New Zealand goes Loopy

A summary of Aotearoa's top anti-vax & conspiracy theory nitwits


Some weird stuff is going on in New Zealand right now. And I’m not just talking about our wizard being fired:

“Christchurch, New Zealand has just made a terrible mistake. It has fired its official city wizard, a man named Ian Brackenbury Channell, and now finds itself undefended against attacks by mystical armies of dragons, goblins, and, most dangerous of all, outraged bands of rogue magicians led by Brackenbury Channell himself.”

I wish it was just the wizard.

Remember last year when you woke up, and it seemed like an alarming proportion of the population American was waving QAnon flags and talking about adrenochrome? I think New Zealand is having that moment. As in, that moment of unbridled, bonkers “WTF”.

It’s been building for some time, but the New Zealand government’s announcement of its plans to deal with delta (to save lives) by setting a 90% vaccination goal seems to have pushed some over the edge.

So I wanted to take you on a tour of some of the main characters of New Zealand’s Covid conspiracist and anti-vax scene. Some I’ve written about before, some are new.

If you want to discuss this further — I’ll be hanging around in the comments to talk to subscribers. See you there.

Peter Mortlock goes Full Beast

City Impact Church’s Peter Mortlock — previously tip-toeing around his relationship with Brian Tamaki — has gone full beast. An Instagram video posted to his personal page two days ago literally opens with him saying: “I was talking to Bishop Brian Tamaki just yesterday after his jail release…

In that same video, Mortlock went on to say what he thought of the recent ‘traffic light system’ put in place to control lockdown levels. At around eight minutes in, he says this:

“Maybe today’s 10am traffic light announcement will wake up New Zealand. All I could say when I was watching it was “Nazi Germany has arrived in New Zealand”.

Okay. We’ve hit this point. “Nazi Germany has arrived in New Zealand”. If you’ve read my previous pieces of Mortlock and City Impact, I think you can see the quick and clear trajectory Mortlock is on. To be clear: Nazi Germany has not arrived in New Zealand. There is no holocaust here. People are not being put to death in gas chambers.

I felt pretty angry when I watched Mortlock’s message, and fear what I type would basically be a string of expletives about a man incapable of introspection, utterly consumed by his white evangelical beliefs. So I am going to throw to AJ Hendry’s measured piece:

“Under Hitler, Jew’s, who could not change the fact that they were Jews, were singled out, driven into concentration camps, and exterminated. In New Zealand, in this current Covid world, people who don’t get vaccinated will have some restrictions on their lives but will still be able to go to the gym, go to work, get a latte, and post their disdain and disagreement with the government online. They will also have the choice to be vaccinated at any time, thus decreasing the risk of Covid for themselves. When we look at it, the comparisons just don’t add up.

Comparing what is happening to Nazi Germany and contrasting what is going on with the genocide of the Jewish people, and the slavery and segregation of African American whānau in the states, is like comparing apples with an all-terrain vehicle. They aren’t the same thing. In fact, for those who have experienced these forms of oppression, and suffered under these regimes, the comparisons — I can only imagine — are extremely offensive.

For those of us who are pākehā, and also for those of us who identify as Christians, these sorts of comparisons only demonstrate that we have never truly experienced genuine oppression before.”

Dylan Reeve’s piece at The Spinoff talking to anti-vaxxers also found plenty of people referring to “1930s Germany” and “World War 3”. Now Mortlock’s gone down the Nazi Germany route.

And a word Mortlock kept repeating over and over in his rant?


Aggressive Knitting & Voices for Freedom

One can’t talk about “Freedom” in New Zealand right now without arriving at ‘Voices for Freedom’, a reasonably well-funded anti-vax conspiracy theory group. Since last week’s 90% vaccination target was set, they’ve been out in full force: Leaflet drops, internet noise, and a lot of signs next to busy roads:

I’ve written about Voices for Freedom before on Webworm, when they made a big song and dance about how to get mask exemptions on flights, making a giant privileged mockery of those that actually needed exemptions. Totally normal, sane stuff.

Voices for Freedom was founded by Claire Deeks, a failed political party candidate for a failed political party. Deeks has been a practicing lawyer (yep, the legal profession has its fare share of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists) and loves a good roast chicken:

Before she went down the rabbit hole, Deeks was into wellness, starting a “paleo kid’s food blog” called Dom’s Kitchen. Like Paleo Pete and other wellness and diet warriors before them, Deeks was quick to stumble into conspiracy chaos.

Okay — now the knitting thing. Deeks formed Voices of Freedom with two prominent members of New Zealand’s knitting community: Libby Jonson of ‘Truly Myrtle’, and Alia Bland of ‘Little Bee’. If the fact members of the knitting community are anti-vax comes as a surprise to you, it was sort of a shock for me, too.

But the knitting community has some weird issues. I was surprised to read this headline on Vox back in 2019:

Out of curiosity, I took a poke into New Zealand’s knitting community earlier this year and found similar issues. I came across Maree Buscke of Skeinz, the retail face of Design Spun Limited — one of just two “worsted spinners” remaining in New Zealand. No, I’d never heard the word “worsted” before either. It’s a type of yarn spun from “combed long-staple wool”.

Anyway, according to this knitting watchdog Instagram account (yes, it’s a thing), Marie has made it pretty clear in the past she will excuse racism in online knitting discussions, writing:

“I am not going to persecute somebody who in the eyes of an SJW is showing themselves as being a racist or a someone who is persecuting someone because of religion or whatever the reason may be — because all they are doing is being who they are.”

Sorry, I’ve really gone on a real tangent here. But stick with me. Because as I became curious out the New Zealand knitting crowd, who did I see teaching Marie Buscke’s Knit August Nights? Libby Jonson.

Libby Jonson — one of the other founders of Voices for Freedom. Voices for Freedom, in short, is fucking horrible — actively spreading disinformation around New Zealand:

“The flyer, purporting to tell the “truth” about the Covid-19 vaccine, made a range of claims, including that vaccine-related deaths and serious injuries were being reported at an alarming rate, and that it was unknown if the vaccine would cause cancer, sterility or mutate cells.

Established last year, VFF have grown in size and influence — happily spreading like a venereal disease on Facebook and Telegram. And yes — VFF are are very, very supportive of Sue Grey.

Sue Grey: Should we place our faith in an overly enthusiastic LARPer?

The second news report I ever filed on New Zealand TV, back in 2005, was about a bunch of Live Action Role Players, or LARPers. I have a real affection for LARPers — who dress up as various characters and play out a live action version of Dungeons and Dragons. I found myself in Auckland building surrounded by knights, centaurs and wizards, all embodying the characters they were dressed as, improvising the best live theatre show I’d ever seen.

LARPers get a hard time — clips like this not really helping the scene:

I raise LARPing because it’s got something to do with Sue Grey. I wrote about her last week, because a lot is made of the fact she’s a practicing lawyer, while other facts about her (like spreading disinformation about a dead school child) seem to fade into the background. With that in mind, I don’t think Sue Grey can be taken seriously. I’d argue she should be treated with caution, like a raccoon you’ve found rifling through your trash.

But there’s another reason it’s simply impossible to take her seriously: Several years ago, a bunch of grifters set something up called the “International Tribunal for Natural Justice”. It’s extreme LARPing for people that want to pretend they are in a international court.

I’ve been keeping an eye on this very hilarious group since 2019. It’s run by a guy called Sir John Walsh of Brannagh. As you may expect for the leader of a fictitious Court System, he has a bunch of fake titles, got suspended from the roll of the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island, and has a long history of various legal battles. He also looks like a cast member from What We Do In The Shadows.

At the end of 2020, this group of LARPers — sorry, The International Tribunal for Natural Justice — held a “Commission of Enquiry into the Weaponisation of the Biosphere”. I couldn’t be fucked watching the whole thing, but gather it was about use of 1080, a poison used to effectively knock back populations of possums, rats and stoats in order to save New Zealand’s native tree and bird life.

Sue Grey has been a particularly giant force in the anti-1080 movement, so knowing her stance on 1080 — as well as her propensity for ignoring reality — I wasn’t entirely unsurprised to see her taking part in an entirely made-up court session run by children masquerading as adults:

“The International Tribunal for Natural Justice is having a Commission of inquiry into ecocide and Sue Grey our lawyer […] have agreed to give testimony on what the NZ government is doing by dropping 1080 poison”

If you like LARPing — this is way better than the lighting bolt guy:

I suggest if you have any friends or family who are into Sue Grey, just send them this image. And then when they ask what it’s about, you can gently pass on what I’ve explained here.

Although they’ll probably think this is all totally normal. Ugh.

The veteran broadcaster & the young reality TV star

It’s kinda painful watching New Zealand heroes go down the vaccine conspiracy route. Musician Dave Dobbyn was one of the first — after posts like this and this, he deleted his Twitter account (good move imo).

But I need to give a Certificate of Participation to two New Zealand media types who seem much more proactive in spreading utter bullshit.

The first was a surprise to me: Broadcaster Liz Gunn spent decades on Radio New Zealand, and many will know her from TVNZ’s Good Morning. She also used to work in law. But a few days ago she posted a video on Rumble, a fairly common platform for conspiracy theories and Covid-19 misinformation. It appears her mind has turned to (surprise, surprise) “freedom”, in a video called “Free New Zealand”.

The 12-minute video is quite a trip, from someone clearly upset: “She has announced the most draconian, cruel, inhumane, unkind measures to take away kiwi freedoms,” Gunn says in regards to New Zealand’s Prime Minister.

Clearly worked up to the point of tears, she talks on about the “enormous suicide numbers” and those who have “died” and “suffered injuries”. She provides no clarity on any of these statements, but it’s the same talking points the likes of Peter Mortlock and Sue Grey make again and again.

This country is being jab raped,” she says.

“If you’re awake and you’re doing research, you know it now” she says at 5’24”. She proposes a theory that “mother earth” created an earthquake after Jacinda’s press conference because “our mother, our jewel, this beautiful country said enough!”

At 6’40”: “We will build a new New Zealand from this, and we will do it together. I want to start a new political party and I want to call it Free New Zealand.”

She starts crying, saying New Zealand is being traumatised. Her voice keeps wavering: “Ardern’s evil, it’s the only way I can put it.

It’s super sad to see, and I hope she has friends and family that can perhaps check in. She needs some reality around her.

I feel less empathy for Chantelle Baker.

Thanks in large part to the Facebook algorithm — and Mark Zuckerberg’s internal indifference to the world becoming increasingly cooked — Chantelle Baker has been shoved into a lot of New Zealander’s feeds. She has about 15,000 people following her on Facebook, where her banner proclaims (surprise, surprise) “ALL WE WANT IS FREEDOM”.

Baker was last seen Ladies of New Zealand — a budget reality show made by radio station ZM, part the NZME media family. Yes — broadcasters do hold some responsibility for giving people like this a taste of fame.

Another huge surprise: she is white.

Chantelle Baker appears to be styling herself after a variety of other white, edgy “influencers” in this space, and I can’t help but draw comparisons to Lauren Southern:

Like Southern, Baker appears to be styling herself as a type of hard hitting journalist asking the hard questions:

“Follow along for the journey into New Zealand political cover-ups and international scandals.”

Chantelle is the daughter of Leighton Baker, who lead the New Conservative Party in the last election. That was the party founded by Colin Craig, the disgraced politician found guilty of sexually harassing his press secretary. Yes, I’ve written about Craig on Webworm before in “Platforming a Monster”. I know New Zealand is small, but this stuff gets so, so horribly incestuous.

She recently appeared on Sky News’ show “Outsiders”. To get a feel for what that show is about, at 28 seconds in, the white host purposefully mangles saying “Aotearoa”, calling the correct term for New Zealand “unpronounceable”. Yes — this is racist stuff.

Chantelle Baker also ran “NZ Testimonials” — one of New Zealand’s largest anti-vax Facebook groups — before it finally got shut down last week. But she’s still on Facebook: Recent posts include glowing comments about Kelvyn Alp, the host of a conspiracy theory TV show funded by Steve Bannon (see this Webworm essay for more on that), and regularly spreads utter nonsense about Covid and the vaccine.

Unsurprisingly, Chantelle Baker posts videos with Sue Grey, too. This stuff gets so, so horribly incestuous. I’d like it to stop, and increasingly I wish someone would pull the plug on Facebook. Let’s get rid of that one to start with.

And I hate to sound like a stuck record, but Chantelle Baker, Peter Mortlock, Liz Gunn, Claire Deeks, Sue Grey, Libby Jonson, Leighton Baker, Alia Bland and Sir John Walsh of Fucking Brannagh are all — yeah. You get it. A bunch of people who have never truly experienced genuine oppression before.


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You can read all my previous coverage of conspiracy theory culture here:

Webworm with David Farrier
Webworm's conspiracy coverage so far
Hi, Below you’ll find all the pieces I’ve written about specific aspects of conspiracy theory culture — from QAnon to influencers, Covid to ‘Save Our Children’, Peter Mortlock and City Impact Church to Steve Bannon and Billy TK. Maybe there’s something in here you can forward to friends and family spiralling out into conspiracy hell…
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