The ‘God Emperor’ Who Could Cost Trump the Election – Rolling Stone
Mario Murillo had heard enough. The longtime Charismatic Christian preacher, who got his start ministering to Jesus hippies in Berkeley in the late 1960s, began 2023 by blasting a pair of “false prophets.”
The duo were already notorious for touting false visions of a Trump re-election. Kat Kerr, whose heavenly lewk is a candy-pink bob and an American-flag shawl, prophesied that Trump would “win in 2020, write it down, it’s going to happen.” Robin D. Bullock, whose aesthetic is more mystic-’80s-leather-rocker, insisted God had revealed to him Trump would win “in a landslide.”
For Murrillo, the pair’s unforgivable transgressions were their wild-eyed visions about the hereafter. Kerr claims that Superman actor Christopher Reeve teaches flying lessons in the great beyond. Bullock, Murillo wrote, “stood in a pulpit in Nashville and told the people to shut up if they did not believe there were mountains of Jell-O in heaven.”
In the free-wheeling world of Charismatic Christianity, charlatans can build devoted followings — and raise ungodly amounts of cash — by claiming divine gifts. There’s no central authority to cast grifters out. So Murillo turned to the next best thing: He sought an audience with Steve Strang, the founder of Charisma Media.
Strang plays an unusual role in this religious subculture, splitting the difference between Rupert Murdoch and the pope. A fixture since the mid-1970s, Strang is a “God Emperor” of media in the Charismatic world, says Matt Taylor, protestant scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.
Strang isn’t simply a publisher or a journalist. He’s also a political activist who backed Trump to the hilt — publishing four books exhorting Evangelicals to embrace God’s unlikely “anointing” of the pussy-grabbing playboy philanderer president, calling Trump “our champion.” Strang is also a movement moneyman: CharismaNews is the top corporate sponsor of the ReAwaken America Tour, the traveling MAGA circus that celebrates Gen. Mike Flynn’s Q-inflected vision of Trumpy Christian Nationalism.
When Murrillo appeared on Charisma’s flagship podcast, The Strang Report, Strang applauded the preacher’s condemnation of the dodgy prophets, whose visions of heaven, Strang insisted, “border on mental illness.” Strang said he saw the Satanic at work: “These are the Ends of Time, and The Enemy is trying to get us from many different angles.” Suggesting that “attacks from within” the church are even more dangerous than those from secular world, Strang saluted Murrillo — “I admire you standing up” — and insisted that Charisma Media “will stand with you.”
In performing this de facto excommunication, neither Strang nor Murillo explicitly called out Kerr and Bullock’s bollocks Trump prophecies. Perhaps, that’s because casting out all Trump seers as “false prophets” would mean folding up shop in the Charismatic world — so great was the prophetic “mind meld” around Trump’s victory in 2020.
But for those that study the Charismatic world, the subtext had blazing implications for the next presidential election: “The fact that Strang is platforming Murillo, and letting Murillo take down some of these Trump prophets, says a lot,” says Taylor. “That there’s an openness in that world — a desire in that world — to hear a different perspective from the prophets, in terms of, ‘Where else can we go in ‘24?’”
A break from Trump would be a staggering move by Strang, who previously wrote that “Donald Trump has been raised up by God to stop our nation’s headlong plunge into total depravity” and asserted that Democratic attempts to hold Trump accountable — including in the impeachment battle over Ukraine — originated “from the pit of hell.” More recently, Strang claimed to see “spiritual warfare” at play in the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago.
At least one Charismatic prophet is already suggesting that God favors Ron DeSantis. And Strang, as it turns out, has had many positive things to say about the Florida governor, based on first-hand experience. Charisma Media is based in Lake Mary, north of Orlando, and Strang has touted DeSantis as a “great governor” that “I have so much respect for, and supported.”
Now in his 70s, Strang has been a force in right-wing religion and politics for decades. In 2005, Time named him as one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals in America. The magazine cited his publishing house’s book, The Faith of George W. Bush, as building Evangelical confidence in Dubya. “We didn’t write it to help Bush,” Strang claimed at the time. “But it no doubt helped elect him.”
In addition to a book imprint — which notably publishes bestsellers by a messianic rabbi — Strang runs Charisma’s glossy print magazine, as well as CharismaNews (“Breaking News. Spiritual Perspective.”) His podcast, “The Strang Report,” has been downloaded more than 15 million times. Business is as good as it is Godly: Charisma is reportedly launching construction of new offices at an estimated construction cost of $2.4 million.
Strang launched Charisma in 1975, seeking to be a voice of the burgeoning Charismatic movement. Charismatic Christianity now has more than 30 million adherents in America. It differs from mainline Protestantism in a belief that “gifts of the Holy Spirit” — including prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues — are not bygones of a biblical age, but alive for the modern world. Many Charismatics believe in a supernatural dimension in which angels and demons fight for dominion of earth, and that this “spiritual warfare” influences terrestrial events.
In recent years, Charismatic leaders have moved aggressively into Republican politics. Charismatics were some of Donald Trump’s first and most ardent supporters. The movement’s “prophets” were nearly unanimous (and mistaken) in forecasting his re-election in 2020.
As Rolling Stone has covered, Charismatic worship leaders like Sean Feucht are seeking to fuse religion with MAGA politics. (Feucht recently visited with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert at the U.S. Capitol, and joined Steve Bannon’s podcast to explain the basics of spiritual warfare.) Others, like “apostles” Lance Wallnau and Dutch Sheets are at the bleeding edge of Christian Nationalism, seeing America as on a heavenly mission to reshape the world and accelerate the Second Coming.
Strang routinely boosts such figures with his media arms. But the “God Emperor” has also laid out an alarming political vision in his own books, in which he embraces Christian Nationalism’s darkest, most anti-democratic impulses. In God and Trump 2020, Strang asserted that “two distinct religions are vying for control of America’s public square: secularism and Christianity,” He insisted: “They cannot coexist; one will ultimately cause the destruction of the other.”
In his latest book, God and Cancel Culture, Strang writes of the likelihood — and even desirability — of civil war: “Will rampant abortion, immorality and injustice in America require a similar bloodletting in our day?” he asks, before posing: “Is war the cleansing crucible we must pass to achieve greater national purity and unity on the other side?”
Strang did not respond to interview requests.
In his public persona, Strang does not present as a firebrand, nor does he have the smarmy glow of a mega-preacher. He projects instead a calm, avuncular presence. He routinely softpedals his power, calling himself just a “Chrisian journalist.”
Yet unlike most journalists, Strang has openly backed presidential candidates since 2008, beginning with Mike Huckabee. (“I did everything I could in my circle of influence to rally support for him, including raising a whole lot of money for his campaign,” Strang has written.) Strang initially backed Ted Cruz for the 2016 primary before climbing fully aboard the Trump Train. Strang has occasionally insisted he’s interested in Republican partisanship: “I’ve supported good, strong conservative Christians who I knew personally, in a strong way — but never the party.”
As he’s made inroads into Trumpworld — including once interviewing Trump himself — Strang has made prominent MAGA bedfellows. Mike “My Pillow” Lindell wrote the intro to Strang’s latest book, calling him a “comrade in arms” and a “foxhole buddy.”
In 2022, Strang hosted Roger Stone on his podcast. The unindicted insurrectionist claimed he’d undergone a religious awakening and shared his gratitude that a prophet had woven him into a David-and-Goliath type prophecy: When the Stone is released, the giant will fall. “I think this is some reference of what God has in mind for me,” the longtime GOP dirty trickster told Strang. “We’re here to serve the Lord.”
Of all the activities that strain the bounds of journalism, Strang’s corporate backing of the ReAwaken America Tour is probably the most eye-popping, and a sign of Strang’s power. “He owns Charisma media outright,” says Taylor. “It’s not like there’s a board that is keeping him in check. Which is why he can sponsor the ReAwaken America Tour. Just straight up — as a news organization.”
In an interview with Mike Flynn about ReAwaken, Strang vowed to the former general that he was “doing everything we can in our corner of the world to try to wake up America.” Strang has not only been a sponsor, he’s even joined the tour as a speaker at several stops.
Taylor insists that if Strang is now serious about his new role in calling out false prophets, Flynn’s roadshow offers ample targets. “The ReAwaken America prophets are some of the craziest Trump prophets,” he says — pointing to the likes of Julie Green, who offers a daily horoscope-style prophecy, falsely declared that Doug Mastriano would become governor of Pennsylvania, and once predicted Queen Elizabeth would be murdered by Prince Charles.
“Steven Strang,” Taylor adds, “needs to be made aware of the glass house he’s living in.”
Twitter source code partially leaked online, court filing says – Al Jazeera English
GitHub removed code shared without permission after request by social media giant, court filing says.
Twitter’s source code has partially leaked online, according to a legal filing by the social media giant.
Twitter asked GitHub, an online software development platform, to remove the code after it was posted online without permission earlier this month, the legal document filed in the US state of California showed on Sunday.
GitHub complied with Twitter’s request to remove the code after the social media company on March 24 issued a subpoena to identify a user known as “FreeSpeechEnthusiast”, according to the filing with the US District Court of the Northern District of California. San Francisco-based Twitter noted in the filing that the postings infringe on the platform’s intellectual property rights.
The filing was first reported by The New York Times.
The leak of the code is the latest hiccup at the social media giant since its purchase by Elon Musk, whose tenure has been marked by mass layoffs, outages, sweeping changes to content moderation and heated debate about the proper balance between free speech and online safety.
Musk, who bought Twitter for $44bn last October, said recently that Twitter would open the source code used to recommend tweets on March 31. Musk, who also runs Tesla and several other companies, said the platform’s algorithm was overly complex and predicted people would find “many silly things” once the code was made public. It is not clear if the leaked source relates to the code used to recommend tweets.
“Providing code transparency will be incredibly embarrassing at first, but it should lead to rapid improvement in recommendation quality,” he wrote on Twitter. “Most importantly, we hope to earn your trust.”
Utah is first US state to limit teen social media access
Utah has become the first US state to require social media firms get parental consent for children to use their apps and verify users are at least 18.
The governor said he signed the two sweeping measures to protect young people in the state.
The bills will give parents full access to their children’s online accounts, including posts and private messages.
Under the measures enacted on Thursday, a parent or guardian’s explicit consent will be needed before children can create accounts on apps such Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
The bills also impose a social media curfew that blocks children’s access between 22:30 and 06:30, unless adjusted by their parents.
Under the legislation, social media companies will no longer be able to collect a child’s data or be targeted for advertising.
The two bills – which are also designed to make it easier to take legal action against social media companies – will take effect on March 1, 2024.
Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, wrote on Twitter: “We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth.
“As leaders, and parents, we have a responsibility to protect our young people.”
Children’s advocacy group Commons Sense Media welcomed the governor’s move to curtail some of social media’s most addictive features, calling it a “huge victory for kids and families in Utah”.
“It adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online,” said Jim Steyer, Common Sense Media’s founder and CEO.
Similar regulations are being considered in four other Republican-led states – Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Louisiana – and Democratic-led New Jersey.
But Common Sense Media and other advocacy groups warned some parts of the new legislation could put children at risk.
Ari Z Cohn, a free speech lawyer for TechFreedom, said the bill posed “significant free speech problems”.
“There are so many children who might be in abusive households,” he told the BBC, “who might be LGBT, who could be cut-off from social media entirely.”
In response, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said it has robust tools to keep children safe.
A spokesperson told the BBC: “We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and families, including tools that let parents and teens work together to limit the amount of time teens spend on Instagram, and age verification technology that helps teens have age-appropriate experiences.”
There has been other US bipartisan support for social media legislation aimed at protecting children.
President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in February called for laws banning tech companies from collecting data on children.
Last year, California state lawmakers passed their own child data law. Among other measures, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act requires digital platforms to make the highest privacy features for under-18 users a default setting.
The passage of the Utah bills coincides with a bruising congressional hearing for TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.
The digital media rollup dream is dead for the moment — now it’s all about core brand strength
When a marriage or an engagement fails, it’s common for the participants to take time to work on themselves.
That’s where the digital media industry finds itself today.
After years of focusing on consolidating to better compete with Google and Facebook for digital advertising dollars, many of the most well-known digital media companies have abandoned consolidation efforts to concentrate on differentiation.
“What you’re finding is companies are trying to find a non-substitutable core,” said Jonathan Miller, the CEO of Integrated Media, which specializes in digital media investments. “The era of trying to put these companies together is over, and I don’t think it’s coming back.”
A 90% decline in BuzzFeed shares since the company went public in 2021, a failed sales process from Vice, the collapse of special purpose acquisition companies, and a choppy advertising market have made digital media executives rethink their companies’ futures. For the moment, executives have decided that more concentrated investment is better than attempts to gain scale.
“Right now, everyone’s trying to get through a tougher market by focusing on their strengths,” BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said in an interview with CNBC. “We’re in this period now where we should just focus on innovating for the future and building more efficient, stronger, better companies.”
What’s happening in the digital media space echoes trends from the biggest media companies, including Netflix, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery. After losing nearly half their market values, or more, in 2022, those companies have emphasized what makes them different, whether it be distribution, brand or quality of programming, after years of global expansion and mega-mergers. Disney CEO Bob Iger said the word “brand” more than 25 times at a Morgan Stanley media conference this month.
“I think brands matter,” Iger said. “The more choice people have, the more important brands become because of what they convey to consumers.”
Making strategic decisions based on consumer demand rather than investor pressure is a pivot for the industry, said Bryan Goldberg, CEO of Bustle Digital Group, which has acquired and developed a number of brands and sites aimed at women, including Nylon, Scary Mommy, Romper and Elite Daily.
“Too many of the mergers were driven by investor needs as opposed to consumer needs,” Goldberg said in an interview.
The rollup dream’s rise and fall
From late 2018 to early 2022, the digital media industry had a shared goal. Pushed by venture capitalist and private equity investors who had made sizeable investments in the industry during the 2010s, companies such as BuzzFeed, Vice, Vox Media, Group Nine, and Bustle Digital Group, or BDG, were talking to each other, in various combinations, about merging to gain scale.
“If BuzzFeed and five of the other biggest companies were combined into a bigger digital media company, you would probably be able to get paid more money,” Peretti told The New York Times in November 2018, kicking off a multiyear effort to consolidate.
The rationale was twofold. First, digital media companies needed more scale to compete with Facebook and Google for digital advertising dollars. Adding sites and brands under one corporate umbrella would boost overall eyeballs for advertisers. Cost-cutting from M&A synergies was an added benefit for investors.
Second, longtime shareholders wanted to exit their investments. Large legacy media companies such as Disney and Comcast‘s NBCUniversal invested hundreds of millions in digital media in the early and mid-2010s. Disney invested more than $400 million in Vice. NBCUniversal put a similar amount into BuzzFeed. By the end of the decade, after seeing the value of those investments fall, legacy media companies made it clear to digital media executives that they weren’t interested in being acquirers.
With no strategic buyer available, merging with each other using publicly traded stock could give VC and PE shareholders a chance to cash out of investments that were well past the standard hold time of seven years. Digital media companies eyed special purpose acquisition companies — also known as SPACs or blank-check companies — as a way to go public quickly. The popularity of SPACs picked up steam in 2020 and peaked in 2021.
Deal flow accelerated. Vox acquired New York Magazine in September 2019. About a week later, Vice announced it had acquired Refinery29, a digital media company focused on younger women. BuzzFeed bought news aggregator and blog HuffPost in 2020 and then acquired digital publisher Complex Networks in 2021 as part of a SPAC transaction to go public. Vox and Group Nine agreed to a merger later that year.
BuzzFeed, generally thought by industry executives at the time to have the strongest balance sheet with the best growth narrative, successfully went public via SPAC in December 2021. Shares immediately tanked, falling 24% in their first week of trading. The coming weeks and months were even worse. BuzzFeed opened at $10 per share. The stock currently trades at about $1 — a 90% loss of value.
BuzzFeed’s underwhelming performance coincided with the implosion of the SPAC market in early 2022 as interest rates rose. Other companies that planned to follow BuzzFeed shut down their efforts to go public completely. Vice tried and failed. Now it’s trying for the second time in two years to find a buyer. BDG and Vox, meanwhile, abandoned considerations to go public. Vox instead sold a 20% stake in itself in February to Penske Media, which owns Rolling Stone and Variety.
The industry turns inward
Consolidation was always a flawed strategy because digital media could never become big enough to compete with Facebook and Google, said Integrated Media’s Miller.
“You have to have sufficient amount of scale to matter, but that’s not a winning formula by itself,” Miller said.
Vice’s deal for Refinery29 is a prime example of a deal motivated by scale that lacked consumer rationale, said BDG’s Goldberg.
“The digital media rollup has proven successful only when assets are thoughtfully combined with an eye toward consumers,” Goldberg said. “In what world did Vice and Refinery29 make sense in combination?”
Vice is engaged in sale talks with a number of buyers that fall outside the digital media landscape, CNBC previously reported. It’s also considering selling itself in pieces if there’s more interest in parts of the company, such as its TV production assets and its ad agency, Virtue.
Vice is a cautionary tale of what happens to a digital media company when its brand loses luster, Miller said. Valued at $5.7 billion in 2017, Vice is now considering selling itself for around $500 million, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the sale discussions are private.
A Vice spokesperson declined to comment.
“In the old days of media, with TV networks, if you were down, you could revive yourself with a hit,” said Miller. “In the internet age, everything is so easily substitutable. If Vice goes down, the audience just moves on to something else.”
Companies such as BuzzFeed, Vox and BDG are now trying to find an enduring relevancy amid a myriad of information and entertainment options. BuzzFeed has chosen to lean in to artificial intelligence, touting new AI-generated quizzes and other content that fuses the work of staff writers with AI databases.
BDG has chosen to primarily target female audiences across lifestyle categories.
Vox has focused on journalism and information across a number of different verticals. That’s a strategy that hasn’t really changed even as the market has turned against digital media, allowing Vox CEO Jim Bankoff the opportunity to continue to hunt for deals. Just don’t expect the partners to be Vice, BDG or BuzzFeed.
“We want to be the leading modern media company with the strongest portfolio of brands that serve their audiences on modern platforms — websites, podcasts, streaming services — while building franchises through multiple revenue streams,” Bankoff said. “There’s no doubt M&A is part of our playbook, and we expect it will continue to be in the future.”
Finding an exit
While executives may be making strategy decisions with a sharper eye toward the consumer, the problem of finding an exit for investors remains. Differentiation may open up the pool of potential buyers beyond the media industry. BuzzFeed’s emphasis on artificial intelligence could attract interest from technology platforms, for instance.
It’s also possible that there will be an eventual second wave of peer-to-peer mergers. While Integrated Media’s Miller doesn’t expect a future industry rollup, BuzzFeed’s Peretti hasn’t closed the door on the concept if market conditions improve. As executives invest in fewer ideas and verticals, the end result could be healthier companies that are more attractive merger partners, he said.
“If everyone invests in what they’re best at, if you put them back together, you’d have that diversified digital media company with real scale,” Peretti said. “That helps drive commerce for all parts of a unified company. I think it’s still possible.”
Disclosure: Comcast’s NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
20th century Japanese poster art – in pictures | Art and design – The Guardian
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