On June 3, a collection of some of the right’s most prominent purveyors of election-fraud lies and coronavirus misinformation congregated in the window-lined observatory atop One World Trade Center, with views of the Hudson River and Manhattan’s expanse. On hand were MAGA luminaries including Rudy Giuliani, who had crisscrossed the country attempting to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 loss; Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser turned QAnon hero; and Mike Lindell, the mustachioed bedding magnate who’s been aggressively peddling the Big Lie along with his MyPillows. Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, wearing a single button-down shirt instead of his usual two or three, was the master of ceremonies.
The event’s host, Guo Wengui, however, did not show up. According to one associate, he said he was worried that his presence might inspire the Chinese government to mount a 9/11–style jet attack on the tower to silence him for good. But Guo, the fugitive Chinese tycoon and self-described whistleblower on Chinese Communist Party corruption, did appear throughout the gala via a pair of screens at the front of the room, wearing an assortment of eclectic outfits that evoked a fashion mashup of Michael Jackson and Moammar Qaddafi.
Throughout the 12-hour spectacle—attended by a couple hundred guests in formal wear and no masks, and me, the only reporter present—a music video for Guo’s new rap-pop protest song “The Hero” ran repeatedly. In it, Guo, who also goes by Miles, performs in a leather jumpsuit, occasionally wielding a light saber. “Galloping on my horse,” he sings in Chinese, while dancers gyrate in front of a private jet, presumably his own. “An eagle stands on my shoulder. To sacrifice on the battlefield is my honor.”
It was the anniversary gala for the New Federal State of China, a supposed government in exile dedicated to the overthrow of the CCP, launched by Guo and Bannon at another surreal event one year before. On that occasion, Guo signed a declaration of principles in his own blood and, declaring “Love you,” planted a kiss on an uncomfortable-looking Bannon as planes dragged congratulatory banners overhead. The launch was held in New York harbor with the Statue of Liberty and the Lady May, Guo’s $28 million, 150-foot yacht, in the background. That is the same boat on which federal agents arrested Bannon later that summer on charges of defrauding donors in a quixotic campaign to fund border-wall construction.
For an outfit dedicated to overthrowing the Chinese regime, the New Federal State’s anniversary gala included scant criticism of China’s human rights record or economic policies. Rather, it featured an assortment of conspiracy theories that centered on US politics, albeit with Beijing lurking behind the plots.
“How can you switch tens of millions of votes?” Lindell asked the crowd, during a presentation so inscrutable that he seemed to have a hard time understanding himself. “It has to be done with these computers. It had to be done through these machines. China did it.”
President Joe Biden “is bought and paid for by the Chinese Communist Party,” Giuliani declared in a keynote speech.
Peter Navarro, a former economic policy adviser in the Trump White House, praised Guo via video: “He reminds me a lot of Donald J. Trump here in America—Miles is a billionaire, but he also has great empathy for the ‘deplorables.’” Navarro went on to use his speech to “damn Anthony Fauci…in front of the world.”
Dr. Li-Meng Yan, a Guo-endorsed researcher and leading proponent of the theory that Covid is a Chinese weapon, was hailed by Bannon as “a hero to all mankind.” “No vaccine has worked,” she concluded from the podium. “The vaccine cannot overcome biowarfare.”
Bannon has long crusaded against China, once saying it wouldn’t be long before the US would go to war in the South China Sea. He hosts a daily podcast, War Room—Guo is a frequent guest—where he manages to trace the roots of nearly all American social upheaval, including George Floyd’s murder, to Beijing. The coronavirus has provided Bannon and other China foes a potent new vector to attack the regime, which they accuse of unleashing the deadly pathogen. In Guo, Bannon has linked arms with an enigmatic and deep-pocketed patron, one who has positioned himself as a leader of the Chinese diaspora even as he bolsters wild anti-CCP conspiracies, in some cases deploying anti-Semitic themes.
Guo and Bannon claim their New Federal State of China will eventually receive official recognition—a prospect as far-fetched as me receiving recognition for the sovereign state of my living room—and Guo has announced that passports will cost $50,000. The NFSC has what Guo calls the Himalaya Embassy, located in a leased building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that houses other Guo concerns. Navarro, a veteran China hawk, has signed on as a supposed “international ambassador.” Guo has even created a monetary system, based on a cryptocurrency dubbed GCoin; it’s issued through an entity called the Himalaya Federal Reserve.
The NFSC has no full-time staff and no website, and it is not even a legally incorporated entity. What funding it receives seems to flow from the Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation, nonprofits launched by Guo and Bannon. The two organizations are part of a web of more than 60 commercial, nonprofit, and online groups that Guo controls—what the mogul and his far-right adviser call the “whistleblower movement.” Even brands such as GFashion, which features designs curated by Guo, and GMusic, which promotes his videos, are touted as part of a collective effort to “Take Down the CCP.” Bannon repeatedly led guests at the anniversary party in chanting that slogan; it’s also the title of a 2020 Guo track that was briefly the United States’ most downloaded song on iTunes. Guo also sells memberships to something called GClubs, which provides “concierge customer service” and special access to Guo’s fashion collections, music releases, and an annual GSummit.
At the heart of Guo’s empire is a media operation, built with considerable input from Bannon, that includes the Chinese-language video platform GTV, which features regular broadcasts from Guo and dubbed versions of Bannon’s War Room, and a website, GNews, that runs articles summarizing Guo’s pronouncements. Guo also developed an early version of Gettr, the right-wing social media site now run by former Trump aide Jason Miller.
Sprawling and ill-defined, Guo’s operation has become a major source of disinformation, and his network includes an expanding base of fanatical followers who widely disseminate false claims and do Guo’s bidding online and off. As Graphika, a social media analysis firm, concluded in a report last spring, “The ‘Guo media network’ defies traditional characterization as either a media organization or an influence operation. Instead, it is an ever-evolving constellation of personalities and entities that revolve around Guo. This includes media figures, content creators, publishing platforms, social media accounts, non-profits, brands, financial schemes, a faux ‘government’ and more, all under the guise of a global sociopolitical movement.”
Guo has made common cause with the American far right and courted controversy in spite—or perhaps because—of his bid for asylum in the United States. In fact, multiple lawsuits claim he has concocted his dissident persona to strengthen his case. In legal filings, he’s been accused of directing his zealous followers to harass and assault his critics, of engaging in brazen financial fraud, and even of being a Chinese agent posing as a CCP critic. His saga—a rapping, fashion-designing billionaire presiding over a disinformation empire—is psychedelically strange. His alliance with Bannon, a nationalist crusader once dubbed “the great manipulator” by Time magazine, gives him entree to the cast of characters surrounding Trump. Together, they are starring in one of the weirdest, wildest buddy flicks you’ve ever seen. But this is no comedy.
When he first arrived in the United States in early 2015, Guo seemed anything but a rebel. Reportedly the 74th richest person in China, he wasted no time splashing some of his fortune on a $67.5 million, 15-room penthouse overlooking Central Park in Manhattan’s Sherry-Netherland hotel. His condo application came with a letter of reference from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who praised Guo as “dependable, sincere and extremely responsible as an individual conducting himself with dignity and intelligence.” For a newcomer, Guo displayed deft political instincts, quickly acquiring a Mar-a-Lago membership as the club’s owner prepared his presidential bid.
Guo’s past is murky, and he declined repeated interview requests for this story. What’s known comes largely from his own, sometimes inconsistent, accounts in interviews and depositions, along with Chinese media reports, some of which contradict his claims. Guo goes by Miles Kwok, Miles Guo, or Ho Wan Kwok. Depending on the interview, he has said he was born in 1967, or ’68, or ’70, in Northeast China to parents relocated there during the Cultural Revolution. Raised in poverty, he married at 15, dropped out of school, and found work in Beijing selling clothing and electronics in a street market.
In 1989, Guo was jailed for nearly two years. He has said his offense was supporting the Tiananmen Square uprising by selling his motorbike and donating the proceeds to protesters. When trying to apprehend him, Guo has claimed, police fatally shot his brother. “That was when I started my plan” against the CCP, he told the New York Times. I could not corroborate Guo’s claims about the reason for his arrest and his brother’s death; people who know him dispute that he supported the Tiananmen activists. If this was the crystallizing moment in his anti-CCP fight, then he bided his time for 25 years, becoming a billionaire with help from the Chinese state along the way.
After his release from prison in 1991, Guo moved to Hong Kong, then still under British control, and went to work for a businesswoman named Xia Ping. In 1993, according to Beijing-based business news and investigative reporting outlet Caixin, a company that Xia controlled formed a joint venture with Guo in Zhengzhou, the sprawling capital of Henan province, where Guo began cultivating local officials. His company soon won rights to build a government-backed development that included a new landmark skyscraper. While Guo has said he never received help from the Chinese government, Caixin has reported that he used the property as collateral to obtain Chinese state funding.
Around 2002, Guo returned to Beijing, where a city agency sold him two plots of land next to what would become the 2008 Olympic Park. Guo planned to construct offices and hotels, but he faced opposition from the vice mayor of Beijing, Liu Zhihua, who oversaw Olympic development projects.
Guo, by then, had a powerful ally: Ma Jian, a J. Edgar Hooveresque figure who was the vice minister of China’s Ministry of State Security, a fearsome agency that engages in both domestic and international intelligence. Caixin reported that Ma helped Guo obtain footage capturing the vice mayor engaged in corrupt dealings and extramarital affairs. Chinese media reports claim Guo delivered the video to China’s top anti-corruption body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, forcing Liu’s ouster and saving his project.
But by 2015, Ma himself was under investigation for corruption. He eventually confessed to accepting more than $8.7 million in gifts from Guo in exchange for favors, including intervening with local officials to advance Guo’s real estate projects. Guo denied bribing Ma, later telling the Times that Ma had made himself a target by collecting incriminating material on China’s leaders. Just days before Ma’s January 2015 arrest, Guo fled China. Ma was eventually sentenced to life in prison.
After arriving in New York, Guo kept a low profile for two years, during which, his detractors contend, he attempted to negotiate with Chinese authorities over assets they were threatening to seize. But in 2017, he went public in a big way, leveling accusations of corruption and sexual hijinks by China’s leaders on Twitter and YouTube, and in a series of media interviews.
Guo, who has suggested his info came from Ma, accused Wang Qishan, China’s anti-corruption czar, of hiding payoffs and carrying on an affair. He also asserted, without evidence, that Chinese officials caused the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to cover up an organ-harvesting operation serving Communist Party elites.
He seemed to relish the spotlight, holding court and posing for photo shoots in his palatial apartment. “I have the best houses,” Guo bragged to the Times for an article in which he also divulged that he never wore the same pair of underwear twice.
Guo’s media tour seemed to worry China’s rulers. On April 19, 2017, a Chinese American journalist named Sasha Gong hosted him for a live interview on Voice of America. Their conversation was abruptly cut off as Guo aired a litany of unsubstantiated charges about Chinese officials. VOA officials fired Gong, saying she had ignored instructions and gone over time, while Guo alleged China pressured the organization into ending the interview. VOA denied that such complaints had factored into their decision.
Nevertheless, hours after the interview, China announced that Interpol had issued a “red notice”—a directive to law enforcement around the world to arrest a person pending extradition—for Guo. Beijing froze Guo’s Chinese bank accounts and accused him of fraud, bribery, and other crimes, according to legal filings. The next month, Ministry of State Security officials twice visited Guo at his apartment, warning him to cease his activism and return to China.
Even as he stepped into the role of whistleblowing dissident, Guo attempted a rapprochement with Beijing. In an August 2017 letter to party leaders, he proposed a deal. He would “desist from revealing information” if they retracted the red notice and unfroze his assets. “I will definitely devote my life to…uphold[ing] the core beliefs of Chairman Xi, and sacrifice my everything for Chairman Xi,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, China’s extradition request became the subject of fierce DC lobbying. Steve Wynn, the casino magnate with interests in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau who was then the Republican National Committee’s finance chair, personally pressed Trump to expel Guo. (The Justice Department last year reportedly threatened legal action against Wynn for failing to register as an agent of the Chinese government in connection with his effort.) GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, working on behalf of a Malaysian businessman with links to China, also pushed the administration to carry out the extradition. (Broidy pleaded guilty in 2020 to charges related to his lobbying efforts.) But Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Bannon, then still Trump’s chief strategist, reportedly opposed Guo’s extradition, wary of helping China silence a critic. Trump sided with them.
The controversy helped Guo win support from established Chinese dissidents and from conservative US hawks pushing more confrontation with Beijing. He befriended Gong, putting her on the board of his Rule of Law Society. She introduced him to conservative journalist Bill Gertz, who went on to cover Guo sympathetically. An associate of Guo’s later gave Gertz a $100,000 loan as he wrote a book on China—an arrangement Gertz didn’t disclose to his employer, the Washington Free Beacon, which fired him after learning of it. (Gertz, who also served on the Rule of Law Society’s board, did not respond to questions, though he said in a deposition that he didn’t think Guo was aware of the loan.) According to a person familiar with the discussions, Gertz put Guo in touch with the Center for Security Policy, a hawkish think tank run by far-right pundit Frank Gaffney, and with the anti-China Committee on the Present Danger.
And in the fall of 2017, as Guo sought influential allies in Washington, Gertz brokered an even more fruitful introduction for the Chinese mogul.
Steve Bannon was at sea. Trump had recently fired him from his White House post, and the billionaire Mercer clan, who had helped bankroll Breitbart and other Bannon projects, were icing him out. Gertz arranged for Bannon to meet Guo in a suite at DC’s Hay-Adams hotel. The men later said they bonded over their shared antipathy for China’s leaders. But each also had something to gain. In Guo, Bannon found another rich benefactor. In Bannon, Guo landed an ally with deep ties to conservatives and Trump’s administration, an invaluable asset for a man facing possible extradition.
Bannon, a maestro of political propaganda, helped Guo shape and refine his message—and build the infrastructure to amplify it. Guo’s early attacks on Chinese officials, as aggressive as they were, contained nuance. He urged reforming, not overthrowing, the CCP. Under Bannon’s tutelage, Guo’s rhetoric grew sharper, and he coined the “Take Down the CCP” slogan. A piece of advice Guo says Bannon shared: “Say it over and over again…Most people are ignorant and don’t understand…Repeat, repeat, repeat.”
Guo has called Bannon “the king of Western media” and said “the way he manipulates media is unparalleled.” Together they followed a playbook similar to one that Bannon had previously used to wage political warfare via media and nonprofit organizations. (Bannon did not respond to written questions or interview requests for this story.)
In May 2018, Guo formed Saraca Media—the parent company of GNews and GTV—paying Bannon $1 million in consulting fees that year. Their contract, according to both men, was not renewed, but Bannon has since received other perks from Guo, flying across the country in his private jet—including to Republican candidates’ events, a potential campaign finance violation—and, at one point, spending time aboard his yacht.
Bannon has insisted to associates that he’s not working with Guo for the money. Instead, he has said that he is using Guo—as he claimed he used Trump—to further his worldwide populist and nationalist agenda. “All the money I receive from any source goes into this fight,” he told one person who questioned his work for Guo. Another person who worked with Bannon said that he referred to Guo as “a tool.”
“Are they friends? Sure,” says another source who knows both men. “But for Steve it’s certainly a means to an end, to spread his nationalist, anti-China message. And without Steve I don’t think [Guo] is where he is either…They kind of use each other.”
In late November 2018, Guo and Bannon announced the formation of the Rule of Law Fund to investigate corruption in China and help victims of government persecution there, with Guo promising $100 million for the effort. This entity soon spawned two affiliated nonprofits—the Rule of Law Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit that the IRS allows to receive tax-deductible donations, and the Rule of Law Society, a 501(c)(4), which can engage in explicit political activities like lobbying.
Gong, the former VOA reporter, says she quit her position on the Rule of Law Society’s board in protest when “not a penny” of Guo’s pledge materialized. “I don’t like to tell donors we have hundreds of millions of dollars there, but we don’t,” she said in a deposition. “I don’t like to be part of telling donors all those lies.”
A person familiar with the organizations’ finances said, as of last summer, the groups had combined receipts of about $15 million. Guo raised that money mostly from small donors, promising in one video, even as he awaited disposition of his own case, a “100 percent” chance that contributors would “get political asylum” if US authorities knew they gave.
Guo stocked the organizations with pliant allies and urged the groups to dole out funds to support his causes, says a person with knowledge of the finances, who adds, “We were sending out money to people all over the world, with very little documentation.”
According to a person involved, the Rule of Law Foundation and Rule of Law Society bankrolled June’s New Federal State of China anniversary gala at a cost of more than $300,000—with $50,000 earmarked for a drone light show that was canceled due to rain. Flynn and Giuliani each billed the foundation $50,000 to appear, the source said.
The foundation has also financed the work of Li-Meng Yan, the Chinese researcher who spoke at the gala and claims Covid is a bioweapon. Yan, who has a medical degree and a PhD in ophthalmology, was working in a Hong Kong virology lab when she reached out to Wang Dinggang, then a Rule of Law Society board member and a popular Chinese-language YouTuber, with her contention that the coronavirus’s genome showed signs of deliberate manipulation. Guo’s Rule of Law Foundation flew her to New York, giving her a housing stipend and paying her $10,000 a month. She produced three papers promoting her bioweapon theory. Researchers deemed them pseudoscience. But after Bannon coached her and helped her book an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox show, her claims gained traction on the right, and she went on to make other appearances on Fox and in a range of right-wing outlets.
Coronavirus and vaccine misinformation would become a staple of Guo’s network, including his fashion company, which sells The Cure, a line of apparel promoting unproven Covid treatments like hydroxychloroquine, artemisinin, and azithromycin. (An ivermectin button-down goes for $1,820.) GNews features a “CCP Virus” vertical that often reprises Guo’s remarks in streaming broadcasts, where he has contended the vaccines are “a continuation of the biochemical war” by China and suggested that 70 members of the CCP sit on Pfizer’s board. (Pfizer’s board has 12 members, none associated with Beijing.) In comments rife with anti-Semitic tropes, he has claimed Jews are the primary target of China’s supposed biowarfare because “the CCP wants to gain control of all aspects of the world, and the Jews are in their way.”
“The American economy is in Jewish hands,” he said, according to one GNews article. “Many of the 3000+ fund managers on Wall Street are Jews. Vaccines hurt Jews the most…The world internet is overwhelmingly in Jewish hands.” Guo’s absurd claims would be laughable—but for his legion of highly organized followers who not only don’t question his pronouncements but work to broadcast them far and wide.
As Guo and Bannon expanded their media footprint, launching GTV in the first months of the pandemic, a separate wing of Guo’s empire ballooned largely organically. A prolific social media user, Guo sometimes posted hours of video to YouTube a day, attracting a hyperloyal fanbase. Sara Wei Lafrenz, a Chinese American living in Tucson, first spotted one of Guo’s broadcasts lacerating China’s government in 2017. She was hooked, and began convening Zoom sessions with other fans, all Chinese speakers, where they discussed how to promote his message. In March 2018, Lafrenz created a server on the Discord chat app where fellow Guo fans could coordinate. Lafrenz called this group the Voice of Guo Media.
Her model quickly proliferated, as other Guo supporters set up similar Discords for fans around the world—from Australia to Germany to DC. By 2020, there were at least 23 such groups, some boasting thousands of participants, according to people involved with administering them. Voice of Guo Media, the largest of the communities, eventually had some 60,000 members, according to two people involved with running it.
Guo’s backers also set up WhatsApp channels, and they used Telegram, a Chinese social media app called Potato, VChat, and other online tools to promote Guo, early participants in this effort said. Many supporters tweeted multiple times daily in support of him and followed other Guo boosters who pushed out Guo’s messages, according to Graphika, the social media research firm. In 2020, after Twitter purged numerous pro-Guo accounts for spreading disinformation, his fans followed Guo to an app linked to GTV. In 2021, they moved to Gettr, a new version run by Jason Miller, the former Trump aide who has called Guo a “visionary.”
Guo’s followers constitute “a geopolitical information operation” driven by a “centralized figure, not a state,” says Emmi Bevensee, a disinformation researcher who has studied the network. “They just repost everything he says and accept it all completely on face value. It’s definitely idolatry.”
Graphika has pointed out that Guo fans coordinate messaging “in a style reminiscent of K-pop fan communities.” But Guo’s followers aren’t celebrating a pop star, Guo’s musical aspirations notwithstanding. Like QAnon, this is an online movement that traffics in false claims, and also one that seems to further radicalize participants, as Guo fans move from anti-China rhetoric to loonier conspiracy theories, including those involving the 2020 election and vaccines. “That’s how a cult works,” Gong says. “You feel good. You validate each other.” Already primed to accept and disseminate Guo’s outlandish claims and rhetoric, his fans responded when he began offering them an opportunity to take part directly in his anti-CCP campaign—by investing in his corporate ventures.
Initially, Guo largely took a hands-off approach to the online communities that had sprouted up to support him, occasionally posting in the Discord groups but doing little to direct their activities. That all changed in early 2020, when, through senior advisers, he began instructing the administrators of Discord servers around the world to begin collecting investments from participants, according to a person who was part of these discussions.
Guo began referring to the Discord groups as “farms” or “Himalaya farms” and issued instructions, both privately and publicly, for harvesting cash from them. And he announced that a group called the Himalaya Supervisory Organization, led by Guo associates, would oversee the so-called farms, effectively asserting his control over the grassroots movement he had inspired.
In the first months of 2020, as Covid spread and international markets spiraled, Guo claimed that the Chinese government, the Chinese yuan, and even the US dollar were close to collapse. But one safe place for money, he told supporters in a series of posts and videos, was in his own companies. Guo created various mechanisms for farm members to send him money. He set up a “loan program,” through which backers who lent to his companies were promised eventual repayment with interest and a chance to invest at a discount in other Guo ventures. And he announced plans to sell 10 percent of GTV stock, with Saraca Media holding the remaining 90 percent. Information sent to potential investors named Bannon as one of five members of GTV’s board.
Guo framed this investment opportunity as an extension of his political fight. “When you invest money here,” he said that spring, “you are draining the Communist Party’s money.” In another video, he declared that “investing in GTV, buying GClub, investing in GFashion, and promoting Bannon’s…show will make you stronger and destroy communism.”
Guo touted GTV as a low-risk investment, subsequent lawsuits note. In one broadcast, he promised investors, “I will not let you lose any money.” An article on GNews stated that from “a business perspective, there is no risk whatsoever, so long as you have trust.”
While Guo set an investment minimum of $100,000, he allowed people to pool their money. Various Guo supporters who ran online “farms” established companies to collect capital from those investors. Lafrenz was at the forefront, incorporating a company called Voice of Guo. Guo cheered her on, calling her a trusted ally. With this imprimatur, Lafrenz eventually raised an astonishing $114 million from 4,500 people around the world. “Take Down the CCP” had been monetized.
But many of these small investors soon complained that they never received receipts or stock certificates from GTV. When they sought refunds, Lafrenz and Guo blamed each other. Similarly, some Guo backers who participated in his loan program, which raised at least $90 million, say they have not yet been repaid.
Investors complained to regulators and filed a slew of lawsuits alleging fraud. Soon, the Securities and Exchange Commission mounted an investigation, eventually ordering the “G Entities,” including GTV, and Voice of Guo to cease and desist from fundraising activity that it said violated securities laws.
Meanwhile, Guo lost millions of investor capital on a separate investment scheme. According to the SEC, Saraca Media transferred $100 million from stock-buyers to a hedge fund speculating in Asian currencies. Bloomberg reported that the fund was managed by Hayman Capital, run by Kyle Bass, a Bannon pal, China critic, and onetime board member of Guo’s Rule of Law Foundation. When Bass made a bad bet that the US response to China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong would cause the enclave’s dollar to fall, Guo lost nearly $30 million.
Bass was a GTV board member at the time Guo transferred investor funds intended for GTV to his hedge fund, according to a person familiar with the Hayman debacle. When I attempted to ask about all of this, Bass and his attorney declined to comment on the record. The financier did block me on Twitter, however.
During the summer and fall of 2020, as they continued to harvest investments, Guo’s “farms” coalesced around another Guo—and Bannon—priority: the reelection of Donald Trump.
The Alethea Group, a firm that tracks disinformation, reported last spring that it had discovered Mandarin and English scripts with pro-Trump messages and links on pro-Guo Discord servers, alongside a spreadsheet of Twitter accounts, belonging to users in presidential swing states, whom Guo backers “were directed to tag and spam” with pro-Trump content. Later in the campaign, Guo’s network was at the vanguard of right-wing attacks on Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Weeks before the New York Post rolled out a series based on the contents of a laptop Hunter had supposedly left at a repair shop, Guo’s network was promoting rumors of a “big money and sex scandal!” and “3 hard disk drives of videos and dossiers of Hunter Biden’s connections with the Chinese Communist Party.” There seemed little mystery about the origin of these claims: Bannon would soon boast to an interviewer that he had a hard drive belonging to Hunter. The Post credited Bannon with alerting the paper to the existence of the drive, which it ultimately got via Rudy Giuliani.
While Guo has denied any role in disseminating Hunter Biden material, Graphika reported that GTV’s website hosted sexually explicit images “purporting to feature” Hunter Biden, along with emails regarding his business dealings in Ukraine, which were “then amplified in a coordinated campaign by members of a Himalaya Movement Discord server.” According to the Alethea Group, the videos and photos were “coupled with QR codes to encourage people to sign up for Guo Media websites.”
After Trump’s 2020 defeat, Guo’s media network began parroting false Republican claims of election fraud. Some Guo backers were present at the rally in Washington on January 6, 2021, that preceded the insurrection. Later GTV videos referred to the mob that attacked the building as “patriots,” and Guo’s boosters promoted baseless claims that the violence was the work of antifa and carried out at the behest of the CCP. Amid the drama of the 2020 election, Donald Trump was not alone in pushing his supporters to go after his enemies.
In the fall of 2020, Guo released a series of YouTube videos targeting Chinese dissidents, human rights activists, and academics who he claimed were secretly working on Beijing’s behalf. He urged his supporters to take on these supposed traitors. According to lawsuits, he gave the campaign an ominous name: “kill cheaters.”
Some of Guo’s targets had never dealt with him before, though many were Guo critics, including former allies who had split with him. In litigation, police reports, and statements to the media, people singled out by Guo say that protesters soon descended on their homes.
Bob Fu, a Chinese-born pastor who runs a nonprofit that helps Christians in China, unexpectedly found himself on Guo’s enemies list. One of several Guo targets who took part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that Guo claims to have supported, Fu is a Republican with deep ties to the Texas GOP.
In one of 11 videos assailing Fu, Guo urged “comrades” to “converge to Midland, Texas to find Bob Fu and kill him,” according to a lawsuit filed by Fu, who is being represented by Ken Starr. “This is the time to test your loyalty and ability. I will reward you with stocks according to your action.”
Fu soon began receiving death threats, and protesters, as many as 100 at a time, congregated outside his home shouting insults and holding signs accusing him of being a communist spy. After a bomb threat that local police deemed credible, Fu and his family went into hiding.
Wu Jianmin, a dissident living in Southern California, recounts a similar experience. “From September to November 2020, for a total of more than 60 days, more than 10-50 people were sent at my door almost every day, shouting insults and dirty language,” he told me in an email. They “harassed me and my family, including my two underage children, and eventually forced me to sell my house and move.”
Guo also sicced his followers on Jiamei Lu, a Hawaii pastry chef who had complained to the FBI that she had been defrauded in the GTV public offering. After she was quoted in a Wall Street Journal story on Guo, he released a video in which he labeled her a spy while holding a baseball bat.
At least two Guo-inspired protests have led to violence. On September 21, 2020, after Guo lashed out at “fake pro-democracy activists” who “should be beaten up as soon as we see them,” a Los Angeles–based anti-CCP activist who goes by Mang Liuzi was assaulted by a Guo acolyte protesting outside his home. A couple months later, two men protesting outside the Vancouver home of Gao Bingchen, a journalist Guo had denounced, attacked a friend of Gao’s, kicking him repeatedly in the head and neck as he lay crumpled on the pavement.
According to people involved in planning these protests, and WhatsApp audio messages from Guo that I reviewed, he promised to pay protesters generally $200 per day. “All the car, fuel, meals, commute, medical, and attorney fees incurred will be reimbursed. If the Rule of Law Foundation can’t cover it, I will pay it in full myself,” he said in an audio message to protesters who later descended on the New Zealand home of Wanli Zhu, a pro-democracy activist and Guo critic. Two protest organizers provided me with records, including bank statements, indicating that demonstrators were, in at least some cases, paid by Guo’s nonprofits—meaning organizations that raised money to promote human rights in China appear to have spent funds attacking Chinese human rights advocates.
Attorneys for Guo did not respond to questions about these alleged payments or other matters related to Guo and his operation. And Guo has denied inciting his followers to violence: “I have never condoned any type of violence towards any individuals,” he said in a December 2020 statement. “Myself, the anti-CCP supporters, and the New Federal State of China movement are exercising our First Amendment right to expose and oppose those who support the CCP, similar to other human rights campaigns in the history of the U.S.” In a deposition, however, Guo once blamed his critics for provoking him: “Always it was they who attacked me, then I retaliate.”
When I visited Sasha Gong at her northern Virginia home this fall, she served me tea and noodles and showed me two guns, an antique derringer and a pink revolver. After Guo branded her a traitor in a “kill cheaters” video in late 2020, Gong began to fear that his supporters might show up outside her building. “If they get into my apartment, I shoot,” she told me.
When I asked Gong and other Guo targets why he is crusading against fellow dissidents, they offer a simple explanation that echoes the charges he has made about them: He is secretly helping the CCP. When asked in a deposition if Guo was a dissident, Gong said no, adding that he “never resisted communism when he lived under communism.”
A Washington-area consulting firm called Strategic Vision, which once counted a Guo shell company as a client, reached the same conclusion in a 2019 legal filing. “Guo is a dissident-hunter, propagandist, and agent in the service of the People’s Republic of China,” Strategic Vision charged in response to a lawsuit filed by the shell company. According to Strategic Vision, Guo had hired the firm to investigate 15 people he contended were Chinese agents operating in the United States. But the research outfit alleged in legal filings that it soon discovered that the expats on his list were in fact considered “records protected” by the US government, meaning they were either under investigation by or working with the American authorities. A contractor working with Strategic Vision, according to a deposition, suspected a possible Chinese counterintelligence operation.
This allegation initially struck me as far-fetched. Though his rhetoric is replete with fantastic and false claims, Guo is certainly critical of the CCP. And China appears to have worked to force his extradition or silence him.
But critics say Guo’s network does little to actually hurt China’s rulers, even as it takes actions, such as targeting regime opponents, that appear to help them. “I have no other choice but to conclude and believe that someone from the regime asked him to carry out this campaign against me and other dissidents,” Fu told me. In a September letter to members of Congress filed as part of a lawsuit against Guo, a group including Fu, Gong, and 85 other Chinese expatriates said Guo “is known to be an agent of China’s secret police.” Guo denies this, and he has sued, with little success, media outlets that report such accusations.
In June, Strategic Vision lost the lawsuit in a ruling that reached no conclusion on the allegations. “The evidence at trial does not permit the court to decide whether Guo is, in fact, a dissident or a double agent,” US District Court Judge Lewis Liman wrote. “Others will have to determine who the true Guo is.”
For Guo, the court victory was a rare bit of recent good news. Increasingly, his empire has come under siege—beset by internal strife, numerous investigations, and an astonishing amount of litigation.
Weeks after Bannon celebrated her at the NFSC’s anniversary party, Li-Meng Yan, the Covid researcher once affiliated with the Rule of Law Foundation, and Wang Dinggang, who put her on Guo’s radar, both fell out with Guo after seeking to distance themselves from him following a wave of negative publicity.
On July 14, Yan tweeted that Guo “sent his followers to my home for ‘protest’, using the same smears as CCP’s propaganda!” The “Police/FBI are investigating,” she said. Two weeks later, the Rule of Law Foundation sued Yan, alleging that she had referred to Guo’s supporters as a “cult.” The Rule of Law Society also sued Wang, vaguely alleging that he had conspired with Yan to “undermine” Guo’s movement. (Yan declined to comment. Wang and lawyers for the nonprofits did not respond to inquiries. The cases are ongoing.)
Sara Lafrenz, estranged from Guo since the disastrous GTV stock offering, has turned her Discord server into an anti-Guo message board, now called the “Voice of Good.” There she has posted a trove of text messages, documents, and audio files intended to expose Guo and prove that he defrauded investors and continues to fleece gullible supporters. Lafrenz says she is telling anyone who will listen: “Don’t send money to Miles Guo, because he’s a big liar.”
In September, the SEC and the New York attorney general’s office announced that GTV, Saraca Media, and Voice of Guo had agreed to pay $539 million to settle regulatory claims that they violated investor-protection laws. People with knowledge of the probe say the SEC continues to investigate Guo personally. (The agency did not respond to questions.) The Department of Homeland Security is also looking into at least one of Guo’s businesses, GFashion, according to people who spoke to agents. The FBI, meanwhile, is conducting what appears to be its own far-reaching investigation into Guo, questioning witnesses about alleged fraud related to the GTV offering; Guo’s threats against dissidents; and his alleged links to Chinese intelligence, indicating a possible counterintelligence inquiry. Agents in six field offices are involved, people in contact with the bureau said. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment.
Four-plus years after he applied for asylum, Guo’s application is still pending, former associates said, and the ongoing scrutiny he is under by the feds casts doubt on whether his bid will succeed. (He is part of a staggering backlog of applicants resulting from a Trump administration effort, ironically championed by Bannon, to hobble the immigration system.) “Any criminal investigations or FBI involvement will definitely delay a decision in his case and potentially result in a negative decision,” says Lindsay Harris, who heads the University of the District of Columbia’s Immigration and Human Rights Clinic.
Government probes are just the start of Guo’s legal headaches. He said in a recent interview that he is currently enmeshed in as many as 70 “active” lawsuits. One former ally estimated that his legal expenses top $500,000 a month.
In 2020, a New York state judge ordered Guo to pay $116 million to a Cayman Islands–based hedge fund that loaned him $30 million in 2008, when he was still operating in Beijing. The ruling put Guo’s Manhattan penthouse and the Lady May at risk of foreclosure; he responded with legal filings claiming they are held by LLCs controlled by his children. The one holding the Sherry-Netherland apartment filed for bankruptcy in late 2020.
The building’s co-op board has also taken legal action against Guo, alleging that he failed to pay more than $800,000 in fees. In a January 2021 court filing, the board said that Guo assured them when he acquired the apartment that “he was the beneficial owner” of the LLC. It has since “become clear,” the filing alleges, that Guo “defrauded the Sherry as part of an effort to receive approval.” So much for Tony Blair’s recommendation.
The judge in the New York case did not buy what he called Guo’s “shell game.” He ruled this month that Guo’s claim that he did not own the Lady May was false, found him in contempt of court for repeatedly violating a court order against moving the yacht out of US waters, and ordered him to immediately pay an additional $134 million to the hedge fund suing him. Guo responded by threatening to leave the United States. Days later, he filed for bankruptcy, claiming to possess less than $100,000 in assets. Whether or not this gambit succeeds, it seems likely to stall the proceedings.
But Guo, even as his legal problems mount, has certainly not projected the image of a man facing financial ruin. Late last year, he launched a new cryptocurrency called Himalaya Coin, or HCoin. The rollout, naturally, was accompanied by a new music video, HCoin to the Moon, which features a cigar-smoking Guo strolling the decks of his yacht and driving a Ferrari. Bannon hyped HCoin’s launch as “monumental” and Guo has claimed a stratospheric valuation, but there is no way to independently assess HCoin’s worth, since it is traded solely on a platform Guo created and controls.
The Guo-backed Twitter-alternative Gettr has also made questionable claims of success. It touted a bump in sign-ups after Tucker Carlson and podcaster Joe Rogan joined the site in January. But shortly after signing up, Rogan claimed the site used fake metrics and said he was trying to “get off” it. Miller, the platform’s CEO, has downplayed Guo’s involvement, though I learned that Gettr’s pay stubs list the same address—162 East 64th St.—as the New Federal State of China’s “Himalaya Embassy.” Last summer, Gettr was angling to land Twitter’s most famous exile—Donald Trump. Axios reported in August that the notoriously transactional ex-president was seeking equity in the company before participating. Instead, in October, Trump announced the launch of his own social media company, Truth Social. Guo responded with videos citing a China-based investment firm’s involvement in the deal to assert that the venture is a CCP “attempt to control Trump.”
That’s as close as Guo has come to criticizing Trump, a sign that he, like Bannon, is all in on a second Trump administration—one that could help make his federal legal problems disappear.
Though his empire may be faltering, Guo’s followers remain as committed as ever. This fall, I encountered about 25 Guo supporters, some of whom had driven more than four hours from New York City, demonstrating outside the SEC’s DC headquarters. It was at least the second time Guo acolytes had congregated there to protest the agency’s investigation. Guo has told his backers that his regulatory problems stem from a familiar enemy—once again, the CCP, which he alleges is working hand in glove with the US government. Bannon has echoed these claims. A few of the protesters told me they had assembled to demand that the SEC stop assisting the CCP and “release” funds they claim the agency froze from the GTV offering. Banks did freeze GTV accounts due to the federal investigation, but the SEC has set up a fund to return money to defrauded investors. If these protesters had lost money with Guo, I pointed out, they were blaming the wrong party.
When I raised the fraud allegations against Guo, one of the protesters grew angry. “That is lie,” he hollered, stepping toward me. “He is a hero.”
This article has been revised and updated after a print version was featured in our March+April 2022 issue.
Top illustration and graphic: Illustration by Akoedos Ihsoy; Photos by Brendan McDermid/Reuters; Martin Divisek/ Getty/Bloomberg; David Paul Morris/Getty/Bloomberg; Jewel Samad/Getty/AFP; Chip Somodevilla/Getty; Alex Wong/Getty; Jim Watson/Getty/AFP; Drew Angerer/Getty; Ron Przysucha/US State Department