the CCP agent out of Australia.”
This incident frightened Mr Pan, who said his “whole body” was shaking.
The protesters have openly broadcast on social media they will return.
As recently as October 9, Mr Guo’s organiser in Sydney published a call-out to Mr Guo’s Australian followers to travel to Brisbane where Mr Pan lives, once the Queensland border restrictions are lifted, and “carry out the campaign to eliminate the traitor to the end”.
Mr Pan’s name is on a Guo hit list with about 10 other Chinese dissidents around the world.
Mr Guo recently launched on his livestream an “eliminate the traitors campaign”, calling on his supporters to harm those on the list.
One of the dissidents has already been beaten up on the streets of LA.
Another, Texas-based pastor and human rights activist Bob Fu, told the ABC that he’s had the bomb squad in Midland Texas searching his house for hidden explosives.
Mr Fu said he had no idea why he was being targeted by Mr Guo’s group.
“What on earth is this about? I have never done anything with him for him. We had no financial dispute. Nothing,” Mr Fu said.
Mr Guo has made at least three livestream videos encouraging his followers to “eliminate Pastor Fu”.
Fearing for his and his family’s safety, Mr Fu rang local police and wrote to the FBI, saying:
“Urgent memo (October 21, 2020): Bomb threat at Guo’s Media, mobilizing his followers to come to Midland TX to besiege my home. Then from around 5:57am images of special kind of dynamite were posted. The images were posted with the text message urging ‘GO, BOMB CCP BANDIT.'”
After he contacted police, the bomb squad searched his house and the riot squad escorted Mr Fu’s daughter from school.
Mr Fu and his family were sent to protective police custody. They are still residing in an undisclosed location.
“They publicly called for the … elimination of me and others on his hit list. I’m certainly worried for my family members and myself for our life.”
‘I think he is a liar’
New York based Chinese dissident and former land-grab protest leader, Zhuang Liehong, is one other previous close affiliate of Mr Guo, who has decided to speak out.
Mr Zhuang had appeared at the UN and US congresses to express his concerns on China’s human rights records.
Mr Zhuang was introduced to Mr Guo in 2017 and worked with Mr Guo on a daily basis for about three months in 2019.
“He asked us to spread his bombshell revelations, most of them were unverifiable, but due to my disgust of the CCP, I chose to trust him,” said Zhuang.
Mr Zhuang said Mr Guo kept boasting about his “close contacts” in the White House.
“He always said he was meeting important people, to make us feel we are part of something big, and like we are influencing American politics,” said Mr Zhuang.
“But I was there with him, I knew he was just looking at his phone, not meeting any politicians.
“I think he is a liar.”
Mr Zhuang said he now regrets helping Mr Guo.
“I have seen who he truly is. He won’t do anything that can truly help democracy.”
Both Mr Pan and Mr Zhuang are suing Mr Guo for defamation in US courts.
Mr Guo and his Australian-based representatives did not respond to ABC’s request for comment.
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