They’re a familiar sight in suburban parks around the world – people from seemingly all walks of life exercising and meditating according to the teachings of Falun Gong.
“There’s a teaching that’s gone around among Falun Gong practitioners that Trump is an angel that was sent from heaven to destroy the Communist Party”
Founded in China in the 1990s, the group’s practice aims to heal body and mind and has attracted millions of followers.
The movement first gained global attention when its members became the target of ruthless persecution by the Chinese Communist Party, triggering widespread sympathy and support in the West.
The Falun Gong’s creed is Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance, but former practitioners now speaking out are accusing it of practising dangerous and divisive teachings.
This joint ABC Foreign Correspondent-Background Briefing investigation shines a spotlight on this global movement, revealing how Falun Gong has morphed from a fringe quasi-religious group into a powerful player in America’s conservative media landscape, working to ensure another term for Trump so he can continue his war of words with China.
Background Briefing’s podcast series also investigates the movement’s Australian operations, uncovering powerful political collaborators closer to home.
From Australia, to Taiwan, to Los Angeles and the movement’s “Dragon Springs” headquarters in upstate New York, Foreign Correspondent’s Eric Campbell and Background Briefing’s Hagar Cohen explore the opaque world of the Falun Gong and its mysterious leader Master Li Hongzhi.
This investigation reveals how the group has harnessed social media, spending millions through made-up groups and fake identities to promote Donald Trump and his anti-Beijing policies.
“This is a matter of cosmic importance to them that Trump gets re-elected”, says one member of nearly ten years, who has now left the Falun Gong.
Another former insider says the movement promotes intolerant teachings which are racist and homophobic.
“I’m mixed race. I am quite possibly just homosexual. And those are the two kinds of people that are purportedly causing the end of the world” says ex-devotee Anna, now in her 20s and living on the US west coast.
As a child, “Anna” was taken by her mother to Falun Gong’s US headquarters, ‘Dragon Springs’, a sprawling but secretive 160-hectare compound in New York State.
It was, she says, a world of strange beliefs and intolerance.
“The leader of Falun Gong claims that race-mixing in humans is part of an alien plot to drive humanity further from the gods.”
Background Briefing follows Sydney resident Shani May as she tries to find out the truth about her mother’s relationship with the Falun Gong.
Following the death of her famous jazz singer father Ricky May, her mother Colleen sought solace with the group. Soon Colleen stopped taking her blood pressure tablets, putting her faith in Falun Gong to cure her. Three years ago, Colleen died, aged 75.
“If it wasn’t for Falun Gong, she’d still be with us”, declares Shani.
Former followers allege there’s a cult-like abhorrence of modern medicine that’s claimed lives.
“In Falun Gong the teachings are, you don’t acknowledge illnesses”, says one ex-devotee.
According to Shani May, whose mother Colleen became so deeply involved with her beliefs that she lost touch with family and friends, “They’re manipulating and they do it slowly…And as time goes on, you get further and further down the rabbit hole and they don’t let you come back out.”
Listen to DARK KARMA – Reporter Hagar Cohen – 3 podcast episodes on Background Briefing on the ABC listen app (Tuesday 21 / Friday 24 July and Tuesday 2 August) and live on ABC RN (Sunday 26 July / Sunday 2 and Sunday 9 at 8:30am).