I’ve been trying to parse how James Randi’s work for the Chinese government in order to suppress Falun Gong in 1999 could be tied to a Russian information warfare strategy. I might have a possible ‘full spectrum’ explanation involving the controversial ex-US Republican Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher.
In order to understand the issue better, I found myself watching the documentary ‘Human Harvest’ (2013) online recently which focuses on claims and statistical evidence that China has killed tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners and used the organs in a lucrative international organ transplantation scheme; effectively profiting from the eradication of political dissidents opposed to the Communist Party in China.
While on the surface, the idea of a government wholesale slaughter and sale of organs has the ring of a conspiracy theory, the film does provide a persuasive argument to support its claims.
In general, I was emotionally moved by the film as I watched it, and at times experienced significant anger and sadness about the suppression of spirituality as portrayed (including the associated repression of Muslim Uighurs and the film’s direct association of the Falun Gong situation with Nazi anti-Semitic atrocities). However, at other times (such as the recorded calls to Chinese medical centers), I felt I was being hoaxed to be honest. When Dana Rohrabacher came on screen as the US government champion for the Falun Gong in the concluding segments of the film, I had a bit of an “aha!” moment.
I hate to make this blog about my opinions and feelings but I think this is important because any person with a modicum of emotion who watches this film with no other background will no doubt be swept away by the perception of injustices as portrayed in it, removing the ability to reason critically about information presented.
Did I not know of Dana Rohrabacher (and for example just had the perspective on James Randi), I might come to a different conclusion about how to respond to these feelings – for example by taking the apparent bait in the film and becoming angry at the Chinese government as some monster.
I assume that the organs serving the patients in the film are coming from Falun Gong. But it doesn’t necessarily mean mass-extermination is the only explanation. For example, the government of China suppresses the Falun Gong as what it classifies as a dangerous cult. If they are imprisoning these religious adherents (with a charismatic Jim Jones-like leader who makes improbable claims about his magical abilities), I think it is also possible that those cult members could be also committing suicide en-masse and potentially leaving their organs available to statistically satisfy the market. By Western standards, the incarceration of the Falun Gong and their mass death by this standard is still barbarous – but the Chinese government has indeed classified them as a threat and retaliated harshly against them.
It is observed that the Chinese treatment of Falun Gong has caused outrage in the staunch anti-Communist West aligned with Russia (as in the Rohrabacher example) – and on the other hand a seeming support to the Chinese government to crush the movement from figures like James Randi, who may be associated with Maoism and Communism. In this sense, to me, it has the appearance of a ‘two sided’ wedge issue as Russia might often create in order to divide Western society. However, in this case, I believe the actions of these apparent Russian informational agents may be to drive a wedge between America and China to the advantage of Russia.
I am not going to go into a history of Dana Rohrabacher’s Russia connections so much (which has been done here), so much as to point out my other research has shown him at the intersection of the Russian efforts to influence NRA-types.
Rohrabacher calls himself a staunch anti-Communist, justifying his harsh stance on the Chinese government treatment of Falun Gong. However, it can be noted that since the time of the ‘Human Harvest’ movie, he was a central figure in promoting Andrei Nekrasov’s FSB-sponsored Sergei Magnitsky film in alignment with Seymour Hersh (who was known as a “little commie” by his editor and has a long history of ‘narratively-informationally’ aiding Russia back to the Soviet era). He doesn’t seem entirely consistent in his opposition to collaboration with potential communists clearly opposed to American interests – moreso, he shows a consistent ability to comport with the Russian position.
Despite my commitment to the idea of supporting freedom of peaceful religion and spiritual beliefs, I am also committed to promoting rationality. The Falun Gong issue is so hard in this sense to work with as a Western observer.
In my opinion, the Falun Gong (founded 1992) by Li Hongzhi is quite similar in a sense to the apocalyptic Aum Shinrikyo cult (founded 1984) by Shoko Asahara in Japan. Falun Gong has not demonstrated a propensity for violence or terrorism like Aum Shinrikyo, however they do apparently subscribe to an apocalyptic worldview. The Chinese government issued information has labeled Falun Gong as an apocalyptic sect similar to Aum Shinrikyo.
Since the repression of the Falun Gong in China, Li Hongzhi fled to America, whereas Shoko Asahara has been executed for ordering his followers to attack the Tokyo subway system in 1995 with sarin gas. Falun Gong have always been peaceful whereas the Aum Shinrikyo were violent. But it is true Aum Shinrikyo was apparently promoted and enabled by Russian technology and figures at the highest level of the Russian government. I can’t find direct evidence for such a connection between Li Hongzhi and Russia for example, or the Falun Gong itself. But there do seem potential parallels from a thematic and covert strategic perspective between Aum Shinrikyo and the Falun Gong.
(Some of the other recent parallel developments divisive conspiratorial narratives associated with Falun Gong as it relates to the American media landscape and social media, including the apparent use of bots to influence Facebook akin to Russian trolls is worth noting as well.)
I will also point out that the Tiananmen Square events of 1989 which caused a great and enduring rift on political and human rights issues between China and western democracies was potentially not so much in response to actions of the United States – but rather Chinese student desires for Glasnost-type reforms in Communist China. In February 1989, China and Russia decided on a timetable for Mikhail Gorbachev’s state visit to China. While student protests seem to have started in April 1989 before being crushed by early June 1989, when Gorbachev visited in May 1989, to China’s embarrassment, students welcomed Gorbachev as “The Ambassador of Democracy”.
I think these factors may suggest a large-scale influence operation to set America against China to Russia’s benefit. For example, it has long been my theory that Russia has attempted to frame China for some cyberattacks which might have provoked a Western reaction against China to Russia’s benefit around 9/11 – and for example lined up with the Nostradamus prophecies connected to the Cambridge Five spy ring (which factored into the 9/11 online Nostradamus prophecies) and seemed to attempt to do the same in pitting America and Russia together against China.
- We’re all talking about WWIII and the associated memetics after the Iran strike, but this sort of talk has been associated with Russian information warfare strategy a long time – including in the Cold War and in the 2010s. It’s no different today.
- Maybe movements like Aum Shinrikyo and Falun Gong in Asian countries are connected to strategic Russian plots – like Theosophy before them.
- Maybe the ‘Human Harvest’ is indeed a conspiracy theory and the Falun Gong are committing suicide en-masse and explaining the availability of organs and brain-dead patients on a relatively predictable timetable. In this sense it would be similar to what we get from Russia – albeit with more than the usual kernel of truth.
- Western efforts to condemn China over their response to Falun Gong may convince die-hard Chinese nationalists that Western intelligence agencies must be behind the movement, contributing to further divides in the American and Chinese politic – perhaps quite similar overall in a sense to the Tiananmen situation.
- On the other hand, aiding and abetting in the crackdown by contributing to the suppression of Falun Gong may strengthen Chinese Communist Party stability – but it may contribute to somewhat of an orchestrated ‘clash of civilizations’ in Russia’s interests and out of line with Western liberal values.
- In this sense, maybe James Randi is really just a Russian agent trying to make China look bad to support a Russian strategy of global divide and conquer – and maybe Dana Rohrabacher is the ‘false opposition’ (or kayfabe) to that which drives the confrontation ahead – also as a Russian agent. Falun Gong may be a powerful issue to pound on in order to exacerbate the East and West divide, in alignment with prior clashes of spirituality and politics in Chinese society which may be linked to Russian influence (such as Tiananmen or the Boxer Rebellion). In this sense I can imagine the apparently opposed positions (but consistent ‘pro-Russian espionage’ backgrounds) of Randi and Rohrabacher to align with a grander apparent Russian strategy.
As a Westerner, I can’t morally condone the actions of China around Falun Gong – or Tiananmen Square – as much as I can’t condone the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi. On one level, I want to agree with both Randi and Rohrabacher.
But I guess I can say I do think I understand the strategic significance of these actions even if they don’t comport with my personal cultural values. It is in this sense that my values – and all our values – as democracy-oriented Westerners may serve as a suitable issue to drive a wedge on, as Russia so often likes to do.
We can’t turn the other way but we can’t accept it either. I can’t say I can offer a solution, except to suggest that maybe both America and China have similar Russian influence problems and working towards them is in our mutual interests over time.
Despite all these difficulties in parsing morality and explanations, I subscribe to the view that Russia is a rogue, not a peer; whereas China is a peer, not a rogue.
I think America and China would be better suited working together to contain Russia (as Muscovy) than America would be suited to working with Russia to contain China – or in China’s interest of working with Russia to contain America (not to say Russia isn’t aggressively publicly courting the latter scenario). To me, the evidence does show Russia may be playing its typical two-sided game – and has been for a long time – between America and China.
Even if American and Chinese values don’t wholly align, economic and global stability interests almost certainly do. Maybe if Chinese were conscious to the role that Russian influence may play in their society they would choose to cut ties and work more cooperatively with America instead. Certainly in this sense, Chinese access to Siberia as its rightful heirs would be more assured.