I want to say at the outset that I totally understand, and support, the government’s decision to take the steps they have taken to protect our community from Covid creating havoc in our NZ community. I’m trying to get my head around the purpose of the protestors in Wellington, or in Kramner Square for that. So, this week I thought I would clip the writing of a few correspondents to help me, and hopefully you.
My reading has taken me all around the world where the rot of anti-vaccination is spreading. In the Guardian this week George Monbiot wrote:
What explains the appeal of this movement? Such claims of individual sovereignty arose in the 1970s with an antisemitic, racist agitation called Posse Comitatus. They appear to surge in hard times. Some people believe they can annul their debts or tax arrears by renouncing their citizenship. But I suspect it’s about more than money. The promise of capitalism is that one day we will all be alphas – just not yet. It is a formula for frustration and humiliation. The less equal the economic system becomes, the wider the gap between the promise and its fulfilment yawns. Humiliation, as Pankaj Mishra argued in his excellent book Age of Anger, is the motor of extremism. Noisy assertions of sovereignty look like an obvious attempt to overcome humiliation.
Many of my mates wonder why I am so anti this Wellington, and now Kramner Square, occupation. I accept that for many people it is a chance for them to exercise their frustration at their perceived loss of “freedom”. Or their disenchantment at our system which they feel has not accommodated them. However, I find it offensive when individuals say they have lost their jobs because they, voluntarily, chose to exercise their “freedom” and not get vaccinated because this was a state dictate. Many then said they had gone on the dole. Does it not strike them that this is a state support structure because our politicians have decided that when somebody loses their job they should be partially assisted to survive. They have the “freedom” to stick two fingers up at the State, but they then gratefully accept the State’s support to pay their rent? Go figure.
I inadvertently became entangled with a march by a group of anti-vaccers to the University last Friday as I cycled across town. They shouted the same chants which we chanted during the 1981 Springbok Tour demonstrations. Like “What do we want?” to which the crowd responded “Freedom”.
What this crowd seem to have totally missed is that through sensible government policy we have dodged the big bullet. Let us consider two similar sized countries, New Zealand, and Ireland.
If I must have a constraint on my ‘freedom” which has led to more NZ’ers living, and our health services surviving then count me in.
Watching the unbalanced anti-any-form-of-government comments by many demonstrators around NZ reminded me of this article in the Guardian:
But that’s how the rot spreads. If a sociopath is at the heart of an organisation, then the organisation itself begins to take on the characteristics of the person controlling it. Each one close to him or her becomes infected, because it’s now too late to do anything else. The best they can do now is delay; say they’d love to tell you everything, but their hands are tied. They rely on the fact that we’ve all got lives to be getting on with, we can’t keep paying lawyers, and some of us have died, while others are just tired. A government is different, though: its adversaries are, potentially, all of us. It may be that there are just too many of us following the smell of something rotten for this to end cleanly for them.
It was disappointing to hear what Tariana Turia said last week on Checkpoint. She admitted that she, as a 77-year-old, had not had a vaccination. In my opinion, this is poor leadership by her. It encourages those who admire her, and her strength, to crawl down the same rabbit hole she is obviously habituating. Tariana demonstrated that she is also being driven from American influences in her rabbit hole when she spat into the phone that Jacinda Ardern is a “socialist”. This term is one which is held in great disregard in USA, used frequently by the anti-vac websites there as a derisive term.
I’m sorry to have to inform Tariana, who I have known since the 1980’s, that most MPs in New Zealand, National included, would be classified in USA as socialists. If you don’t believe me then just try to adopt the weak legislation which Barack Obama got through in USA for Obamacare. If any politician promoted this in NZ, they would be chucked out of office in the next election it’s so pathetic and below what our health system provides. Socialism is an essential element in much of NZ politics, Tariana. Including much of what you promote.
I particularly liked Bomber Bradley’s comment on Tariana https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2022/02/18/wait-what-jacinda-is-now-a-nazi/. What is probably my deepest concern about the demonstrations is that the social fabric of any society is delicate. It can rip easily. Do these people care about this? It seems to me that many of them would be delighted if it did. They have the right to demonstrate but they could be responsible for diabolical chaos in our society. What generations have fought, and often died for, could be lost in one massive landslide of public policy disappearing down their rabbit hole of conspiracy.
That’s what the Police Commissioner must be weighing up and what must be giving him sleepless nights. To a large extent our social fabric’s survival is in his hands.
I have used the writing of a number of people to attempt to analyse just who is leading these demonstrations, analysing these people, and considered what are they wanting to achieve. I have also reproduced some commentator’s thoughts.
Who is leading this Wellington demonstration?
There have been many excellent articles in our media this week analysing the protests. I thought I would start by linking to an article on Friday about the identified leaders of the Wellington demonstration:
Toby Manhire in Spinoff: Figureheads and factions: the key people at parliament occupation | The Spinoff
I have clipped a summary of what Toby wrote about each of the groups and individuals. If you want more info, then click into the article above.
Convoy NZ 2022
In late January the idea of a “freedom convoy” converging from both ends of the country on Wellington was hatched, modelled on the Canadian example. Participants, most in vans and cars rather than trucks, set off on Waitangi Day and arrived in Wellington two days later. The ambitions were considerably more modest at the outset than the tent villages witnessed today in Wellington and its Picton outpost. One organiser, Derek Broomhall of Invercargill, told the Southland Times as they hit the road that the plan was to make some speeches on the steps of parliament. “We’ll see if anyone will talk with us,” he said. “If not, we’ll leave letters on the doorstep.”
Convoy NZ 2022 today has more than 80,000 members in its private Facebook group.
Counterspin – Kelvyn Alp and Hannah Spierer
Apparently inspired by Alex Jones’ conspiracy platform Infowars, Counterspin has accelerated its operation dramatically during the protest, with Hannah Spierer running hours-long coverage from the studio and Kelvyn Alp now installed at the grounds, from where he delivers lengthy monologues.
Previously infamous for saying he’d built an armed militia to overthrow the government in the early 2000s, Alp’s conspiratorial subjects range from the moon landings to the Christchurch massacre. He feeds his viewers the flagrant falsehood that Covid is a hoax – “there is no virus, there never has been” – and urges the overthrow of the entire system of government. Its livestream and a Telegram channel with more than 3,500 members are riddled with deranged claims, including the insistence (from many) that arrests were legally invalid “because they’re not wearing hats” and that trafficked children are incarcerated in a dungeon under parliament, interspersed with spam hawking fraudulent vaccine passports, weight loss pills and crypto.
Counterspin, which has now established its own tent HQ on the lawn, has in recent days devoted many hours to denouncing the other groups involved, people “appointing themselves leaders”. Alp accuses others of trying to “hijack”, of “stuffing up every single thing” and amounting to “controlled opposition”. Clearly Alp does not speak for anything like the majority of the protesters. It is tempting to dismiss Counterspin as a fringe of a fringe, eye-popping but irrelevant. That would be a mistake. Their audience’s online number in the tens of thousands, and the energy and volume of their online supporters’ comments are profoundly troubling.
The Freedom and Rights Coalition / Destiny Church – Brian Tamaki
Brian Tamaki’s bail conditions prevented him travelling, but the presence of his organisation, the Freedom and Rights Coalition, is significant. When the Convoy organisers failed to plan for a public address system, the FRC came to the rescue. They subsequently sparked the fury of Counterspin and others when suggesting people remove their cars, as well as for apparently trying to stop “sovereign citizen” Brett Power from breaching the police line in his deluded belief that he can arrest Andrew Little. FRC has also been attacked by others in the movement for its religious underpinning and for Tamaki’s perceived political ambitions. Alp claimed that a member of the group – “a silverback gorilla looking fucker” – had tried last week to impede his filming. The FRC retorted that Counterspin had embarked on a “blatant smear campaign”.
Voices for Freedom
Set up by Claire Deeks – an unsuccessful candidate for Jami-Lee Ross’s Advance Party, which teamed up with Billy Te Kahika in the 2017 election – alongside two other women, VFF describes itself as a grassroots organisation, but the abundance of the material it has created, including mass-produced misinformation pamphlets, posters that dominate demonstrations and giant billboards, have raised questions about funding.
The Instagram-ready face of the protest, Chantelle Baker and her sidekick Meghan have produced dozens of “lives” on Facebook from the protest, presenting a relentlessly upbeat, ebullient picture of the gathering.
A former leader of the New Conservative Party – and the father of Chantelle – Baker has been an intriguing presence at the protest, enthusing about the “party atmosphere” and seeking to engage in a dialogue with authorities. When he and his daughter encouraged cars to move their vehicles out of a bus stop, they provoked fresh fury from – guess who – Kelvyn Alp. They’re “controlled opposition”, he said.
Outdoors & Freedom Movement – Sue Grey
A rebrand of an unsuccessful political party, the “movement” – which had no obvious presence under this name until the letter was published on Monday – is led by conspiracy theorist and lawyer Sue Grey, who is currently being investigated by the Law Society. Grey has addressed the crowd at parliament a number of times and repeatedly appeared on Counterspin. She has been at the forefront of various anti-vaccine legal efforts and was co-leader of the Outdoors Party, which in the 2017 election won 0.1% of the party vote.
Freedom Alliance NZ
An anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine group that promotes conspiracy theories, the Freedom Alliance is based in Masterton and linked to failed political candidate and prominent conspiracist Billy Te Kahika.
Billy Te Kahika
Blues musician turned conspiracist and aspiring politician, Billy Te Kahika is currently bailed on charges relating to alleged breaches of lockdown rules, preventing him from travelling. He has been active on Facebook, however, producing livestreams including, last week, a disquisition on UFOs, the “alien agenda of Satan” and how it all connects to the UN. Te Kahika has squabbled with various other factions, including VFF and the FRC, once claiming that Tamaki was trying to steal his territory, saying “I was way before Brian”. Tamaki responded by suggesting Te Kahika “just feels left out”.
New Zealand Doctors Speaking Out with Science
A tiny minority of current and former health professionals who have joined the anti-vaccine bandwagon and promulgate misinformation. Many have been suspended or are under Medical Council investigation. The group is a signatory to the “demands” letter.
Sovereign Hikoi of Truth
Remember that protest road trip that created a ruckus at the Auckland border during the delta lockdown? Its leader, Carlene Hereora, is in Wellington, and a regular talking head on the Counterspin coverage. Her contributions include promising media that they will be sent to Guantanamo Bay. As Dylan Reeve explained of the Hikoi at the time, the group is deep down the “sovereign citizen” rabbit hole. Veteran Māori radicals including Tame Iti and Hone Harawira vehemently denounce and disavow the movement.
Damien De Ment
An NZ-based American QAnon conspiracy theorist and Counterspin guest, De Ment is not at the protest but eagerly promotes it. He was urging protesters on yesterday by declaring a democratically elected government to be “entirely illegitimate” and “a weaponised corporation masquerading as the authority of NZ”. He has threatened and badgered numerous people who have achieved prominence in the Covid response, including politicians, academics and media, and frequently promises a “Nuremberg 2.0”. This approach, which is echoed on signs at the protest, calls for military tribunals to order the execution of leaders, media and others. It is just one example of the appalling appropriation of holocaust-related images and ideas that permeates much of the online anti-vaccine cause.
A volatile Northland-based Australian with a substantial following on both sides of the Tasman, Brewer arrived in Wellington this week and swiftly set about denouncing Counterspin and “probably a third of the people here” of being – there’s that term again – “controlled opposition”, freemasons-in-disguise tasked with “stifling the truth”.
A New Plymouth resident and failed district council candidate, Powers took a file of papers to his local police station demanding the arrest of Andrew Little for what he believes are vaccine-caused deaths. He also led the protesters to the Taranaki Daily News office in an attempt to confront journalists.
A former television presenter who returned to view when issuing long, impassioned and claptrap-ridden video monologues late last year, Gunn has appeared repeatedly from the Wellington protest on Counterspin. She is keen to start a political party, which sets her at odds with Alp, who wants all political parties abolished.
Former National MP for Northland. Flirted with anti-vaxx misinformation. Quit the National Party. Attended and addressed the protest. And now joins the queue of figures who say they want to start a new political party.
A far-right white supremacist group, Action Zealandia has boasted of a presence at parliament grounds. A member also accessed a construction site on a nearby building that is usually part of the parliamentary complex and filmed the protest, raising alarm bells.
The convicted white supremacist was arrested in Picton this week while on his way to the occupation in Wellington after being heard in a petrol station saying he was heading for a “public execution” and suggesting he was likely to be imprisoned.
An analysis of the demonstrators:
It is important for us to understand just who this mixed group of New Zealanders are who are following the leaders identified above. Charlie Mitchell in Stuff on Saturday wrote this:
Article by Charlie Mitchell in Stuff:
These are not farmers, environmentalists, or land defenders with reasonable objections to government policy, expressing themselves within the norms of parliamentary democracy.
These are dispossessed people who believe they are fighting an existential battle of good versus evil, who see Parliament not as simply out of touch with their interests, but as a body that is dangerous and illegitimate, that must be replaced.
It is driven by a churning mill of online propaganda, feeding their worst fears, and fuelling radicalisation.
Some occupiers believe this is their last chance to stand against the forces of communism and apartheid before the country descends into a dictatorship. Others think the Covid-19 vaccines – which have been safely administered to billions of people, including virtually all the world’s elite, the very people supposedly responsible for this sinister plot – will kill their children. And some, of course, just don’t like the mandates.
We know some protesters believe these things because they say they do. Not to the mainstream media, where they put on a moderate face, but on their own platforms like Telegram, Zello, and Counterspin media, which I and others have closely monitored since the protest began.
Ask yourself this: If you believed there was a sinister plot to kill children, and that innocent people were dropping dead left and right and the Government was covering it up, would you engage in peaceful and constructive dialogue with the agents of the state behind it all?
Would you, in a gesture of good faith, give up the ground you’ve taken from the evildoers?
No moral or decent person would agree to that. And yet, the tacit strategy laid out by the police on Friday is for these people to suddenly abandon the paranoid fantasies that underpin their entire belief system.
This is an excellent summary of the complexity of the situation https://www.stuff.co.nz/opinion/300521443/what-the-police-fail-to-understand-about-camp-freedom
So, what are the demands of the demonstrator’s leaders?
Article by Marc Daalder in Newsroom:
Here’s some of Marc’s analysis of what the Wellington protestors are supposedly asking:
The protesters themselves can’t agree on what they want. The demands range from an end to vaccine mandates to all politicians and many journalists and academics turning themselves over to be sentenced to death in show trials for the supposed crime of supporting the vaccine rollout. Many demands have nothing to do with vaccines or even Covid-19 whatsoever – protesters calling for a halt to the Government’s Three Waters reform programme or the prohibition of 1080 drops have turned up on Parliament grounds.
Even the moderate original organisers of the protest have a list of demands that would make the average New Zealander balk. They are not truly moderate – they are just less radical than their associates who brought nooses and baseball bats. And they are getting more and more radical by the day, steeping in the conspiracy milieu on Parliament grounds, to the extent that the original organisers are now sharing memes comparing Speaker Trevor Mallard to Adolf Hitler and videos stating that all politicians are criminals for supposedly lying about the safety of the vaccine.
Those organisers – who have less and less control of the actual events on the ground each day – came to Wellington with five stated demands that they have since reiterated with the support of a range of other supposedly less-extreme groups.
- The first of these is to end all vaccine mandates
- The second demand is even less likely to happen, with the occupiers calling for the repeal of all Covid-19-related legislation and regulations.( It’s an angry backlash against all Covid-19 restrictions, rooted in misinformation about the virus and the vaccine, as deluded and undeserving of respect or attention as the anti-lockdown rallies of 2020 and 2021. When politicians declined to meet those protesters, there was no handwringing in the media about the right to be heard.)
- The convoy organisers want all doctors suspended by the Medical Council for spreading vaccine misinformation to be reinstated.
- The fourth demand – that the Bill of Rights Act from 1688 be incorporated into New Zealand’s constitution – falls short on two fronts. To start with, that act is already considered to be constitutional law in New Zealand. What the protesters truly want is an American-style written constitution which would override Parliament’s law-making in certain instances, but this has never existed in New Zealand.
- Finally, they also call for media to be free of censorship.
This is a very hard article to summarise. Police wave white flag as occupiers dig in (newsroom.co.nz)
Let us read what some commentators are saying
Comment by Jess Berentson-Shaw in Newsroom:
To be fair, many people from politicians to researchers and community leaders have made attempts to move away from this deficit-framing of our pandemic response. Each day, people point out how many eligible people are vaccinated in his country – over 90 percent – and how high the vaccination rates are in our Māori and Pasifika communities, despite all the problems with the vaccination roll-out, or how many people got a booster today. These are valiant attempts – but they are just facts, not stories. And our brains need stories, to make patterns, to understand the world and shape how we perceive it.
For this we need more people in the media to ally themselves to asset-framing our pandemic response as well. And, boy, that is hard, because of news cycles and the structures of media companies today, but also because people in the media are human too, alarmed, fearful, and just interested in understanding how different people think and act. However, the stories people in our media tell shape how we think and see the world, they contribute to broader narratives, which themselves shape how people in the public reason about issues and the solutions we see as possible. So it is an important task to step back and ask, “Is this the narrative I want to contribute to? What wider collective benefit does it have? What solutions does it contribute to? What frame or mindset about the world does it emphasise?”. All of us writing about alarming situations or problems can ask ourselves these questions.
Peter Dunne’s comments in Newsroom:
The bigger picture, beyond this protest, and beyond Covid-19, is far more disturbing. Something is seriously wrong when protestors can see threatening to execute politicians and journalists because they disagree with them as legitimate.
Equally, when political leaders can justify not being willing to engage in any form of dialogue with the protestors simply because they do not like the views they are expressing smacks of high-handed intolerance. It suggests our capacity for rational discourse and reasoned debate about a controversial issue has broken down completely.
More worryingly, the vehemence of expression on both sides of the argument makes it difficult to see how differences of this type can ever be resolved constructively while such polarised positions and mistrust endure.
Peter Dunne: The new international brand of intolerance in NZ | Newsroom.
Lloyd Jones: Letter to the protesters occupying Parliament in the NZ Herald: A letter to the protesters:
I watched your convoy hog the roads up and down the country. I saw you congregate in the grounds outside Parliament. I saw your vehicles parked around the cenotaph and your tents pitched across the grounds of Parliament. I wondered, who are you?
None of you wore masks, of course, presumably because of your natural immunity to a virus that has filled hospitals and crematoria around the world for the past two years. Still, I looked at your faces because I was curious. I suppose I wanted to know what sort of people you are.
I saw a friendly young female police officer crouch to speak to a child through a barrier. The child was smiling. The parent standing behind answered the question what that child was doing there? But I wonder if the parent reconsidered after seeing the company his child was asked to keep.
Nearby, a patched Mongrel Mobster. A Frankenstein made of everything broken in this country. What could this child possibly share with a man who has given up on language to bark like a dog. Mr Mongrel man, what do you fear? Contact tracing?
To the woman with the tanned face and blonde hair, I have to say I am in awe of your explanation to the reporter – “Simply by removing your face mask, voila the pandemic is gone.” What fools we have been. Why haven’t any of those so-called experts the PM wheels out for her press conferences taken the time to explain this?
To the person holding up the sign “Natural immunity 99.9% effective”. If that were so, we would not have a pandemic, would we? Or am I missing something here?
Who are you people with your Trump flags? I have seen faces frothing at Trump rallies in the US. But that doesn’t answer who you are. Are you a New Zealander? Can you really be?
- To the older guy, about my age, in the dark top, number 16 on the back, who had tried and failed to break the police lines. Why? Had you lost something you wished to recover? You were handcuffed and after wincing at last some sense entered your face. It must be embarrassing to be led away by police officers possibly younger than your own children. How will you explain your day in court to them?
- To the person holding the banner “Born free”, a simple explanation. We are not. We are social animals who live together and depend on each other.
- To the three men sitting beneath a banner “We are here until this is sorted.” Until what is sorted?
- To the person holding the banner: “NZ is a democracy. Not a Communist state.” I haven’t seen a sign like that since nineteen sixty-something. So, I think I know who you are. But I thought you were dead already.
- To the National MP who sent out a message of “thanks” to the rabble … Oh dear. Where to begin?
- To the older man with the long white beard and shorts wearing a large yellow star. You have not been alive long enough after all. There is still time to read and bone up on the Shoah. When you do, one day in the future you will probably stick your head under a blanket. Embarrassing, but yes. You did. One day back in 2022 you claimed equivalency between vaccine mandates and industrial slaughter of European Jewry.
- To the voice screeching over a loudhailer “the media are guilty!” Guilty of what?
What is so disappointing about you all is your total lack of originality. The flags, the slogans, the put-upon grief. The anger. All of it downloaded from your toxic right-wing portals.
To those of you who claim vaccination is a “choice” you are wrong. It is not a choice. It is an obligation. You have no more choice to refuse a vaccine than you do to drive on the wrong side of the road.
The Prime Minister has shown remarkable poise. What must she secretly feel when she casts her eye over this rabble gathered under their absurd banners, and even more distressing, Trump flags?
Prime Minister Ardern says you are part of New Zealand. I beg to differ. You are of New Zealand, but no longer part of it.
You have broken ranks, broken the social contract that the rest of us have adopted. We have lined up for our vaccines, to protect ourselves, and our families, yes, but importantly to protect others from infection.
I look back across your faces and I wonder again, who are you? What on earth binds you together? The answer is now clear. It is clear to us all. It is clear to your friends and neighbours and work mates. It is clear. Your tyres are pumped with your obscene sense of entitlement. Rules designed to keep the country safe apply to others, but not you.
You’ve stood for what you believe in. But there – that’s the problem. What do you believe? Freedom. But here’s a question for you to consider. Is freedom to do the wrong thing a freedom worth having?
If you don’t know the answer, and I have a funny feeling most of you don’t, then ask the person you infect who ends up on a respirator in hospital. They will tell you.
Let’s put these demonstrations into perspective:
Rosemary McLeod wrote a great column in Stuff on Friday Why I gave up protesting years ago | Stuff.co.nz where part of the article said:
A former protester myself, my interest is naturally piqued by the protest at Parliament now easing into its second week, complete with caterers. You get older and tired. Indignation is tiring, also nights are getting chilly.
…What would it take, then, for me to hang out in last weekend’s mud and driving rain, sleep on the ground under a thin tarpaulin, and forgo clean bathrooms? Nothing could make me. But I’d be tempted to protest about other issues, none of them featured at the current blockade.
…Homelessness bothers me, and the way people calmly step around sleeping homeless people on city footpaths. Beggars bother me. There were neither when I was young, nor did anyone have to live in their car.
…That this is happening while house prices soar to crazy levels bothers me. It means that young people already burdened by student debt feel hopeless about ever owning their own home. Only the children of the rich can have any confidence in that.
…The farming of people bothers me, trapped by landlords who can raise their rents at a whim and kick them out if they can’t pay. We’ve created a parasite class that buys the shoeboxes now called “homes” and gets desperate tenants to pay unaffordable rents to live in them. With student debt and earning average wages, who could ever save money, let alone eat?
…What do you get when overseas billionaires can buy large chunks of this country while ordinary New Zealanders live in cars?
She concludes with this wonderful paragraph:
…You get resentment, however inarticulate and unfocused, ripe to be exploited by cynical social media players. They say the media are liars, but they themselves have no accountability to anyone. They pretend to be friends of the people they manipulate. Some friends. And I’m curious about who’s paying for the caterers.
Who are they, where are they, and what do they get out of it?
Patricia Smith says
I thought I would join them. At the front with a large sign that said ‘FREEDUMB’. But at 83 I am a little too old.