Report

Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon Are Flooding the Zone With Hunter Biden Conspiracies

Media properties tied to an exiled Chinese billionaire are behind waves of disinformation in the lead-up to the election.

The fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui holds a news conference in New York on Nov. 20, 2018.
The fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui holds a news conference in New York on Nov. 20, 2018. Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images

A media network linked to Steve Bannon and his billionaire funder Guo Wengui has continued to act as a breeding ground for false stories about Hunter Biden, which have metastasized into wild claims repeated by mainstream commentators and broadened online attacks on a Texas-based Chinese dissident already in hiding after Guo’s followers congregated outside his home.

GNews, an outlet of Guo and Bannon’s GTV Media Group, has published numerous false stories about Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, operating as a nexus for the spread of alleged sex tapes by aggregating content from a popular YouTube streamer with ties to Guo. It was also an early source of unsubstantiated rumors that the Biden family hid business dealings in China—fictions that were eventually repeated by President Donald Trump during the second presidential debate.

Twitter confirmed that it had suspended Guo-linked accounts that spread the rumors, but the exiled Chinese businessman and his media properties remain a hub for the explosively viral spread of disinformation.

A media network linked to Steve Bannon and his billionaire funder Guo Wengui has continued to act as a breeding ground for false stories about Hunter Biden, which have metastasized into wild claims repeated by mainstream commentators and broadened online attacks on a Texas-based Chinese dissident already in hiding after Guo’s followers congregated outside his home.

GNews, an outlet of Guo and Bannon’s GTV Media Group, has published numerous false stories about Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, operating as a nexus for the spread of alleged sex tapes by aggregating content from a popular YouTube streamer with ties to Guo. It was also an early source of unsubstantiated rumors that the Biden family hid business dealings in China—fictions that were eventually repeated by President Donald Trump during the second presidential debate.

Twitter confirmed that it had suspended Guo-linked accounts that spread the rumors, but the exiled Chinese businessman and his media properties remain a hub for the explosively viral spread of disinformation.

Weeks before the New York Post published its Oct. 14 series of stories on the contents of Hunter Biden’s so-called hard drive, allegations of multiple hard drives that would incriminate Biden were broadcast on Sept. 25 by Lude Media, a YouTube channel run by the dissident streamer and Guo ally Wang Dinggang. They were then shared by Twitter accounts linked to GNews and to Guo and Bannon’s Himalaya movement, according to a story in the Daily Beast, along with Bannon himself, who boasted on Dutch TV in late September that he had Hunter Biden’s hard drive.

Wang is close to Guo and has been photographed with Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, but that’s not the only evidence he was involved in the spread of the Biden rumors. On an Oct. 13 Lude Media livestream, broadcast hours before the Post ran its stories, Wang and a fellow analyst said the Post would likely publish the contents of the hard drives the following day.

Twitter accounts linked to Guo have continued to spread an array of escalating false claims about Biden, including Pizzagate-esque rumors of child abuse that also originated with Wang and Lude Media, along with false stories about the Biden family’s dealings with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). “They’re trying to imitate tactics used by QAnon,” inflating conspiracy theories until their evolution becomes unstoppable, said Keenan Chen, a researcher for the misinformation-tracking nonprofit First Draft who has tracked the spread of the Biden rumors.

The release of the alleged sex tapes, which also claim to show Hunter Biden using drugs on a visit to Beijing, were spread by followers of Guo in an Oct. 24 Twitter campaign coordinated in a Himalaya movement Discord chat group. Members of the group tweeted links to the tapes once they were published on GNews and gave each other instructions to tag prominent political influencers throughout the spectrum, according to a source with knowledge of the group’s activities. If a group member was suspended, they were told to immediately use another email to create a new Twitter account, the source said.

Twitter confirmed that it recently suspended numerous accounts linked to Guo, GTV, and Guo and Bannon’s Himalaya movement, including accounts involved in spreading the sex tape rumors, for violating the site’s platform manipulation and spam policy. It declined to say how many accounts it had banned or which tweets triggered the suspensions.

It may have been too late. Discussions of the alleged sex tape, along with baseless claims of child abuse, quickly became “very visible on English-language social media,” Chen said. By the evening of Oct. 24, the actor and far-right influencer James Woods had referenced the story and accused Twitter of censoring it. Many others followed.

The Biden rumors have reached a fever pitch in the days before the election. Many of the most potent claims have roots with anti-CCP and far-right actors, including the Falun Gong-backed Epoch Times. The CCP critic Christopher Balding—who was behind a discredited brief on Hunter Biden’s business dealings commissioned by a far-right editor, Mark Simon, at the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily—appeared on Bannon’s podcast to share his claims. Wang was a key driver of the brief’s virality on Twitter, where it was shared by right-wing influencers including Newt Gingrich.

“It does seem clear that there is a concerning nexus developing between anti-CCP conspiracy theories and other conspiracy theories like QAnon,” said Elise Thomas, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute who independently investigated the Balding report.

Bannon has notoriously said the key to dealing with media is to “flood the zone with shit”—and Guo’s money has given the former Breitbart editor in chief a prime position in a disinformation network that has not only derailed public discourse but has begun to be weaponized by Guo to target other dissidents whom he vowed to “eliminate.”

Guo fled China when his patron, Vice Minister of State Security Ma Jian, fell from grace within the CCP in January 2015. He quickly joined forces with Bannon, launching a self-proclaimed government-in-exile before Bannon was arrested by U.S. federal agents on Guo’s yacht off the shores of Connecticut on fraud charges.

In April, the pair launched GTV Media Group, a media company that says it is dedicated to exposing the truth about the CCP. The company is currently being investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for potential misuse of $300 million of funds from investors.

Despite his proclaimed anti-CCP agenda, Guo’s actions have garnered vast speculation about where his loyalties truly lie. A consultancy firm hired in 2018 by a Guo-affiliated company accused him in court filings of being a “dissident-hunter”—claims that a lawyer for Guo has denied. There have even been private questions raised about Guo’s allegiances in conservative political circles themselves, according to the dissident pastor Bob Fu.

Lately, however, Guo has lived up to that moniker. In late September, around the time Guo-linked outlets began disseminating disinformation about Hunter Biden, the businessman launched his own array of attacks, urging his followers to gather outside the homes of Chinese dissidents he branded as “traitors” spying for the CCP. Groups of protesters spread flyers and chanted in the driveways outside the homes of Fu and his fellow dissident Wu Jianmin, causing Fu and his family to leave their Midland, Texas, home under police protection.

Guo’s anti-dissident campaign appeared unrelated at first—he had railed against Fu and the dissident artist Ai Weiwei as early as January—but the Fu and Biden conspiracies have somehow converged within the rabbit hole. On Oct. 27, Lude Media and GNews first shared an alleged screenshot of an email from “Bob Fenet”—said to be a pseudonym for Bob Fu—to James Biden, the nominee’s brother.

The evidence presented is incredibly shaky, but pro-Guo accounts immediately began sharing the alleged email, accumulating thousands of likes and retweets. “Breaking news from #LudeMedia,” one tweet from the pro-Guo account @John316_truth read. “Bombshell email!! Bob Fenet is Bob Fu!! The phony pastor, real CCP spy who pretends to be a Republican but in the pants with the #BidenCrimeFamily #LaptopFromHell.”

Twitter removed tweets about the email on Friday morning after an inquiry from Foreign Policy. The company confirmed that it had removed the tweet from @John316_truth for violating its private information policy. Other tweets containing the screenshot and mentioning “Bob Fenet”—whose details have been lifted from social media profiles of a real person apparently residing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—remain on the website.

Fu’s own Twitter posts have been bombarded by Guo followers accusing him of being part of a vast conspiracy to elect Joe Biden. This has come as a surprise to Fu, himself a conservative evangelical and Trump supporter who has close ties to prominent Republican politicians and faith leaders and whose nonprofit organization, which provides legal assistance to Chinese victims of religious repression, is widely respected in Washington. The rumors “show how low and desperate the Guo/Bannon group would go in order to have the CCP interfere in the U.S. election,” said Fu, who told me he is worried by the vitriolic online comments accusing him of being part of a Biden conspiracy.

The rumors may start as typo-filled, radical QAnon-like nonsense. This has not slowed their virality. Unlike QAnon, which started on 8chan and spread for years through the internet’s annals before making its way to Facebook and Twitter, the Guo-backed spread of Hunter Biden conspiracies has gained momentum on mainstream platforms—leaping easily from there to the lips of conservative commentators and House members.

The conspiracies—and their hardcore anti-CCP themes—have proved attractive to some Chinese exiles as well, including well-known figures like the soccer star Hao Haidong, who show up to Guo’s rallies, call in to Bannon’s podcast, and donate to the pair’s myriad ventures. In the paranoid political culture of the CCP, underhanded business dealings and brazen power grabs are ordinary occurrences. It makes wild Biden rumors more believable to Chinese in the United States, who share them in closed WeChat groups that are both incredibly influential and nearly impossible for independent observers to monitor.

Guo and Bannon have also shaken the preelection conversation among the Chinese diaspora and among Chinese-speaking voters, both inside and outside the United States. Hunter Biden rumors have erupted in Taiwan, where Apple Daily has published allegations that a Taiwanese businessman acted as his business broker in both China and Taiwan.

Guo’s campaign against Fu has intensified speculation of the businessman’s true motives, which, according to the pastor, had gradually picked up steam for years among conservative policymakers in Washington.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz accused the CCP of being behind the attacks on Fu. So did Sam Brownback, Trump’s religious ambassador, who said Friday that the CCP was orchestrating the “harassment of US citizen Pastor @BobFu4China, defender of religious freedom, and others on American soil.”

Commentators have speculated that Guo, who has himself been the target of Chinese-backed online harassment campaigns, could be hedging his bets to protect relationships he maintains within China. His true motives, along with Bannon’s knowledge of them, have become their own bottomless well of speculation. The U.S. presidential election is a day away, and, just as it was in 2016, the zone is flooded with shit.

Nick Aspinwall is a journalist based in Taipei and an editor-at-large at Ketagalan Media. Twitter: @Nick1Aspinwall

More from Foreign Policy

The Taliban delegation leaves the hotel after meeting with representatives of Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Qatar in Moscow on March 19.

China and the Taliban Begin Their Romance

Beijing has its eyes set on using Afghanistan as a strategic corridor once U.S. troops are out of the way.

An Afghan security member pours gasoline over a pile of seized drugs and alcoholic drinks

The Taliban Are Breaking Bad

Meth is even more profitable than heroin—and is turbocharging the insurgency.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the U.N. Security Council from her office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 4, 2020.

Belarus’s Unlikely New Leader

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya didn’t set out to challenge a brutal dictatorship.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

What the Taliban Takeover Means for India

Kabul’s swift collapse leaves New Delhi with significant security concerns.