Early last year, around 30 engineers at the social media company Gettr received a WhatsApp audio message from Guo Wengui, a wealthy Chinese exile with deep ties to US right-wing politics. Guo, who has since been accused by the Justice Department of running a massive fraud scheme, was pissed. He berated Gettr’s chief technology officer, Joe Wang, complaining that Wang “didn’t deliver” on a January 22 deadline—Chinese New Year—for launching a new video feature.
Wang responded by explaining that he was following a schedule approved by Gettr CEO Jason Miller. Miller’s team was “quite satisfied” with tests on the feature but felt Guo’s schedule was too fast, Wang said. Bad move.
“Do you obey Jason or me?” Guo asked in a follow-up audio message.
“I obey you,” Wang wrote back, with the whole group still copied. “I broke your trust. We are very ashamed. We will deliver as soon as possible.”
Another Gettr executive, Ken Huang, now the company’s acting CEO, jumped in: “Mr. Guo, of course we all obey you,” Huang said. Miller’s team, Huang added, “is responsible for marketing, legal affairs and other matters.” But, Huang affirmed, “we will always obey you.”
These communications were in Chinese. After publication of this story, Gettr told Mother Jones that Huang believes the wording he used would be better translated as “listen to” rather than “obey” and was merely “intended to be respectful of a prominent user.”
At the time of the messages between Guo and the engineers, Miller claimed that Guo had no involvement at all in Gettr’s day-to-day operations. Gettr and Miller, who this February left the company to rejoin his former boss, Donald Trump, as a senior adviser to Trump’s 2024 campaign, also maintained that Guo had not personally invested in Gettr.
Those claims were pretty clearly bogus, even at the time. In January 2022, Mother Jones published audio messages Guo had sent to Miller, in which Guo seemed to give Miller directions on how to handle a problem: podcaster Joe Rogan, who had just joined Gettr, was publicly mocking the app. Those messages suggested that Guo exercised major sway at Gettr.
But extensive audio files and WhatsApp messages sent to and from Guo that Mother Jones has since obtained and translated, along with the accounts of former Gettr employees and people involved in the company’s launch, further highlight the extent of Guo’s control over the company. The mogul was particularly involved in overseeing the Gettr’s tech employees, who were mostly Chinese speakers. Technology executives reported to Guo—sometimes via his executive assistant Yanping “Yvette” Wang, who was also his representative on the Gettr board—and he set budgets and priorities, former employees said.
A Twitter-knockoff chasing the anti-woke crowd, Gettr initially branded itself as being led by “former President Donald Trump’s team.” Guo’s quiet influence over the platform highlights his success in using a fortune he made in Chinese real estate to buy his way into the MAGA movement. After fleeing China in 2014 ahead of criminal charges, Guo in 2017 began working with former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon, who helped him launch nonprofit organizations and private ventures and establish a reputation as a leading critic of the Chinese Communist Party. Guo has compensated Bannon lavishly, previously paying him $1 million a year in consulting fees and allowing Bannon to use his private jet and, for several months in 2020, to live on his yacht, where Bannon was famously arrested. Guo also cultivated ties to various Trump allies, including Rudy Giuliani, Peter Navarro, Michael Flynn, and Mike Pompeo.
Gettr helped Guo connect with other Trump World figures. One was Miller, who Gettr paid $750,000 a year, along with a $250,000 annual bonus, according to filings in a Florida child support case involving Miller.
Guo’s access to people close to Trump may have created a national security risk. Guo has bragged about past ties to a former top official at China’s Ministry of State Security, which does domestic and foreign intelligence work. In 2017, Guo penned a public letter in which he offered to support Chinese leader Xi Jinping in exchange for China dropping charges against him and unfreezing assets there. Multiple lawsuits and numerous former Guo allies allege that, contrary to his public claims, he functions as an agent of the Chinese Communist Party.
Guo denies those accusations, and courts have not ruled on those specific 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 in a 2021 decision.
But former Gettr employees said that given Guo’s alleged ties to Chinese intelligence, his apparent control of Gettr created a major concern. Some of the people Guo oversaw at Gettr had access to its users’ personal information, including phone numbers, IP addresses, and birth dates, according to two former Gettr employees, who said they believed the company did not sufficiently safeguard such information.
Guo was arrested on March 15 and charged with overseeing a massive international fraud scheme. Prosecutors said that Guo used scam investment opportunities to defraud supporters within the global Chinese diaspora, then embezzled the proceeds to fund an opulent lifestyle. Guo has pleaded not guilty. Denied bail, he remains imprisoned. Neither he nor his lawyers have commented since his arrest. His subordinates have argued that his arrest was part of a Chinese Communist Party plot to silence him.
Federal prosecutors said in an April court filing that in searches of Guo’s three New York-area residences, they discovered 29 cellphones, 17 computers, 43 USB drives, and a cellphone scrambler “designed to defeat government wiretaps.” Prosecutors said FBI agents also found gold pins with “symbols of the Chinese Communist Party.”
In court filings following Guo’s arrest, federal prosecutors flatly asserted that Guo “controls” Gettr “through a series of shell companies.” The Justice Department has also suggested that Guo financed the company with money from his alleged fraud scheme. In charging Guo, prosecutors revealed that they had previously seized $2.7 million from an account marked Gettr USA. They also seized more than $300 million from bank accounts linked to the Hamilton Opportunity Fund. That is a Hong Kong investment fund founded by William Je, who the feds say acted as Guo’s financier. Je, along with Yvette Wang, was indicted alongside Guo. Hamilton Opportunity is a major investor in Gettr, the Washington Post reported.
Prosecutors have said they believe Je is hiding is the United Arab Emirates. Richard Merrin, a spokesperson for Je, did not answer questions about the seized funds. But Merrin said that Je “is deeply disappointed to learn of the actions by the United States Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission” and “vehemently denies all the allegations in these actions.”
The Justice Department has not charged Gettr with any wrongdoing. In a statement to Mother Jones, Gettr continued to deny Guo ran the company and disputed its former employees’ allegations.
Regarding the WhatsApp exchange last year in which Gettr engineers promised to obey Guo, the company stated: “All this out-of-context exchange leaked by a disgruntled former employee confirms is a prominent user with a significant following expressed their unhappiness with the timing of a new feature introduction—and a startup trying to be responsive to its user. Every company in this space listens to product input and complaints from their most prominent users; GETTR is no different. Miles Guo, Guo Wengui, or the person associated with any other aliases for that individual, is not involved in the company’s operations, direction, or decisions. Full stop.”
Mother Jones also reached out to the engineers involved in that exchange. Joe Wang didn’t respond, and Huang referred questions to Gettr’s press team.
Gettr is based on a social media application that Guo first developed and hosted on his former streaming video site, GTV, in 2020. The original app had thousands of Chinese-speaking users, including many Guo backers. The new Gettr was launched in July 2021—one of several right-leaning social media outfits attempting to offer an alternative to Twitter after it banned Trump following the January 6 attack on Congress. Trump, who Guo hoped would join Gettr, dealt a blow to the company when he helped launch his own competitor, Truth Social.
As the new Gettr site courted users, Guo sent audio messages to a WhatsApp group of around 50 top supporters urging them to ensure his backers around the world signed up for the app, and instructing them to promote it. But he also told them to downplay Gettr’s ties to him.
“Don’t mention Guo Wengui or Bannon in all the propaganda,” Guo said in one such message, on July 3, 2021, urging them to instead highlight Miller.
“Don’t connect my photos with Gettr. Don’t talk about me and Gettr and don’t put so many things about the New Federal State of China and whistleblower movement,” Guo said a few hours later, referring to names he has given the anti-CCP movement he claims to lead. “It’s not time to advertise these. Let’s let the foreigners [use] it first, and we do it after they get used to it.”
Gettr courted pro-Trump Americans by paying prominent right wingers users to post on the site. According to a schedule of payments first reported by the Post, Gettr made regular $50,000 payments to Bannon’s podcast, War Room. Two former Gettr employees told Mother Jones that War Room received that amount each month.
Bannon, who did not respond to requests for comment, appears to use Gettr exclusively to post social media content. War Room’s account was kicked off Twitter in 2020 after Bannon said Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded. Bannon and a War Room co-host also regularly appear on video programs posted by Guo followers on Gettr. In those appearances, and elsewhere, Bannon has promoted various Guo financial ventures, including several that prosecutors allege Guo used to defraud followers. Bannon is not mentioned in Guo’s indictment and is not charged in the case.
In its statement to Mother Jones, Gettr acknowledged paying far-right figures to use the site. “GETTR does not deny that its growth strategy has previously involve[d] paid influencers using the platform, an increasingly common business practice not unique to GETTR, and it may continue to,” the company said.
Meanwhile, the company outsourced much of its tech work and content management to contractors at two companies, both staffed by Chinese speaking engineers, according to people familiar with Gettr. Both companies have substantial connections to Guo. One of them, Oasis Tech, based in New Zealand, is partly owned by a vocal Guo supporter who is also a director of a fashion company Guo runs, the Post reported. Oasis did not respond to requests for comment.
The other company, Norwalk, Connecticut-based O.S.C. Orbit Service Company, is run by Yun Jing, who was previously the CEO of another Guo-linked company called G-Service. Yun was the signatory on an October 2020 contract that G-Service signed to provide customer service for Guo’s G|Clubs. Mother Jones obtained a copy of that document. G|Clubs is supposedly a membership-based company that claimed to provide “concierge” services for an annual fee of up to $50,000. Prosecutors have alleged that G|Clubs offered no real benefits and acted as a means for Guo to defraud investors. Yun, who is not accused of wrongdoing, did not respond to an inquiry.
Orbit has relied on unpaid volunteers—Guo supporters around the world—to do content management and technology development, according to four people familiar with Gettr. In WhatsApp messages sent by Guo in July 2021, he instructed subordinates to recruit engineers and content management workers for Gettr from among his followers. This reliance on Guo backers for policing Gettr content may help explain why Gettr posts critical of Guo have been routinely and rapidly deleted from the app, a practice the Daily Beast detailed last year.
Former employees said that the Guo supporters working for Gettr through outside contractors also created security concerns. These volunteers had access to at least some of Gettr users’ personal data, two former employees said.
One of those sources—who had a job doing tech development at Gettr from a location outside the US, and who was able to access Gettr users’ data—said in interviews that they saw no evidence that Gettr maintained an audit log, a tool used in varied industries to track when client data is accessed. The apparent absence of such a log meant that Gettr did not have a record of how many of its employees, or outside Guo supporters doing work for Gettr, accessed the personal information of site users, the person said. After this story was published, Gettr told Mother Jones: “The company has an audit logging mechanism in place and statements suggesting otherwise are wrong.”
Gettr’s former director of trust and safety, Ben Badejo, told Mother Jones that he became concerned about Gettr’s data security last year and tried to convince Gettr executives to provide him with a list of employees and contractors with access to users’ personal information. Badejo said that he never got a full answer. Badejo added that he later obtained a list of people who could review direct messages between Gettr users. Those with such access to DMs included “a number of people whose names I did not recognize,” he said.
According to Badejo and the tech development official, people working for Gettr contractors—including unpaid Guo supporters outside the US—could have had access to the DMs, phone numbers, or personal email addresses of Gettr’s estimated 7.5 million users. That includes famous account holders like Pompeo and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Gettr also has millions of Chinese speaking users, former employees said. Many of them are critics of the Chinese government. That is a group that China’s intelligence service, which is notorious for snooping on Chinese emigres abroad, is presumably eager to gather information on.
Gettr did not respond in detail to questions about its data security practices. But the company said it “has robust protections in place to control access to information that users entrust to the company, and it remains a focus of the company’s new leadership,” an apparent reference to Miller’s exit. The company noted that it requires users to provide only their name, date of birth, and email address or phone number to sign up.
In an apparent response to a question about its reliance on Guo supporters, including volunteers, Gettr told Mother Jones in a statement: “GETTR makes hiring decisions based on an individual’s professional qualifications, not their personal interests or affiliations.”
A former executive at Gettr said the company had determined Badejo’s data security concerns were misplaced when he raised them. The executive also shared Signal messages from December, in which Badejo, who quit his Gettr job in September, tried without success to get his old position back. Badejo began publicly faulting the company in January. He did not respond to questions about his effort to return to the company.
Gettr also said that the company’s “leadership understands it has work to do to build trust and credibility, and to realize its potential as an innovative platform open to all who are tired of the cancel culture that persists beyond reason and defies political, demographic, and virtually all other bounds.”
“We acknowledge the company has room to grow and improve,” Gettr added. “We ask for patience and understanding as we aim to do better.”
Update, April 7: This story has been updated to include statements sent by Gettr after publication.