Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call for an investigation into China’s handling of the coronavirus has provided fresh content for Australian conspiracy theorists
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s focus on China’s handling of the coronavirus has garnered the support of Australia’s leading proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory who tweets under the name Burn Notice.
Last week Burn Notice — who is also a Morrison family friend — endorsed Morrison’s role in pushing for the inquiry by retweeting a post about it to his carefully-curated Twitter feed, where he has 35,000 followers.
Editor’s note (I’m blocked by Keira)
China has emerged as a central preoccupation for the US-based QAnon conspiracy theory, which has as its central tenet that the US is controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping paedophiles acting as a deep state.
The movement has expanded its remit to include opposition to COVID-19 lockdown regulations, as well as vaccines, under the rubric of individual freedom. It holds US President Donald Trump to be the anointed one to cleanse the world through the coming of “the storm”.
QAnon adherents endorsed Trump’s early position that the virus was a hoax, that it posed little threat to the United States and that it was essentially a deep state operation aimed at derailing his reelection.
An analysis presented in The Conversation reports that the movement’s anonymous leader Q first posted about COVID-19 on March 23 and described it as a Chinese bioweapon.
Trump’s escalating attacks on China over COVID-19 have also led to a deepening relationship between QAnon and the Chinese dissident movement Falun Gong which has a strong media presence in Australia through daily online publication The Epoch Times.
Reports in authoritative US outlets The Atlantic and NBC News point to an alliance of convenience, which emerged last year and has strengthened as Trump has sought to blame China for concealing its knowledge of the source and spread of COVID-19. The president claimed to have seen evidence that the virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan — in other words that COVID-19 is a bioweapon, as stated by Q.
The Falun Gong movement, through its New York-based company The Epoch Times, has given huge support to Trump in its online publications and its video channel, which gives voice to pro-Trump, anti-China critics.
The Epoch Times was founded in the United States in 2000 in response, it says, to “communist repression and censorship” in China. Falun Gong’s leader Li Hongzhi, a former trumpet player from north-east China, is known as “Living Buddha” to his devotees.
Li introduced Falun Gong in China in 1992 before he fled, claiming persecution by the state.
He settled in the United States where he has been honoured for his activities by the US government-funded international organisation Freedom House.
Li, 69, has made a number of fanciful claims. These include, reportedly, that aliens walk the earth, that he can walk through walls and that he is a being from from a higher level who has come to help humankind from destruction.
Li has put his now considerable financial resources and world-wide network behind Trump and QAnon, with The Epoch Times advertising heavily on QAnon sites.
From its offices in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, Australia’s version of The Epoch Times crusades against the influence of the Chinese communist party in China and in Australia. It claims to be Australia’s leading Chinese-language newspaper in print and digital. It has offered editorial support for the Morrison government’s push for an inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus.
Inq asked The Epoch Times to explain how much of its editorial content was aligned with its US parent, and if The Epoch Times in Australia has its own view of QAnon independent to the US Epoch Times. The newspaper has not responded.
The Epoch Times seems to be growing its presence in Australia. Free copies can be founded in supermarkets and railway stations across the country.
When NSW town Wagga Wagga was considering severing its sister city relationship with Kunming in China over the pandemic, locals found their letterboxes flooded with copies of the paper.
What is the real influence, though, of QAnon?
A survey by the Pew Research Centre in the United States conducted in February and March showed that around a quarter (23%) of respondents had heard or read a lot or a little about QAnon, with 3% saying they’d heard or read a lot.
Pew’s headline conclusion is that QAnon’s conspiracy theories have seeped into US. politics but most people still don’t know what it is.
In Australia, Burn Notice (whose Twitter handle is @BurnedSpy34) now has more than 35,000 twitter followers — an increase from just over 20,000 supporters when Inq reported in October on his relationship with the prime minister.
Insert – PM’s links to QAnon – End of Insert
Inq revealed Burn Notice’s claims that he influenced Morrison’s 2018 parliamentary apology to victims of institutional child sex abuse by having him use the controversial term “ritual abuse”. (Ed’ link)
Burn Notice is the alter ego of Tim Stewart. His wife is a close personal friend of the prime minister’s wife, who has been employed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Burn Notice adopted his Twitter identity on the same day Morrison became prime minister.
He refused to speak with Inq for this story, alleging we would distort his words.