Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Falun Dafa, Swastikas, and Fascism

Falun Gong...or Falun Dafa...is such an odd thing.  In the United States, they're perhaps best known for the inescapable Shen Yun show, a relentlessly hypermarketed spectacle of music and dance that retells Chinese history from their religious perspective.

Over the past several years, I've seen the adherents of that religious movement making their presence known at large, open social events.  They march in local parades, their floats festooned with signs proclaiming peace and love.   They're consistently present in the annual parade in the little town where my church resides.  They're there in my hometown Annandale Parade, as they were this last fall.

It was at that hometown parade that I accepted a flyer pressed into my hand, neatly produced and earnest.  Peace and Love, proclaimed the cover.  I opened it up, and there they were.  The symbols of their movement:

Swastikas.  Oof.

I'm not ignorant of the history of that symbol.  As an image, the swastika had a long history before it was co-opted by Hitler's National Socialist movement.  For millennia, it had none of the connotations of brutal, genocidal nationalism that now hang around it like a cloud in the West.  When someone from Asia or Southeast Asia uses it, I think rather differently about it than I might were I to see it flying alongside a Let's Go Brandon flag in rural America.

Still and all, there's a clumsiness to putting that front and center, an awkward failure to acknowledge the context you inhabit, like walking into a mosque with your shoes on and wearing a t-shirt that asserts that everything goes better with bacon.  "Hey, it's just my culture, get over it" doesn't quite cut the mustard.

And there's another, peculiar level to this story.

Falun Gong has been systematically and often brutally oppressed in their native China, with adherents subject to imprisonment, "re-education," and exile.  Because of this, they are vehemently opposed to the Communist party in China.  Like Sun Myung Moon's "Moonie" Reunification Church back in the 1960s and 1970s, their vociferous anticommunism overcompensates into something peculiar.

In addition the the ubiquity of Shen Yun, Falun Dafa is also responsible for the media content produced by The Epoch Times, which they own.  

That outlet, if you're not aware of it, is a "fair and balanced" news organization that aggressively promoted claims of election fraud in 2020, that sees communist influence everywhere, and that routinely casts doubt on the efficacy and safety of vaccines.  They're purveyors of "hard-hitting documentaries" produced by entirely "neutral and reflective" folks like Dinesh D'Souza, and proudly highlight the endorsements of thoughtful moderates like Sebastian Gorka, Pete Navarro, and Paul Gosar.

For entirely comprehensible reasons, they're pro-Trump, because Trump is performatively anti-China.  This position mirrors that of the Moon's Reunification Church, which purchased the Washington Times back in the day to both promote themselves and align with far right wing causes.

Which brings us back, in the deepest of ironies, to their use of swastikas.

Saying "the swastika is just our cultural sign of peace and love" feels a little off when your media outlet is championing the messages of the far right, and amplifying authoritarian voices that would overturn the constitutional foundations of this republic.