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PostMake Japan Great Again: A Trump Rally in Tokyo (from Edward Mears) (John Eipper, USA, 11/30/20 8:17 am)
Edward Mears writes from Tokyo:
Several weeks ago I was scrolling through one of my Japan-related Twitter lists that I rely upon for all things Japanese news and politics. Normally full of commentary on the Suga administration's flailing COVID-19 response or speculation on what the incoming Biden administration means for Japan-US relations, I was very surprised when I saw a large Japanese language digital flyer appear in my feed advertising an apparent pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" rally and demonstration to be held in Tokyo the weekend after Thanksgiving.
I was intrigued, but certain this was a joke. A MAGA rally in Japan? To protest the results of the American election? Impossible. Even if this wasn't a joke and some fringe Japanese conspiracy theorist actually thought the results of the election were still in doubt AND wanted to publicly protest this supposed "injustice," surely he would be standing out in the cold, alone, spewing his nonsense to entirely disinterested passersby. Nevertheless, the digital flyer seemed somewhat professional and it was clear someone had put time and effort into producing it. The Japanese language on the banner makes many the the same tired, baseless claims that the Trump campaign has been making about the election--that elections in key battleground states were stolen from Trump, that the election should be redone using in-person voting only and that the fake news media was complicit in throwing the election to Biden, etc., etc. ad nauseam.
Curiously, however, the very bottom of the banner provides contact information for one of the demonstration organizers and also mentions that the group organizing the event is the so-called "Party to Protect the People from the Fake Media," which is is suspiciously similar in name to another Japanese political party, the so-called "Party to Protect the People from NHK," a legitimate (though fringe) political party in Japan espousing far-right beliefs which was founded on the founder's seething hatred of NHK, Japan's gargantuan public broadcaster. I haven't been able to find much information online about the "Anti-Fake Media" party organizing the Trump rally, but it appears to be affiliated with the "Anti-NHK Party."
By way of background, the Anti-NHK party has gained some limited public support for publicly denouncing NHK's controversial fee collection scheme. Rather than levy a tax on all citizens to fund the public broadcaster or otherwise allocate government funds, NHK instead obligates any owner of a television set (whether or not it is actually used to watch broadcast television) in Japan to pay the NHK subscription fee directly to the broadcaster. NHK is very aggressive about collecting this fee, and outsources the collection to an agency which is notorious for its coercive methods: representatives go door-to-door to inquire if residents own a TV and the press them to pay the fee. From my American perspective it is a bizarre system, and I can easily see how a political party could leverage populist appeal in opposition to this Orwellian practice.
The leader of the party, Takashi Tachibana, is crazy and commonly makes outlandish and racist remarks which get him into fleeting trouble in the press. Last year he famously wondered aloud if the key to solving over-population would be to "massacre races that have babies like idiots." Just like Trump, he and his party are able to survive these otherwise career-ending remarks and are begrudgingly accepted in the political arena, though they have yet to break into the mainstream in the same way that Trump did in 2016 (and I am doubtful they ever will given the LDP's iron grip on politics here). Given the populist nature of the Anti-NHK party's beliefs, I am not surprised that an offshoot of this party like the Anti-Fake Media party has aligned itself with the populist morass of Trumpism and echoed Trump's hatred of the "mainstream media" to throw more kindle on Japan's tiny populist fire.
Back to the demonstration itself. Demonstrations in Tokyo are common, and are held for all sorts of fringe political movements (such as Japanese far right nationalists seeking the return of several historically Japanese islands which are currently held by Russia) and other causes (anti-Olympics protests, anti-nuclear power protests, etc.) There was even a small but well-discussed "Black Lives Matter" protest earlier this year, largely attended by expats. These demonstrations typically proceed along a "standard" route through the most well-known locations in the capital and are escorted by a heavy police presence. On weekends it is very common to see small groups of demonstrators marching through places like the shopping Meccas of Harajuku and Ginza or near the government nerve center in Kasumigaseki. Most of the time they are easy to ignore as they move quickly and are relatively quiet. The flyer for the Trump demonstration asked attendees to gather at Hibiya Park in central Tokyo at 2:00pm this Sunday (29 November), which is just a stone's throw from the Imperial Palace and many government buildings including the National Diet and the Prime Minister's Official Residence.
I was still not convinced that this would be a gathering of any significance, but figured I would get to Hibiya Park around 1pm to see and perhaps talk with some of the participants, if they even showed up. After exiting the subway at Kasumigaseki and to my immediate surprise, I was greeted with several groups of older Japanese people wearing Trump's signature "Make America Great Again" hats also making their way up from the subway station to the park. As we walked further down Kokkai Street near the park, I noticed bright shades of red, white and blue of numerous American flags peeking through the leafless brown trees lining the park. It was at that moment that I realized this event was going to be far larger than I imagined and my disbelief really took hold. A MAGA rally in Japan. What on earth. Who ARE these people?! What draws them to Trump? And how can they possibly believe this election is not over? I was determined to find out.
When I arrived at 1:00pm there were approximately 50-100 people setting up large Trump banners, flags and other accoutrements for the rally participants. The crowd was fairly subdued at this point and while there were more people there than I had anticipated, it certainly didn't come close to the size of other demonstrations I have seen marching through Tokyo before. Nevertheless, it was clear that this event was well organized and there were already several news organizations on the scene filming the preparations and interviewing participants. After some mingling, I was able to discern that many of the people there (at least at first) were not in fact Japanese, but exiled Chinese and Taiwanese who were living in Japan and were affiliated with groups or movements that oppose the CCP such as Falun Gong and the Hong Kong Democracy movements . The Epoch Times (Falun Gong) and overseas Chinese Vision Times, two vocally anti-CCP outlets, had very large press contingents at the event and were interviewing numerous participants. I suspected that the participants who were gathering for this rally appreciated Trump's antagonism of China and my discussions with a few of them confirmed this: they all had virulent hate for the CCP and appreciated Trump for publicly standing up to the CCP.
Ironically though, the humanitarian causes that these Japan MAGA rally participants were supporting--such as Falun Gong, the oppression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and the Hong Kong Democracy movement--have been generally ignored by Trump or otherwise taken back seat to his administration's almost singular focus on rebalancing trade deficits with China. I tried to argue with some of them that Biden would be more likely to champion their specific humanitarian causes in discussions with Beijing, but this suggestion was quickly brushed aside. While I can sympathize with many of these oppressed groups and can understand how they came to view Trump favorably, the main underlying theme of the rally emphatically was not these causes: it was to give voice to the conspiracy theory that the election had been stolen from Trump. I asked several of the participants why they thought that the election was not yet decided in Biden's favor and what made them believe the election had been rigged. Not surprisingly, I received canned answers about the process not yet being complete and nebulous claims about voter fraud. When I pressed them on details, none were forthcoming and they were very quick to pivot the discussion to something else or stop talking to me entirely.
As we got closer to 2:00pm, more supporters clad in their best MAGA gear joined the preparation area and began lining up within the park, many holding American flags as well as pro-Trump banners and signs. At this point there were approximately 300-500 participants lined up for the rally, and it had hit a critical mass where it no longer felt like a few fringe conspiracy theorists but instead had the imprimatur of an official, well-organized movement. It was also at this time that I noticed many more Japanese joining ranks with the Chinese and Taiwanese (and even some South Korean) protestors. A few of the Japanese protestors I spoke with expressed their dislike of the CCP and other Japanese nationalist/Trump-adjacent beliefs (such as revision of the Japanese constitution to permit a full army) behind their support of Trump. One of the few other Westerners there had come out in support of his Chinese wife, who was a member of one of the anti-CCP groups participating in the rally.
There was a wide range of ages represented--some appeared to be young college students, while there were also some young professionals and many elderly. There was also a fairly even distribution between men and women, and I noticed a few children and even some MAGA-adorned dogs. The rally finally started at 3:00pm, led by a loudspeaker on top of a car (adorned with a large pro-Trump banner), that led the crowd of several hundred through Tokyo's streets to several chants that included "4 More Years!", "Make Japan Great Again!", "God Bless Trump" and "Take Down CCP" among many others and Japanese language equivalents. One man in a Trump mask danced along to the chants and raised his fist and waved in true Trumpian style. I watched as the main rally line made its way out of the park, astonished at its size as well as its professional organization: hundreds of American flags, Trump banners and plenty of mobile loudspeakers.
At this point I took closer notice of the MAGA signs and clothing that the protestors had brought with them or were being supplied by the organizers. While some of of these signs and hats were custom made at home (one woman had taped "Trump" on top of a red Hiroshima Carp--a Japanese professional baseball team--baseball cap), quite a few people appeared to have "official" Make America Great Again / Keep America Great hats, t-shirts and signage from the official campaign. As one can imagine, these items are not typically sold in Japan and I do not believe the official Trump campaign website store allows shipments outside of the United States. Where did they get them? I had enough trouble trying to buy and have shipped to Japan a Joe Biden t-shirt (I had to have it sent to my sister in the US first before forwarding it to Japan), that I can't imagine these Japanese MAGA supporters navigating the same American based e-commerce ecosystem to procure their election goods. I suppose these could have come from Amazon or elsewhere on the internet, but there was such a large number of these--very new looking--hats and signs that the more likely explanation was that one of the organizers had imported these from the United States and distributed them to the protestors.
With the demonstrators now off to assault Tokyo with MAGA conspiracies over loudspeaker, I decided to wander back to the initial organization location in Hibiya Park. At this point there were only several park staff members who were holding a debrief and gathering some of the waste left behind by the protestors. I noticed that there was a large collection of cardboard boxes near to where the the flags and signs had been distributed, and began perusing through these remains for any hints about where these items may have come from. Most of the boxes and packaging had been destroyed or contained no identifying marks, but I noticed one box had DHL branding, which made it stand out. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the shipping label had not been fully removed, and the name and address of "The Rule of Law Foundation" in New York City could clearly be seen on the shipping label. I took a picture of the label, but was spotted by one of the few straggling organizers who noticed me rummaging through their trash and came over to chase me away.
A quick Google search of "The Rule of Law Foundation" brings you to the website of Guo Wengui, a billionaire political exile from China who has been a vocal critic of the CCP and the primary benefactor for Steve Bannon's most recent agit-prop initiatives: https://rolfoundation.org/ . Earlier this year, Steve Bannon was famously arrested on Guo's luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut on fraud charges. Further research shows that Guo and Bannon are also behind the "New Federal State of China," a supposed Chinese government-in-exile: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Federal_State_of_China . I had noticed the Federal State of China flag at the rally earlier (a blue flag with intersecting yellow star ovals, similar to the EU flag) but did not understand its significance at the time. No one I spoke to at the rally had mentioned the Rule of Law Foundation, Guo Wengui or Steve Bannon, but it was apparent that this group played a significant role behind the scenes organizing this rally by bringing together other political groups with common cause (the Anti-NHK crowd, the pro-Tibet Chinese, Falun Gong and others), likely also providing financing and a large cache of MAGA goods.
I would not be surprised if Bannon and the gang decided to astroturf this MAGA rally in Japan as one of the latest salvos in the campaign's futile efforts to overturn the election. This would provide other Trump lackeys such as Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis with "evidence" that there is a global movement in support of Trump's claims as part of their laughable attempts to be taken seriously back in the US. It's also in Bannon's best interests to do all that he can to come back into the President's good graces before 20 January in the hopes of securing a pardon in his pending fraud case.
JE comments: Eddie, I treasure this kind of WAIS content. Brilliantly done--your investigative work is as original as it is revealing. This posting (together with your accompanying photos) deserves wide distribution. Arigato gozaimasu.
Digital flyer for "Stop the Steal" Trump rally, 29 November 2020
Canvas memorializing the rally. Participants were urged to leave a message with a white pen
Three Japanese Trump supporters. They would not say where the got their hats
Japanese Trump supporters with "Rising Sun" flag, often used by far-right nationalists
"Epoch Times" reporters interviewing rally participants. The interviews were conducted in Chinese
Leaflet handed out with chants for rally participants
"Not Settled Yet" banner. This and other banners appeared to be professionally made
Korean rally participants. The sign reads "Korea-Japan-US": Strengthen the Alliance
Beginning of rally, with police escort
Japanese man in Trump mask. He appeared to be very popular, with many participants joining him for selfies
Shipping label of packages of "MAGA" supplies. Rule of Law Foundation is clearly identified. I have crossed out names of individuals