WHILE THE WORLD SEEMS TO BE, AT LEAST TEMPORARILY, HAVING THE RIGHT CONVERSATION ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS, BLACK LIVES, THE POWER IMBALANCE THAT EXISTS IN SOCIETY AND THE VERY NOTION OF UNITY, WE LET ALEX NEBESKY GO TO A PROTEST. SURE EVERY BRANCH OF MEDIA COVERED THE UNITY PROTEST AND DEBATED EVERYTHING FROM COVID-19 AND SOCIAL DISTANCING. EVERY STUDENT MEDIA (INCLUDING OURS) LOOKED FOR AN EDITORIAL VOICE. BUT ONLY ALEX COULD HAVE PRE-PLANNED TO ATTEND A REOPEN NEW ZEALAND, ANTI 5G FOLLOW UP PROTEST AND COME AWAY WITH A REAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE HATRED, FASCISM, RACISM AND MSYOGNY THAT EXISTS JUST BELOW THE SURFACE IN OUR COUNTRY.
Shortly after diving headfirst into the New Zealand 5G conspiracy theory social media space, and shortly before I was banned from the first page I joined, I found myself joining a group ostensibly dedicated to protesting the Government’s coronavirus lockdown response. ReopenNZProtests, a private group on Facebook (with fairly lax admission requirements) is less a page focussed on reopening the nation and more a page in a struggle with dedicated to New Conservative supporters sharing Alt-Right QAnon theories and fellating every action of US President Donald Trump. Where the first group I joined was lightly moderated, but still welcoming of debate, ReopenNZProtests is a wild west of hard right-wingers calling anyone and everyone cucks and referring to the Prime minister as a bitch, a whore, a cunt, and remarking that the only people who voted for her where those that wanted a blowjob from her. This sits in stark contrast with those dedicated protesters desperately trying to organise demonstrations. There is also a healthy dose of Holocaust denial because it wouldn’t be Alt-Right if there weren’t any Jew-haters.
Knowing all this, and knowing that the distance of the internet has the same heady effect as a strong hit of Dutch courage to those who want to “debate” the issues of the day, I felt it reasonable to head out to one of the protests organised by the group to see if I couldn’t have a chat face to face with New Zealand’s fervent crusaders against lockdown.
I was the only one who showed up. Of course I was. Nobody in their right mind would head out to a Museum that opens at 10am to protest two hours before anyone showed up. But I had to be sure. There was a second protest, indeed protests happening all over the country (allegedly) kicking off at 10am, but something about the rogue suggestion that there would be a protest on the steps of the Auckland War Memorial Museum at 8 in the morning was irresistible. I knew it was exceptionally unlikely that a protest like that would go ahead because you know, even warriors of freedom like a Saturday morning sleep-in, and judging by the relatively ineffective Aotea square protest last week it was safe to assume nobody would come. But what if…?
In reality, the reason nobody came is because ReopenNZProtests is not about protests. It may have started that way, as an organising point for people who wanted to beat the streets to preserve their freedoms, but it isn’t that today. Today is is a cesspool of misogyny, anti-semitism, hard right wing beliefs, evangelical Christianity, Trumpism, and conspiracy theories. The idea of protesting lockdown is just a stick used by New Conservative Party-supporting Alt-Righters to beat a government and Prime Minister they don’t like, and would never like, instead of any sort of civil display. As I write this, only two people are protesting in Aotea square at 10:23 this Saturday morning, though it is conceivable that more will come. Posts about the UN Agenda 2030, however, continue to come thick and fast.
When a homogenous group of people get together to oppose a government they disagree with it can take two forms. One is the group that finds an issue and coalesces around it to lobby or protest or spread the word to right some policy or governmental wrong. The other is a group that comes together out of total and unadulterated opposition to the party in power and all its members and takes any opportunity to challenge that party’s government. ReopenNZProtests is most certainly the latter. Arguments claiming every woman who has been Prime Minister has done a terrible job and women should lose the right to vote because of it go unchallenged. Post imploring members to trust in the QAnon plan, itself a horrendously toxic US-centric conspiracy, are left to fester. Every move, every step made by the government is picked apart whether it is related to lockdown or not, and every clip of National MP Simeon Brown, or any promo material from the New Conservatives is lauded as heroism in the face of this totalitarian regime. Any footage of protesters in Michigan is written of as Soros-funded false flag attacks, and any time a cop shoots a gas canister in a young man’s face it’s hard to know if the group will come down on the cop or the protester- the central tension being that ReopenNZProtests loves to see leftists bashed, but also hates state authority (allegedly). It is a confusing balancing act between “not being a criminal is the easiest way to not be killed by police” and “The police state is here to take your freedom”.
And then there’s the anti semitism and Holocaust denial. Posts and comments litter the page with “(((them)))/[them]/THEM” being blamed for all manner of global issues- issues that are almost exclusively attached to left wing politicians. For the uninitiated, the triple parenthetical is used to show clearly that a group or individual being discussed is Jewish, the brackets intended to represent echoes- because the insidious actions of the Jews echo throughout history. George Soros also serves as a stand-in for international Jewry, especially when Black Lives Matter protesters can be labelled as paid Soros goons. One poster actively referenced the long debunked Other Losses, a book published in the 1980s claiming that 5 million Germans were starved to death on purpose by Eisenhower in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and then referred to this as the “real Holocaust”. No such mass-starvation plan existed, but the belief that one did gives ammunition to those who wish to play down the Holocaust to benefit their own efforts to blame Jews for all they see wrong with the world, and helps play into the white genocide belief that so often comes hand in hand with such theories. It also serves their perverse characterisation of the Nazis as some sort of socialist evil- but that’s a conversation for another day. It must be said that these views were by no means the majority, or even a sizable minority of views, but there they were side by side with every other post or comment, left to fester in the milieu of dissidence.
An important thing to note is that admins and mods do not challenge these deeply racist angles- not actively at least. It took me three days of arguing with a man named Jared (not really his name) about the Holocaust before I was banhammered. I had to assume he was too, somewhere between the point he spammed the group with a dozen QAnon posts, and the point at which he called me a (((Khunt)))/”Skiddy arsed jew”. On later inspection, a friend who was smart enough to keep his head down sent me a screenshot to show that no, my friend Jared was not banned for his part in the lively debate about “the real Holocaust” or Q’s plan. One admin, a man who manufactures a delicious looking brand of kombucha and is an accomplished international Chef responded only to tell me he would not be interviewed, then blocked me. He is also active in sharing anti-5G content on his Facebook, a proponent of men’s health, a supporter of green energy, and backed Peter Vaughan in his unsuccessful 2019 Auckland Mayoral Campaign. A mix of views from across the spectrum. He also sits comfortably and watches his ReopenNZProtests group proliferate anti-semitic, hard right ideology and anti-BLM rhetoric in the guise of “just asking questions” without much room for debate. Only one other moderator I contacted responded to me at the time of writing this. They were alarmed at the Holocaust and anti-woman posts I had been arguing on and recommended that I report posts like that in future. I can’t because I’ms till blocked, and that still leaves three of the four I contacted unwilling to condemn or even comment on posts of that nature.
I doubt a lot of the members in the are fully aware of what a lot of what they see means. I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of members genuinely want to see the nation out of lockdown and only see the nation out of lockdown. Perhaps the moderation team feels overwhelmed by the the intoxicating mix of fear and power that comes with running a group of thousands of members and knowing many of them subscribe and actively promote right wing conspiracy theories. Then again, I do know that a man who describe the real Holocaust as being one against Germans, a man who made the case that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, a man who responded to a gif of a black man with a gif of an orangutan, a man who made a targeted post against me on the forum in an effort to incite some sort of bullying was left as a member and I was removed. All I can draw from that is that some views are tolerated in this community and others are not.
So I was dearly hoping some of these folks would show up on this brisk Saturday morning to protest. That I could have asked some questions or gotten some insight, but I also had to show up so I could bear witness to the absolute clusterfuck of an organisational system that they follow. On a giant thread of all the protests planned for that weekend all over the country, the Auckland post had a few mentions of the 8am protest at the Museum, the Admins were nowhere to be found when questions were asked regarding this renegade plan, and a handful of posts followed to ask who was there. Nobody showed up, and nobody was ever going to because much like telling everyone you’re going to run a marathon gives you all the warm fuzzies you need without having to actually run one, like telling everyone you’re going to quit smoking gives you all the kudos without quitting smoking, simply calling the Prime Minister an “evil New World Order cunt” gives you all the reinforcement you need to say you’re in the fight against this global tyranny. Calling me a cuck on the internet makes you a freedom crusader, and frankly, we would all be so lucky to have such cemented self-assurance.
In the end, I waited on the steps of the museum for an hour. I had a brief chat with a Museum employee, and I had a lovely walk around the Domain. I caught the train back home and had a delicious slice of cheesecake for breakfast. And as I did all that I thought how pleasant it was that I wasn’t being abused as an NWO shill by an outraged right-winger because when that happened online last night I was embarrassingly rude to him. I don’t regret it, but I don’t really know if it helped anyone.