The red-pilling of Billy TK Jnr
Let's watch a political hopeful go down the rabbit hole in real time, shall we?
What’s shocking to me is not just the conspiratorial beliefs people hold, but the speed in which these outrageous new beliefs are being embraced.
I’m sure you can all think of people on your Facebook feed who seemed perfectly rational a month ago, but are now speaking about nothing else except kids trapped in underground tunnels, adrenochrome, and a shadowy cabal of global elites.
Yesterday I accidentally happened upon hundreds of these people, gathered in the centre of Auckland to protest the Government’s response to COVID-19.
There was talk of a new world order, Bill Gates, 5G and the fact that COVID was a manufactured crisis.
The man with the microphone — QAnon sign floating near his head — is Billy TK Jnr.
Billy heads New Zealand’s QAnon adjacent conspiracy party, Advance NZ, along with disgraced MP Jami-Lee Ross.
Looking at Billy, I thought to myself: how did this blues musician go from being a blues musician to New Zealand’s premier peddler of conspiracy nonsense?
Well, thanks to Facebook — we can watch his journey unfold in real time.
I scoured his entire Facebook feed, examining how and why embraced this new system of belief.
This is one man’s descent down the rabbit hole.
And it happened alarmingly quickly.
Billy’s journey down the rabbit hole:
February 16: Let’s ease into this. In mid-February, we get the Billy TK Jnr most New Zealander’s know: the blues musician.
February 28: Billy shares a clip that a lot of people shared — a ‘viral’ clip of a woman filming her bullied son, in an effort to show the damage bullies can do.
March 17: Like we all experience, COVID-19 enters our discourse. Billy urges his friends and family to “take care & be vigilant and careful about this corona virus”.
March 20: Uh oh. Billy starts watching YouTube videos. The video has since been flagged by Facebook as “false information”, noting that Harry Kissinger did not urge mass vaccination in a 2009 speech.
March 22: While Billy’s started on his YouTube journey, he’s only a few days in. He urges the Government to move to Level 4 restrictions.
March 23: Billy’s reading a lot of news.
He’s still worried Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern isn’t moving fast enough to take New Zealand to Level 4 restrictions, posting a link to a news story supporting his opinion.
March 25: New Zealand moves into Level 4 lockdown.
I assume Billy now has more time on his hands. And the internet.
What could go wrong?
March 28: It’s been just over a week since Billy posted his first link with provably false conspiracy content, about a speech that never happened. Today, he posts a piece from known conspiracy theorist Dr Rashid Buttar.
Buttar has been reprimanded by the North Carolina Board of Medical Examiners for unprofessional conduct, and cited by the FDA for illegal marketing of unapproved and adulterated drugs.
Billy receives positive feedback for the link he’s posted.
March 28: Billy’s daily post count is going up. There’s a lot on his Facebook feed by this point, with multiple posts a day. They are now all conspiratorial in nature.
He receives positive feedback from James Reid, frontman of New Zealand band The Feelers.
Sidenote: The Feelers were huge in New Zealand in the late 90s. They released a song in 1998 called “Venus” and if you lived in New Zealand it was unavoidable.
Now my venus, my venus, my venus, my venus,
Come my little
Oh my venus, my venus, my venus,
Come my little venus
April 1: April Fool’s day. Just saying.
April 2: Billy really likes Rashid Buttar, posting another of his unhinged YouTube videos called “COVID-19 CONSPIRACY? DECEPTIVE AGENDA”.
It’s been just over a week since Level 4 lockdown was declared. Billy’s had eight days indoors with not much else to do but do his own research.
April 3: The posts are piling up way to fast to note them all. I am not going to bother. But there’s a lot of the usual QAnon adjacent stuff: Bill Gates is evil, 5G will kill you, and COVID-19 isn’t real.
April 5: Billy mentions that he is “researching topics” and “proof sourcing”. I only mention this as it’s pretty common language as people descend into fucking bonkers territory.
April 5: Another particular “Jnr” makes an appearance in the form of Robert F Kennedy Jnr. Yep. All normal, nothing to be worried about.
The rest of April: It flies by, and Billy posts a lot.
May 8: Certain people in the New Zealand media decide to give Billy a platform. He appears on Sean Plunket’s radio show.
“Good morning dear all: I spoke on national radio yesterday with Sean Plunket…”
For those unfamiliar with Sean, all you really need to know is that he once tweeted “anyone else feeling for Harvey Weinstein?”
May 11: Billy gets excited about the idea of protesting.
It’s been 50 days since he was advocating for a rush to Level 4 to stop the spread of COVID-19.
He now thinks the crisis is about “mandatory vaccinations and control”, noting that “if you don’t vaccinate you will lose your freedom.”
This is not true.
May 14: Billy starts deleting critics from his Facebook.
Please whanau take careful note that anyone that abuses anyone for their views on my page will be deleted & blocked.
May 17: Spurred on by all the YouTube lectures he’s been enjoying, and the positive engagement he’s been getting from his posts (more than what he got in his former life as a blues musician) Billy decides to do a Facebook live, posting this:
Good morning dear friends. At 3pm today I am going to do a ‘Live’ presentation on my page and I would like to invite you to come by.
May 20: After getting a “huge” response to his Facebook live, Billy returns for more Facebook lives:
Kia ora dear friends - My next presentation ‘The Big Plan behind the Crisis’ Pt 2 is this Sunday at 3pm. The topic is “Peeling the Onion.”
Over the coming days, Billy continues to do Facebook lives, his audience growing.
May 31: Billy is excited to be given a platform on Maori TV.
Hi Everyone: I am on Maori Television on ‘Te Ao Maori News’ at 6:30 pm. Im sorry for the late notice, there is a reason. I am going to do a live FB broadcast at 7:30 pm for a quick important announcement. Take care dear all and thank you to everyone for your support & care xx
Later on May 31: Billy then follows this up with another Facebook live, thanking Dean Nathan who’d interviewed him: “A dear thanks to Deano.”
Billy claims 60,000 people have tuned into his live broadcasts so far. He is clearly stoked.
He then talks about there being “demonic” plans behind COVID-19, and mentioned that it is his job “leading people to know God.”
He follows this up by claiming he had to keep the Maori TV interview a secret in case the government got ahold of it.
He notes he hasn’t seen the story yet.
He then talks about how a good friend has been telling something:
“We’ve been talking, and she said it would be a great idea if I looked at getting into politics.”
It’s been just over two months (70 days) since Billy first enthusiastically urged the Government to move to Level 4 restrictions.
A time when Billy never used to post about conspiracy theories. A time when he’d share the occasional YouTube video he liked. A time before things turned to utter fucking nonsense.
It’s sort of depressing watching someone go down the rabbit hole.
Why does it happen so fast?
I think Billy got scared of what was going on around him. I think Billy was locked indoors with a lot of time on this hands. I think Billy had a bunch of algorithms serving him new YouTube videos. I think Billy got more engagement on Facebook posting outrageous conspiracy theories than he did posting blues music. I think Billy enjoyed the stage given to him doing Facebook lives. I think Billy was further encouraged when given a platform by various media outlets. I think Billy found a purpose. I think Billy saw he could get more famous. I think Billy understood that maybe, maybe he could make some money out of all this.
I think Billy represents someone we all know.
I think he represents a problem we all have to figure out how to solve.
I’m hoping that by examining Billy’s origin story, we might find some clues about where to start.
This has been another Webworm attempting to make sense of the conspiratorial madness we’re experiencing around us. These keep coming out for free thanks to the support of paying members. If you ever want to become one ($6.99 USD a month or $69.69 USD a year), and it doesn’t put you under any financial hardship, you can sign up here:
You’ll get bonus Webworms and AMAs and the like. My aim is to keep documenting and exploring this stuff, so we can try and find a way out of this mess.
Witnessed a similar descent with a family member on Facebook. Went from occasional posts about family life to the odd post critical of the government's covid-19 response to daily posts about Bill Gates, hydroxychloroquine and underground child trafficking all within the span of a few weeks.
The usual covidiots appeared: posts from Pete Evans, Billy TK and Robert F Kennedy Jr. But also a lot of shared posts from obscure blogs and YouTube channels. You can basically see the fb algorithm kick in where this echo chamber of manic nonsense encloses her.
Interestingly the engagement with posts drops off dramatically over time as the family members who were initially commenting disappear and only two or three folk who consistently share their outage in the comments remain.
It's a sad study of not only how quickly these beliefs escalate during the uncertainty of lockdown but also how significantly this line of thinking estranges people from their real life friend and family support networks.
this is an interesting case study. it's depressing to see someone go from "why can't we humans just love each other?" to championing a divisive and hate-promoting conspiracy theory in a matter of months.
i think it's interesting that a lot of the people getting swept up in q are older-ish. it seems like boomers lack an instinct that younger people have to identify obviously false info and to fact check material that seems suspicious - e.g., it's not hard to find that info about the alleged kissinger speech and buttar's reprimands. i wonder if dr. uscinski's counterintuitive findings could be masking an age effect (i.e., older people lack social media literacy & conspiratorial beliefs are increasing among them but we don't see this pattern in the data as a whole).
...that got more tangential than i intended but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯