Could the Capitol Riots happen in New Zealand?
"A group of 1000 people can storm in and get her and her supporters and arrest them for treason. Or shoot them."
Back in January, I sent out a newsletter called A terrorist group storms the US Senate.
I wrote it because I was as surprised as anyone to see the Capitol Riots go down. To see police taking selfies with the terrorists.
It was the culmination of months of Donald Trump dog-whistling to those who’d wanted him to win the election. His shrill whistles reached the ears of a wide group of scared, angry Americans who’d taken the ramblings of a troll (calling themselves “Q”) as reality for years.
And they rioted. It was a weird thing to see. I couldn’t believe it.
On January 15, I wrote another piece called RIP QAnon: 2017-2021. With QAnon’s magical dates coming and going — with no mass arrests or hangings of public figures — I argued that it was all over. The movement was dead.
But it wasn’t, of course — and the distrust sowed by Donald Trump continued. I still see pro-Trump signs here in America, and have talked to those who think he still won the election and will have Biden arrested shortly. The dates always shift. The goalposts move.
And of course the distrust moved into new spaces — like the anti-vax movement.
New Zealanders love America
In New Zealand, it always takes us awhile to catch up. We love American culture, guzzling it down like Coca-Cola. I remember being a teenager in Tauranga when Burger King first opened. It was a huge, tempting day for the city with “Tempt Me Tauranga” for a slogan. There were newspaper articles about it in our local paper. I went along with my parents after the queues had died down, ordered a burger, and loved it. The retro booths felt like all the American movies I’d grown up watching.
Years later, I’d finished school and finished university, and there was a In-And-Out popup in Auckland. New Zealand wrote articles about it: “Go. Queue. Now” urged one of them. It was Burger King all over again.
We guzzled those greasy burgers down our gullets. Serve a Kiwi up some American culture, and we feast.
In short: It’s a fact we love American stuff. American food, TV and celebrity.
So maybe it should come as no surprise that in New Zealand’s Telegram channels, there’s a love of capitol riots.
“NEXT TUESDAY” they announce in all caps: “There is going to be THE STAND OF ALL STANDS in Wellington at Parliament grounds!”
“It’s time to get Bill Gates and Jacinda. We need to concentrate on physically arresting her.”
“Fuck me” is all I could think. It was a combination of alarming and tragic. It’s alarming because we’re already seeing violence towards the media in New Zealand. Mihingarangi Forbes tweeted about it last week:
“As a journo I have always felt safe at protests, most understand we have a job to do but the “Freedom and Choice” protests feel different. “Fuck the Media” is the new catch phrase. It’s dangerous. Kia kaha te hunga pāpaho.”
As if to prove Mihi correct, a OneNews camera operator was attacked by an anti-vax protestor over the weekend.
“Do you want this camera fucking smashed, you c—t?” the man said, before physically assaulting the camera operator.
So yes, it’s alarming — but it’s also tragic.
Because New Zealand is doing what it did with Burger King and In-and-Out: Lapping up the stuff America’s already had for ages. We’re not just embracing bad American ideas, we’re embracing old and tired bad American ideas.
The Capitol Riots happened back in January. Now — some New Zealanders are deciding to embrace that concept here. Almost a year later.
“A group of 1000 people can storm in and get her and her supporters and arrest them for treason.
“Or shoot them. If we don’t have guns, shoot them up with a triple dose of Pfizer.”
Over on Telegram it goes on and on and on.
“We can gather around the Beehive, in the hundreds of thousands. Our good tradies and farmers will use angle grinders to cut doors through the walls if we have to.”
It’s so, so pathetic. Swallowing up what America sold us like this. I don’t get how we got to this point.
Both movements are being run in a near identical way: The same language, same players (Bill Gates!) and same overall narrative. They both end with calls for executions of leaders and media shills.
And both movements are filled with misogyny. In a Telegram channel called “White Rose”, they decided to run a poll about Jacinda Ardern using derogatory phrasing around trans people. It’s exactly the same ammo that was used against both Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama.
Women are targeted relentlessly (Jacinda infantilised as “Cindy”), and of course there’s this undertone (well, it’s hardly an undertone) that transgender = evil.
I have a lot of screengrabs of this stuff, but most of it is too offensive — and deeply personal — to publish.
“Depends what kind of asian.” Yes, of course they’re racist as well.
There’s something else, too: There are plenty of references to retired soldiers in these groups, including those who left the NZ Defence Force because of the vaccine mandate. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that some may join these organisations. Which is, in a word, bleak. We know the NZDC is not immune from the idiocy of the alt-right:
“A New Zealand soldier has been charged with espionage, its defence force said on Wednesday, with media reporting the soldier was suspected of having ties to extreme-right groups.”
I’ve been speaking to a a PhD candidate working in this space, who ended our conversation with “I’m genuinely concerned that there’ll be coordinated violence at one of these marches soon.”
The Americans being American in New Zealand
Last week, Joe Rogan poked fun at prime minister Jacinda Ardern for shutting down a press conference, as anti-vaxxers started to gather outside the clinic she was visiting.
What Rogan failed to point out was the man yelling had a fake press pass. His name was Shane Chafin: He’s an American, and a member of Steve Bannon’s kiwi conspiracy TV show Counterspin Media (as documented here on Webworm).
And Chafin isn’t the only American in New Zealand spreading conspiratorial madness. Webworm writer and YouTube essayist Byron Clarke has been keeping a regular eye on another American living in Aotearoa, Damien De Ment. This is what Byron told me:
“When the January 6 riots happened, cheering them on from his home north of Auckland was Damien De Ment, a dual US and NZ citizen who maintained a (since deleted) YouTube channel hosting videos with titles like “Qanon: Mathematically Impossible to not be real”.
While De Ment lost his Twitter account in the platform’s purge of Qanon supporters following the riots, he’s maintained a following on Telegram and Facebook.
When the delta variant of covid arrived in New Zealand and the country went into lockdown, some of that rumbling discontent was on display in a protest that saw the arrests of four people, including two prominent conspiracy theory promoters — Billy Te Kahika and Vinny Eastwood.
After being visited by police the night before another planned protest, De Ment took to Telegram with a video about how he wouldn’t be attending as he was too important to the movement to get arrested:
While he did get some pushback from his followers for his no show at the protest, his influence in the movement was unharmed and a few weeks later he was calling for the execution of anyone involved in administering the Covid-19 vaccine.”
Americans touting recycled ideas from the Capitol Riots. It’s exhausting.
“This week was the first time I started to actually worry about the safety of the prime minister, and even our Māori health professionals.”
I’ve been talking to Moana Maniapoto about all of this. The musician and documentary maker hosts Te Ao with Moana on Maori TV. Like Mihi Forbes, she’s been noticing the ripples from the USA. I asked her for her take on what she’s been seeing.
“It’s the dog whistling; that 9/11 references; the horrible memes flying around featuring the PM and also Nanaia Mahuta; the collusion between so many disparate pressure groups; the well documented links to extremist groups offshore. I’m nervous it might resonate with someone who is unwell.
Māori journalists are trying to do our job holding the Crown (both Government and Opposition) accountable. We’re also trying to get good factual information out to all our whānau in a very fluid situation.
It’s challenging, because despite the term Māori being co-opted as a term of convenience in the early days of colonisation — I know, I digress — we’ve never been one handy blob of people. We share common whakapapa, history and values… but are diverse in our thinking and experience.
Māori journalists are dealing with friends and whānau angry at us for “not exposing the truth.” Some have mana and standing in our communities so we have to tread carefully. And then there’s the ones we don’t know coming at us, quoting tracts of Bible and mixing it up with sovereignty stuff.
The co-opting of Māori activist language and strategies by those who have never been on our side has led to Māori journos and activists being framed as sell outs and paid puppets.
On one hand it’s laughable being called a house nig—r. On the other hand, I’m actually nervous that by interviewing certain guests, we may be exposing them to threats.”
I think the work people like Moana Maniapoto and Mihingarangi Forbes are doing in this space is incredible. Because — and I know I sound like a stuck record here — so much of this anti-vax rhetoric springs from deeply racist places. Just like QAnon, and all the outrageous conspiracy stuff that came before that.
Moana left me with this: “I just have to keep telling myself that we have to keep doing what we do, that it’s only a small group of people out there.
But I am worried.”
So here we are. A country trying to get people vaccinated, but being invaded by America’s toxic conspiracy culture.
We see it at New Zealand megachurches like City Impact, who wouldn’t exist without their American counterparts. We see it in Counterspin Media, spouting American conspiracy theories to its New Zealand audience. And we see it in this talk of Capitol Riots in Wellington: Breaking in, public executions and Bill Gates.
New Zealand has long had a problem with eating terrible food — and it’s in part thanks to cheap, easy and incredibly unhealthy food like McDonalds, Burger King and Carl’s Junior. We’re killing ourselves with this stuff — chugging down Triple Cheeseburger Combos with Large Fries and Coke. And it turns out we like feasting on more than just America’s food.
And while it’s easy to shrug off talk of riots, shootings and mass arrests — we shrugged it off in America, too. And look what happened there. I echo Moana: I am worried.
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PS: Over on Reddit, they were blaming the eight deaths at Travis Scott’s music festival on mandatory vaccinations. Of course.
Kia ora, as someone who’s been in the activist scene for most of my adult life I’ve been confused and horrified at all of the hate directed towards old school activists, like Tame Iti and Tina Ngata, Chloe King etc. all are pro-vaccine and have worked their entire lives for their community.
Also I know well the people who have gone from activist to anti-vax and I’m scared what I’m hearing from them, such extreme fear including plans to run away to the bush and hide out with traps and stuff - to talking about how Jacinda needs to be shot and a revolution but not one I’d like to see... they’re all being quite sneaky and covert about their true intentions because they “can’t trust me” as I’m not on the same page.. as if I’m some sort of government mole?
The activist groups I was part of, were trying to warn people of the rise of racist misogynistic hatred growing in those dark, damp, basements across nz, because we were experiencing verbal attacks and other harassment from them online (sometimes in real life) and witnessing their true opinions. Nothing was done, and then the Christchurch attacks happened. People are “all talk” until they’re not and by then it’s too late.
I believe this movement is genuinely getting to a dangerous point - who are those responsible for the vaccines, not just govt, media and vaccinators, but the scientists, the health boards, the councils, doctors, nurses, the marketers, the artists, the activists, the influencers etc - do they also intend to include people who used Facebook profile stickers saying they were vaccinated? Or people who encouraged others online?
Personally I think Jacinda travelling the country to encourage people to get vaccinated is genuinely brave AF. There’s no way she’s not aware of the threats on her life. On all their lives. I hope they take it seriously and beef up security.
David, I honestly don't know how you do it. How you keep an eye on these nutjobs and manage to remain sane. I know it's your job, but it's also so much more than that. It affects me. I can't stop staring at social media comments, all the hate and ignorance people spew, like I was watching the aftermath of a car crash. It's horrifying, and yet you can't take your eyes off it. This collective psyche is a deep and dark abyss to plunge into. There's nothing warm and comfortable about it. We're watching a huge bunch of people getting swallowed whole by a cult, and it seems like there's absolutely nothing we can do about it. Sometimes I wish the Internet never existed. I probably would have another job now, who knows. But wouldn't we be happier? Something tells me that, if this pandemic had happened in 1998, it would have been under control now.