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Friday, December 1, 2023

How a U.S. Tech Mogul Used Nonprofits to Sow Chinese language Propaganda


The protest in London’s bustling Chinatown introduced collectively a wide range of activist teams to oppose an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. So it was peculiar when a avenue brawl broke out amongst principally ethnic Chinese language demonstrators.

Witnesses mentioned the struggle, in November 2021, began when males aligned with the occasion’s organizers, together with a bunch referred to as No Chilly Warfare, attacked activists supporting the democracy motion in Hong Kong.

On the floor, No Chilly Warfare is a unfastened collective run principally by American and British activists who say the West’s rhetoric in opposition to China has distracted from points like local weather change and racial injustice.

The truth is, a New York Instances investigation discovered, it’s a part of a lavishly funded affect marketing campaign that defends China and pushes its propaganda. On the middle is a charismatic American millionaire, Neville Roy Singham, who is called a socialist benefactor of far-left causes.

What’s much less recognized, and is hidden amid a tangle of nonprofit teams and shell firms, is that Mr. Singham works carefully with the Chinese language authorities media machine and is financing its propaganda worldwide.

From a assume tank in Massachusetts to an occasion house in Manhattan, from a political celebration in South Africa to information organizations in India and Brazil, The Instances tracked a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to teams linked to Mr. Singham that blend progressive advocacy with Chinese language authorities speaking factors.

Some, like No Chilly Warfare, popped up lately. Others, just like the American antiwar group Code Pink, have morphed over time. Code Pink as soon as criticized China’s rights file however now defends its internment of the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, which human rights specialists have labeled against the law in opposition to humanity.

These teams are funded via American nonprofits flush with at the very least $275 million in donations.

However Mr. Singham, 69, himself sits in Shanghai, the place one outlet in his community is co-producing a YouTube present financed partially by town’s propaganda division. Two others are working with a Chinese language college to “unfold China’s voice to the world.” And final month, Mr. Singham joined a Communist Celebration workshop about selling the celebration internationally.

Mr. Singham says he doesn’t work on the course of the Chinese language authorities. However the line between him and the propaganda equipment is so blurry that he shares workplace house — and his teams share employees members — with an organization whose aim is to teach foreigners about “the miracles that China has created on the world stage.”

Years of analysis have proven how disinformation, each homegrown and foreign-backed, influences mainstream conservative discourse. Mr. Singham’s community reveals what that course of appears to be like like on the left.

He and his allies are on the entrance line of what Communist Celebration officers name a “smokeless conflict.” Below the rule of Xi Jinping, China has expanded state media operations, teamed up with abroad shops and cultivated international influencers. The aim is to disguise propaganda as unbiased content material.

Mr. Singham’s teams have produced YouTube movies that, collectively, racked up hundreds of thousands of views. In addition they search to affect real-world politics by assembly with congressional aides, coaching politicians in Africa, working candidates in South African elections and organizing protests just like the one in London that erupted into violence.

The result’s a seemingly natural bloom of far-left teams that echo Chinese language authorities speaking factors, echo each other, and are echoed in flip by the Chinese language state media.

As a result of the community is constructed on the again of American nonprofit teams, tax specialists mentioned, Mr. Singham could have been eligible for tax deductions for his donations.

The Instances untangled the net of charities and shell firms utilizing nonprofit and company filings, inside paperwork and interviews with over two dozen former workers of teams linked to Mr. Singham. Some teams, together with No Chilly Warfare, don’t appear to exist as authorized entities however are tied to the community via area registration information and shared organizers.

None of Mr. Singham’s nonprofits have registered below the International Brokers Registration Act, as is required of teams that search to affect public opinion on behalf of international powers. That normally applies to teams taking cash or orders from international governments. Authorized specialists mentioned Mr. Singham’s community was an uncommon case.

Many of the teams in Mr. Singham’s community declined to reply questions from The Instances. Three mentioned they’d by no means acquired cash or directions from a international authorities or political celebration.

Hypothesis about Mr. Singham first emerged on Twitter amongst self-described anti-fascists. Studies adopted within the publication New Strains and the South African investigative outlet amaBhungane. The authorities in India raided a information group tied to Mr. Singham throughout a crackdown on the press, accusing it of getting ties to the Chinese language authorities however providing no proof.

The Instances investigation is the primary to unravel the funding and doc Mr. Singham’s ties to Chinese language propaganda pursuits.

Mr. Singham didn’t provide substantive solutions to questions on these ties. He mentioned he abided by the tax legal guidelines in nations the place he was energetic.

“I categorically deny and repudiate any suggestion that I’m a member of, work for, take orders from, or observe directions of any political celebration or authorities or their representatives,” he wrote in an e mail. “I’m solely guided by my beliefs, that are my long-held private views.”

Certainly, his associates say Mr. Singham has lengthy admired Maoism, the Communist ideology that gave rise to fashionable China. He praised Venezuela below the leftist president Hugo Chávez as a “phenomenally democratic place.” And a decade earlier than transferring to China, he mentioned the world may study from its governing strategy.

The son of a leftist tutorial, Archibald Singham, Mr. Singham is a longtime activist who based the Chicago-based software program consultancy Thoughtworks.

There, Mr. Singham got here throughout as an enthralling showman who prided himself on creating an egalitarian company tradition. He was unabashed about his politics. A former firm technical director, Majdi Haroun, recalled Mr. Singham lecturing him on the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. Mr. Haroun mentioned workers generally jokingly referred to as one another “comrade.”

In 2017, Mr. Singham married Jodie Evans, a former Democratic political adviser and the co-founder of Code Pink. The marriage, in Jamaica, was a “Who’s Who” of progressivism. Images from the occasion present Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now!”; Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; and V, the playwright previously often called Eve Ensler, who wrote “The Vagina Monologues.”

It was additionally a working occasion. The invitation described a panel dialogue referred to as “The Way forward for the Left.”

Mr. Singham had a plan for that future. He had quietly funded left-wing causes whereas at Thoughtworks. However his activism was about to accentuate. Six months after his wedding ceremony, he bought Thoughtworks to a non-public fairness agency. A duplicate of the sale settlement put the worth at $785 million.

“I made a decision that at my age and excessive privilege, the perfect factor I may do was to offer away most of my cash in my lifetime,” he mentioned in his assertion.

Whereas different moguls slapped their names on foundations, Mr. Singham despatched his cash via a system that hid his giving.

At its middle had been 4 new nonprofits with dust-dry names like “United Neighborhood Fund” and “Justice and Training Fund.” They’ve nearly no real-world footprints, itemizing their addresses solely as UPS retailer mailboxes in Illinois, Wisconsin and New York.

As a result of American nonprofit teams don’t have to disclose particular person donors, these 4 nonprofits labored like a monetary geyser, throwing out a bathe of cash from an invisible supply.

Of their public filings, none listing Mr. Singham as a board member or donor. “I don’t management them,” he mentioned in his assertion, “though I’ve been recognized to share my opinions.”

In actuality, Mr. Singham has shut ties to all 4.

The most important is run by Ms. Evans. The group’s founding bylaws say that Mr. Singham can hearth her and the remainder of the board. In addition they require that the group dissolve after Mr. Singham’s demise.

The opposite three teams had been based by former Thoughtworks workers, based on interviews with different former Thoughtworks employees members and résumés posted on-line.

In his assertion, Mr. Singham acknowledged giving his cash to unnamed intermediaries that match the outline of those 4 UPS retailer nonprofits. And several other teams that acquired donations from them have recognized Mr. Singham because the supply.

One in every of them is the Massachusetts-based assume tank Tricontinental. Its government director, Vijay Prashad, recounted Mr. Singham’s financing in 2021. “A Marxist with an enormous software program firm!” he wrote on Twitter.

Tricontinental produces movies and articles on socialist points. Mr. Prashad didn’t reply questions on Mr. Singham, however mentioned the group adopted the legislation. “We don’t and have by no means acquired funds or directions from any authorities or political celebration,” he mentioned in a press release.

From the united statesstore nonprofits, hundreds of thousands of {dollars} flowed world wide. The Instances tracked cash to a South African political celebration, YouTube channels in the USA and nonprofits in Ghana and Zambia. In Brazil, information present, cash flowed to a bunch that produces a publication, Brasil de Fato, that intersperses articles about land rights with reward for Xi Jinping.

In New Delhi, company filings present, Mr. Singham’s community financed a information website, NewsClick, that sprinkled its protection with Chinese language authorities speaking factors. “China’s historical past continues to encourage the working courses,” one video mentioned.

These teams function in coordination. They’ve cross-posted articles and shared each other’s content material on social media a whole lot of instances. Many share employees members and workplace house. They manage occasions collectively and interview each other’s representatives with out disclosing their ties.

A number of instances a yr, activists and politicians from throughout Africa fly to South Africa for boot camps on the Nkrumah College, set in a well-liked safari space.

They arrive to study to arrange employees and left-wing actions. As soon as on campus, although, some attendees are shocked to search out Chinese language subjects seeping into the curriculum.

At a current session, studying packets mentioned that the USA was waging a “hybrid conflict” in opposition to China by distorting details about Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Xinjiang area the place Uyghurs had been held in camps.

The packets praised Chinese language loans, calling them “a possibility for African states to assemble real, and sovereign, improvement tasks.” No point out was product of China’s position in a current debt disaster in Zambia.

“They’re being rounded as much as be fed Chinese language propaganda,” mentioned Cebelihle Mbuyisa, a former worker who helped put together supplies for the workshop. “Entire social actions on the African continent are being hijacked by what appears to be like like a international coverage instrument of the Chinese language Communist Celebration.”

Those that objected had been shouted down or not invited again, 4 previous attendees mentioned.

U.S. tax information present that considered one of the united statesstore nonprofits, the Individuals’s Assist Basis, donated at the very least $450,000 for coaching on the faculty. On Instagram, Ms. Evans described a photograph of the grounds as “Roy’s new place.”

The $450,000 was simply a part of Mr. Singham’s efforts in South Africa. In all, the inspiration has despatched $5.6 million to teams that run the college; a information group; and the Socialist Revolutionary Employees Celebration, a fringe celebration launched forward of the 2019 election.

Former celebration members mentioned they had been perplexed that, regardless of extreme native unemployment and poverty, the celebration appeared curious about China. Mr. Singham, for instance, urged them to attend a web-based lecture by a Chinese language tutorial, Li Bo of Fudan College, an e mail reveals.

After a celebration member referred to as China’s presence in Africa “a second colonization,” leaders responded defensively in a WhatsApp group. “When it got here to us questioning sure behaviors from the Chinese language state, that was a no-no,” mentioned Lindiwe Mkhumbane, a former member.

In a press release, the celebration mentioned its members have attended workshops on progressive points however that it had by no means pressured anybody to attend.

Mr. Singham additionally funded a web-based information start-up, New Body, based on a recording obtained by The Instances. One worker, Aragorn Eloff, mentioned Mr. Singham interviewed him for a job.

The outlet employed gifted reporters and paid them properly. Readership was small, however the acknowledged aim was “high quality, not clicks.”

Its former high editor has denied that New Body had a pro-China slant. However a former reporter, Anna Majavu, mentioned that an editor eliminated criticism of Chinese language labor practices from a narrative on mining. “The resistance from the editor was purely political,” she mentioned.

And in June 2022, an editor, Darryl Accone, wrote a resignation letter criticizing New Body’s delicate protection of China and Russia. The “unavoidable conclusion,” he wrote, “is that that is an ideological directive emanating from above and out of doors New Body.”

Mr. Singham’s workplace, adorned in purple and yellow, sits on the 18th flooring of Shanghai’s swanky Instances Sq..

A go to reveals that he’s not alone.

He shares the workplace with a Chinese language media firm referred to as Maku Group, which says its aim is to “inform China’s story properly,” a time period generally used for international propaganda. In a Chinese language-language job commercial, Maku says it produces textual content, audio and movies for “world networks of well-liked media and progressive assume tanks.”

It may be onerous to inform the place Maku begins and Mr. Singham’s teams finish.

Nonprofit filings present that just about $1.8 million flowed from considered one of the united statesstore nonprofits to Maku Group. And in 2021, based on a Chinese language-language information launch, Maku and Tricontinental agreed to work with a Shanghai college to “inform China’s story” in Chinese language and English.

Maku’s web site reveals younger individuals gathering in Mr. Singham’s workplace, going through a purple banner that reads, in Chinese language, “All the time Comply with the Celebration.” Resting on a shelf is a plate depicting Xi Jinping.

Maku Group didn’t reply to a request to remark. After The Instances started asking questions, its web site went down for upkeep.

In 2020, Mr. Singham emailed his pals to introduce a publication, now referred to as Dongsheng Information, that covers China in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Drawing tales from the state media, it blends lighthearted information with bureaucratic official prose.

Dongsheng’s editors, in China, come from Tricontinental, however its handle results in the Individuals’s Discussion board, a Manhattan occasion house additionally funded by Mr. Singham. Dongsheng “supplies distinctive progressive protection of China that has been sadly lacking,” Mr. Singham instructed pals.

His ties to the propaganda machine date again at the very least to 2019, when, company paperwork present, he began a consulting enterprise with Chinese language companions. These companions are energetic within the propaganda equipment, co-owning with the municipal authorities of Tongren a media firm that promotes anti-poverty insurance policies.

The small, southwest metropolis of Tongren might sound a distinct segment subject. However organizations in Mr. Singham’s community have printed at the very least a dozen objects about peasants there.

Ms. Evans, 68, was as soon as a Democratic insider who managed the 1992 presidential marketing campaign of the California governor Jerry Brown.

After the 2001 terrorist assaults, she reinvented herself as an activist. She turned recognized for pink peace-sign earrings and sit-ins that ended together with her arrest.

She helped type Code Pink to protest the looming conflict in Iraq. The group turned infamous for disrupting Capitol Hill hearings.

Ms. Evans has organized round progressive causes like local weather change, gender and racism. Till a couple of years in the past, she readily criticized China’s authoritarian authorities.

“We demand China cease brutal repression of their ladies’s human rights defenders,” she wrote on Twitter in 2015. She later posted on Instagram a photograph with the Chinese language dissident Ai Weiwei.

Since 2017, a couple of quarter of Code Pink’s donations — greater than $1.4 million — have come from two teams linked to Mr. Singham, nonprofit information present. The primary was considered one of the united statesstore nonprofits. The second was a charity that Goldman Sachs presents as a conduit for purchasers’ giving, and that Mr. Singham has used up to now.

Ms. Evans now stridently helps China. She casts it as a defender of the oppressed and a mannequin for financial development with out slavery or conflict. “If the U.S. crushes China,” she mentioned in 2021, it “would minimize off hope for the human race and life on Earth.”

She describes the Uyghurs as terrorists and defends their mass detention. “We have now to do one thing,” she mentioned in 2021. In a current YouTube video chat, she was requested if she had something detrimental to say about China.

“I can’t, for the lifetime of me, consider something,” Ms. Evans responded. She in the end had one grievance: She had hassle utilizing China’s phone-based fee apps.

Ms. Evans declined to reply questions on funding from her husband however mentioned Code Pink had by no means taken cash from any authorities. “I deny your suggestion that I observe the course of any political celebration, my husband or every other authorities or their representatives,” she mentioned in a written assertion. “I’ve at all times adopted my values.”

Few on the American political left would focus on the couple publicly, fearing lawsuits or harassment. Others mentioned that criticism would undermine progressive causes. However Howie Hawkins, the 2020 Inexperienced Celebration presidential nominee, mentioned he had soured on Code Pink and others within the Singham community that introduced themselves as pro-labor however supported governments that suppressed employees. “To defend that, or excuse that, actually pushes them outdoors what the left should be,” he mentioned.

Code Pink isn’t alone amongst left-wing teams in elevating issues about anti-Asian discrimination and tensions between Beijing and Washington.

However Code Pink goes additional, defending the Chinese language authorities’s insurance policies. In a 2021 video, a employees member in contrast Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators to the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 that yr.

In June, Code Pink activists visited employees members on the Home Choose Committee on China unannounced. Within the workplace of Consultant Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, activists denied proof of pressured labor in Xinjiang and mentioned the congressman ought to go to and see how comfortable individuals had been there, based on an aide.

“They’re capitalizing on very authentic issues with a view to push this pro-authoritarian narrative,” mentioned Brian Hioe, an editor with New Bloom, a progressive Taiwanese information website. “And their concepts find yourself circulating in a manner that impacts mainstream discourse.”

Chinese language state media accounts have retweeted individuals and organizations in Mr. Singham’s community at the very least 122 instances since February 2020, a Instances evaluation discovered, principally accounts linked with No Chilly Warfare and Code Pink.

This Might, Mr. Singham attended the opening of a media institute in Shanghai. Organizers distributed tote luggage studying “Communications as solidarity.”

A photograph reveals Mr. Singham sitting up entrance, subsequent to Yu Yunquan, an official from a publishing group below the Communist Celebration’s highly effective Central Committee.

Simply final month, Mr. Singham attended a Chinese language Communist Celebration propaganda discussion board. In a photograph, taken throughout a breakout session on easy methods to promote the celebration overseas, Mr. Singham is seen jotting in a pocket book adorned with a purple hammer and sickle.

Pleasure Dong, Michael Forsythe, Flávia Milhorance, Liu Yi and Suhasini Raj contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy and Michelle Lum contributed analysis.


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