Inside Steve Bannon's NZ news division

Counterspin Media, the kiwi news show hosted on Bannon's network


Earlier this week I sent out a newsletter called New Zealand’s Fake News, a deep dive by Byron Clark looking at Elliot Ikilei and Talanoa Sa’o — a news programme gleefully spreading misinformation.

Both Elliot Ikilei and Talanoa Sa’o responded on Facebook (I am not going to link to that here) — but the comments underneath are kinda what you expect at this point:

For the record, “what a load of twaddle” is one of my favourite comebacks — so well played, Anne.

I also got an email from a far right New Zealand YouTuber who I am not going to name, because, well, that’s exactly what he’d want. Screw him and his racism:

“Why on earth are you getting involved with a beta male loner like Byron Clark? The obvious answer is you’re one too. Why don’t you […] freaks actually come and talk to us ‘Far right white supremacists’ as you call us instead of writing shite? But no, you won’t do that because you know none of it is true and you're either stupid or totally naive to believe it. Byron is a bloody communist ffs! So I'd have to assume you’d be one too. I'm up for a chat, but face to face recorded live. If not then feel free to go play with your soyboy freak friends like Byron. I know it’s ever so cool to you that Byron is still a virgin and can’t look a woman in the eye, but you’re tarred with the same brush. I’d never trust any of you three freaks around school children.”

For the record: I’d happily be a virgin (why is that in insult?) over a white supremacist.

With all that in mind, here is Part II of Bryon’s investigation — this time looking at Counterspin Media, a New Zealand conspiracy show that runs on Steve Bannon’s platform, GTV. What does this have to do with Talanoa Sa’o, I hear you ask? Well, I will let Byron explain that in his piece.

But first, a few quick diversions — after writing about John Campbell’s secret Spotify playlist last week, his playlist’s gone from 18 followers to over 6000. That’s kinda cool.

Secondly, Tig Notaro (a comedian I adore) and Cheryl Hines (who plays Larry David’s wife in Curb Your Enthusiasm) have just covered Tickled in their documentary podcast:

It’s a fun listen and you might enjoy it. I am mainly posting about it because Cheryl calls me cute at the end which is something I will hold onto until the day I die.

In case you missed it, I’ve written on aspects of Tickled we didn’t get to cover in the film — you can read that here. It’s about tickle cells in the US Military.

Okay — now I’m going to throw it over to Byron to talk Steve Bannon and anti-government militias.


Counterspin Media 

Part II of Byron Clark’s investigation into New Zealand’s fake news.

Unlike Talanoa Sa’o, Counterspin Media doesn’t air on terrestrial television. Episodes stream twice weekly on GTV, the online media platform founded by Steve Bannon, former Brietbart executive director and one time chief strategist for Donald Trump and Chinese dissident billionaire Guo Wengui, who also goes by the name Miles. 

GTV became synonymous with fake news when they published numerous false articles about Hunter Biden (son of Joe Biden) during the 2020 US election campaign. More recently Graphika Research have released a report that describes Wengui as being “at the center of a vast network of interrelated media entities which have disseminated online disinformation and promoted real-world harassment campaigns.” His media network, which includes GTV, has spread Qanon narratives and misinformation about the Covid-19 virus.

Counterspin producer Sarah Smith is a well known figure on New Zealand’s conspiracist fringe, though she rarely shows her face on camera. Many people who research fringe conspiracy groups and activists believe that the name Smith is a pseudonym (she recently defended using a a nom de plume after YouTuber Lee Williams was suspended from his job for his extreme beliefs).

In front of the camera, Counterspin Media is hosted by Kelvyn Alp.

Alp has a colourful history on the margins of New Zealand politics. After serving in the army in the 1990s he started an anti-government militia that was covered in a 2002 episode of 20/20 (the video is not available online, but a synopsis describes the segment as being about “a disaffected former soldier who claims he has his own army and is prepared to go into battle with the Government.”)

That same year, members of Alp’s militia, the New Zealand Armed Intervention Force (NZAIF), turned up at the home of Bank of New Zealand managing director Peter Thodey dressed in military garb, claiming to be acting for a customer with a grievance. That customer was Christchurch accountant Phillip Verry, described by NBR at the time as “a conspiracy theorist who blames BNZ for many of New Zealand’s problems.

Very had engaged Alp as his “negotiator.”

Alp led the Direct Democracy Party who ran candidates — several of them members of the National Front, a white nationalist group — in the 2005 election. He later contested a 2011 by-election in Te Tai Tokerau under a different banner, the OurNZ Party. After that, he went pretty quiet for a decade.

In the first episode of Counterspin, Alp is flanked by two flags; the New Zealand flag and the flag of the New Federal State of China, a political movement founded by Wengui and Bannon with the stated aim of overthrowing the Communist Party of China. The group has been described as a Chinese “government-in-exile”. The same combination of flags are visible behind the then Advance Party leader Jami-Lee Ross during his interview on Steve Bannon’s Warroom show.

In the declaration of the New Federal State of China another organisation was launched, the Himalaya Supervisory Organization. According to that document:

“[T]he Himalaya Supervisory Organization will make all preparations for the formation of the New Federal State of China with outreach efforts. It will actively liaise with various countries, political parties, associations and international friends supporting the establishment of the New Federal State of China and coordinate relationships with the interim government. It will guide and assist the preparation of the new government, and ensure the smooth, effective, and steady progress of the preparation of the New Federal State of China.”

In this country the group operates as Himalaya New Zealand. According to their website

“Our mission is to raise awareness of truth disclosed by the Whistle-blower movement initiated by Mr Miles Guo and the former White House strategist Mr Steve K. Bannon. We aim to counter false narratives forced through left-leaning mainstream media and compromised key NGOs within New Zealand.”

While the exact nature of the relationship between Himalaya New Zealand and Counterspin Media is unclear, a representative from the former was the first guest on the latter. 

The next guest is Heather Meri Pennycook, from the Agricultural Action Group (AAG). The group was founded on election night last year by Pennycook and two others, Robert Willson and Fred Roberts. All three had been candidates for Advance New Zealand. According to the group’s website, they have all resigned from the party “in order to fully focus on AAG and its objectives”.

Pennycook spoke extensively on what she called the “theoretical” climate catastrophe (that she notes AAG will apparently be disproving with information on their website) and the government’s supposed emergency provisions targeting the agriculture sector.

She claims these actions are typical of governments that want to impose communism, with farmers in particular being targeted as “they are often self sufficient [and] they often have firearms.

This all sounded dubious to me. But I’m no climate change expert, so I sent a short clip of the interview to James Renwick, professor of Physical Geography at Victoria University. He was a lead author for two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. He described the three minute clip as “fake news galore!”

“First up, the talk of the “theoretical” climate catastrophe, how it’s a farce and so on. This is just wrong, regardless of whatever science Ms Pennycook is putting up on her website. Yes, the government has declared a Climate Emergency, but there are no “emergency provisions.” The PM has pledged to make the public service zero-carbon by 2025, but that’s it. There is no plan to decimate the agriculture industry. Farmers are not being targeted, even if they are mostly self-sufficient and have firearms.”

Pennycook also told viewers that New Zealand is responsible for less than one percent of the world's carbon emissions, a statistic that is factual but doesn’t mean the country has no responsibility when it comes to climate change. “New Zealand’s total emissions are indeed small on the international scale” writes Renwick. “But, per head of population, we are right up there. This would be the case for any group of 5 million people in any developed country. We are only a small emitter because we have a small population. This is a global problem, and all countries need to act.

Amongst all this, Alp also makes the claim that last year's election was rigged, as there is supposedly no way “South Island farmers” would vote for a government doing the things that Pennycook says they are.

I felt like I was already waist deep in a disinformation swamp, and this was only the first episode!

The stream ended with a commercial for Lonely Lingerie, the underwear brand whose owners have embraced Qanon style conspiracy theories. Alp notes they are not actually a sponsor, but a company they hope will sponsor them in the future due to their shared values.

What is this, a cross over episode?

Sarah Smith promoted the second episode of Counterspin on the topic “Racism - Is it real or manufactured?” as featuring “a wonderful (predominantly non-white) panel of intelligent and common sense individuals” and promising the episode would “lean into one of the biggest MSM narratives of the past two years and ask those very people who are the so called victims for their thoughts.” 

Two-thirds of the panel was sourced from Talanoa Sa’o.

Ikilei is asked if the overrepresentation of Māori and Pacifika in socio-economic disparity indicators demonstrates a racist system. “No, it’s got nothing to do with racism” he replies. “The racism being used as the boogeyman is actually quite nonsensical, it’s quite absurd to put out there.

He then quotes American economist Thomas Sowell claiming that the expansion of the welfare state led to the disintegration of the African-American family. 

Ikilei says the New Zealand situation is similar, claiming that when it supposedly became easier for single parents to get welfare benefits in the 1970s, this led to the breakdown of the family, which he sees as the cause of socio-economic problems. “I don’t care what race they are… the biggest pattern is actually that it’s a broken home, and within that, it’s the fact of no father.” 

Alp dominates most of the discussion, with impassioned monologues about his views on Te Tiriti O Waitangi and related issues. “I actually ran in Te Tai Tokerau once” he says, in reference to his 2011 electoral run. “I wanted to see how many intelligent Māori there were, unfortunately there weren’t many.

This episode shows that despite the tendency of the right to chastise “identity politics” they are happy to embrace the concept when the people with the right identity are saying the things they believe. Elliot Ikilei claiming disparities between ethnic groups are “nothing to do with racism” and are instead the fault of social welfare programmes hits differently than when those same ideas are expressed by a Pākehā talkback radio caller.

In his outro, Alp tells viewers “Don’t let racism be one of the tools that covers up what’s really going on.” Race appears to be a contentious issue among the conspiracy crowd. It was cited in Damien de Ment’s video as one of the reasons he was “leaving the freedom movement”:

“There’s a lot of people out there who hold on to race and tribalism like it’s their whoopi, like it’s their security blanket, and until those people learn how to let that go and just focus on integrity, morality, and personal accountability, until we can just talk about that and put race to the side nothing will change.

So many freedom groups come together and we all start off with the best of intentions to group up with other people to collaborate, but often when it comes down to it that execution and commitment to those causes is hampered by infighting based on race and that's exactly what the globalists want, is for everyone to keep clutching on to their race card to keep us divided.”

His hiatus being short, de Ment was a guest on that same Counterspin episode where he gave his opinions on critical race theory, which he called “a social educational weapon to demonise strong families, to demonise hard working men, to demonise anyone who makes something of themselves, especially if they are white.

The race topic comes up again in episode seven. “If you believe the mainstream media, I’m a white supremacist with white privilege” Alp tells his guest, journalist Roy Kaunds, before asking him why people move from the East to the West. 

Unfortunately we got a sort of a socialist government, and that government became more and more socialist over the years,” Kaunds says of his birth country, India. Later in the discussion Alp tells him “we’re moving that way as you can see.

That’s my fear” replies Kaunds, before praising the nationalist government of Nahendra Modi, for what he sees as dismantling Indian socialism. “Socialism in every country has never worked has it?” asks Alp. “It has never worked” replies Kaunds, “and in most of my shows I try to bring this out.

He goes on to describe the recommendations of the He Puapua report as apartheid (a line Elliot Ikilei has also used on Talanoa Sa’o) and compares policies to reduce inequalities between Māori and Pākehā in Aotearoa to efforts to reduce inequalities between castes in India, which he says are creating “reverse privilege.”

“It is the, you know, these so called scheduled castes who are now getting the privilege...there are a lot of parallels between what you call white privilege and what you see here, blaming the whites for everything, the same thing happens with blaming the Brahmins for everything.” 

The interview gives Kaunds the opportunity to share a number of his views. “I personally don’t think there is this endemic, you know, systemic racism, I think this is a narrative they are trying to build to gain political mileage” he states at one point. Alp agrees, before jokingly telling his guest that he is “quite intelligent for an Indian.

Kaunds also has some eyebrow raising opinions on New Zealand media:

“TV3 is so so so left, it’s almost far-left. I think that that's the kind of television you would have in North Korea I would think... and TV1 of course, the less said the better because I don’t know, they’re stuck somewhere in limbo, they have to do what the government wants them to do.” 

Roy Kaunds was not someone I had heard of before his appearance on Counterspin. I searched his name to find some of his work and with the first result a few things started to fall into place.

I went back to the credits of the Talano Sa’o episodes I’d saved and...

There appears to be a symbiotic relationship developing between Talanoa Sa’o and Counterspin Media. The existence of these two shows doesn’t bode well for New Zealand. Fake news isn’t new, but until recently in this country it was limited to a handful of YouTubers making videos on smartphones and webcams.

The high production values — and in the case of Talanoa Sa’o, the legitimacy that comes with being broadcast over the airwaves (even if much of their audience watches online) — make these new media projects less distinguishable from real news.

With the misinformation they spread about Covid-19 and vaccines, as well as past and future elections, these broadcasts are a danger to public health, and potentially even to our democracy.

Byron Clark.

Oof. David here again.

I’d like to thank Byron for diving deep into this stuff, and feel incredibly proud to share his deep dive here on Webworm.

If you want to share Byron’s series, here are the links:

Part I:
Part II:

I am a relatively tiny publisher, supported purely by memberships — which allow me to pay writers like Byron. So — to you, thank you.

Oh, and I’ve made a page for Webworm on Facebook:
I’m not sure what I will use it for, as most of the community exists here in the comments — but hey, hit “like” if you’re Facebook-inclined.

Talk soon,