View from Down Under

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Why the left now looks more like the hard right

Reaction to freedom protests show our relationship with state power is changing – and not for the better

Credit: Bob Moran

This morning state force is being brought to bear on peaceful protesters at Parliament grounds, with the apparent sanction of the middle-class liberal laptop set.

Hundreds of police and riot police, many with red tape over their badge numbers according to Twitter reports, are working to clear the freedom camp at Parliament as I write.

A three week media campaign to demonise and mislable the people at Parliament as right-wing extremists, loonies and unwashed ferals has been largely successful. It wobbled for a moment as some in the media began to question the validity of police reports on the protesters’ behaviour last week, but after doubling down it appears to have convinced middle New Zealand of the ‘filth’ status of protesters.

New Zealand has probably never been more divided than at this very moment.

One post on Facebook yesterday opined: “For any friends and family who been affected by conspiracy theories and misinformation, I hope you’ve taken an honest look at why you’ve been susceptible to these in the first place – take a breath, seek some help. I truly hope we can connect again on the other side. For those of you who’ve been cooking for the protesters and washing their clothes, it’s time to play ‘go home, stay home’. For anyone else – there’s this petition.”

The post included a link to a petition to ‘end the protest’.

My own heart is heavy, as are those of many other Kiwis who can’t believe this is happening in our country, with the support of so many former friends and family – supposed liberals.

Here is a press release from the various groups spearheading the protest condemning this morning’s police activity.

Let’s hope it does not turn out to be our ‘darkest day’, but the Government has clearly decided to follow Canada’s lead.

Last week Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau successfully brought the power of the state down upon peaceful democratic protest by the implementing emergency law – drafted for use against terrorists – and the use of economic sanctions against them.

It was crickets from our Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, however, who failed to condemn or even mention it. Now it’s clear why she stayed silent.

This ought to raise alarm bells about the state of our democracy because what is happening here, and in Canada, is a complete departure from core liberal values. Until recently we believed these to be enshrined in Constitutions and Bills of Rights, which seem to have been rather useless in the face of Covid’s emergency legislation.

Until last week, when the Supreme Court ruled the vaccine mandate for police and military was illegal, the courts did not uphold our rights in a number of similar cases. Is it the power of protest that swung the pendulum finally?

Either way, it was marvelous to see the courts finally side with the people and I hope to see this continue. But it looks like Ardern has chosen to double down on her authoritarianism rather than cede any credit to the protesters.

New Zealand is awash with Illiberal liberals

But this hasn’t come out of nowhere.

We have all noticed the increasingly stifled ability to publicly debate any of these changes, the politicisation of people’s private medical choices, and a general nastiness and intolerance from the punditry and media towards people who want to uphold the values of free speech, individual autonomy and democratic due process.

The fact that half the country believes the protesters at Parliament are neo-Nazis illustrates this clearly, with many people reveling in and egging on state force towards them.

The attitude by at least some of the public towards those who don’t want the jab is bigoted and abusive. We would have to be blind not see that this has been relentlessly encouraged by both our leaders and the legacy media. There is a sense that many people are enjoying the freedom to abuse and bully this minority with apparent public sanction.

Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt has finally acknowledged the loss and suffering Covid policies have caused for many New Zealanders.

Last week, the Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt finally met with leaders from the protest and other groups and individuals critical of the Government’s undemocratic Covid response. He subsequently put out a statement, which acknowledged these devastating harms.

“The job given to the Human Rights Commission, Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, by Parliament is to listen, conciliate, educate and advance human rights and responsibilities for all.

“It’s clear that the protesters who I have met with have very real stories of loss and suffering. They feel broken and discarded due to the impact of Covid-19 health measures on their lives.

“These are people who have told us they have lost loved ones, who say they have suffered severe side-effects of vaccination and lost jobs.

“I have a duty to listen to their concerns to understand how their human rights have been impacted,” Hunt said.

This hopeful glimmer that there may be life yet in our democratic organs (frankly far too little too late), was immediately pounced upon by one influential ‘liberal’ pundit.

This from lobbyist Neale Jones, former adviser to Jacinda Ardern.

The left’s drift away from liberalism

Twenty years ago, the left cared about quite different things. Our concerns were the advancement of neo-liberal and globalist policies that preyed upon the developing world, the rights of indigenous people, and other vulnerable minorities.

We were appalled at the apartheid policies in Palestine (still are), supported the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, and protested against the World Trade Organisation and World Bank for their predatory prying open of third world economies to be raped and pillaged by multinational corporations. We were against regime change wars. But we firmly believed in civil liberties, freedom of speech, bodily autonomy – certainly the right to protest.

The left today bears little resemblance. Instead it champions the politicisation of everything, toxic cancel culture and increasing authoritarianism and censorship.

It seems to me, at least, that these bullying tendencies are more in line with fascistic ideals, than anything to do with liberalism. Although, I’m sure many ‘liberals’ would be horrified to realise it.

Canadian writer Julius Ruechel said last year in a brilliant essay, “Those in charge have long since signaled that they have no intention of returning to a liberal democracy founded on the recognition of inalienable individual rights and freedoms. If data were the ingredient required to confront them, they would have folded long ago. They are impervious to data. This isn’t about a virus. This is a psychological game and it’s all about power and control.”

What is fascism, and who are those exhibiting fascist characteristics?

The left throws the term fascism around a lot. I was called a fascist for attending the anti-mandate, pro-freedom protest at Parliament, which is nonsensical. Here’s why.

Fascism is a denial of the individual in favour of the social whole, a total subordination of the individual to the state – the direct opposite of liberalism. And really the opposite of what the protesters are working for.

Another characteristic of fascism is a devaluation of intellectual life, in favour of emotions that drive political activism and a rejection of traditional moral principles such as caring, sympathy and compassion in favour of loyalty, duty and self-sacrifice. The protesters have a far more nuanced take on the events of the last two years than Guardian or Spinoff readers do and they are interested in dialogue and debate, where the latter are not.

Fascism favours a strong and unquestionable leader, and considers rule by elites as both natural and desirable. Fascism courts big business with its concept of corporatism – Benito Mussolini said something along the lines of fascism being a merger of state and corporate power – although 1940s corporatism probably bears little resemblance to today’s globalised version.

Fascism relies on propaganda, the kind that inverts meaning to create a kind of Orwellian un-reality. Anti-corruption is corruption for example; inconvenient information become ‘misinformation’. And in the topsy-turvy world of the 2020s, freedom fighters become ‘fascists’.

Fascist regimes monopolise the tools of mass communication – radio, tv, cinema and now the internet – to ensure only politically correct views are expressed. Censorship is normalised.

To mobilise popular support for the regime, out groups are created, ‘us and them’ to promote the idea that the dominant group are victims. For example, men are the victims of women, whites are the victims of blacks, the vaccinated are victims of the unvaccinated, Wellingtonians are the victims of protesters – or whatever serves the regime at the time.

Fascism is totalitarian in nature, because it seeks all-encompassing political control over the private lives of individuals. Just think about how many people told their family members they had to spend Christmas alone last year for the crime of being unvaccinated.

Another pillar of fascism is widespread surveillance and a bureaucratic apparatus to diligently collect information. What do people suppose the vaccine passes and tracer apps, are? What do they suppose centralised digital currencies will be used for when they are invariably introduced (the Reserve Bank is preparing for this now)?.

Essentially the protesters want the Government to get out of their lives, put an end to its overreach and to reassert their individual rights. Nothing could be less fascistic.

Russell Brand dissects Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of Emergency Powers to end the trucker protest.

A glimpse into the near future

Consider what Trudeau has just done, with zero condemnation from the global leaders of the West. He gave himself the power to freeze people’s bank accounts, cancel their insurance and fine anyone involved in the trucker convoy protests, or who supported them in any way. Perhaps this is a blessing, because he gave an all too real window into what the ‘new normal’ has in store if we don’t stop it.

This is what political satirist and writer C.J Hopkins calls ‘new normal fascism’. He makes the point that the current form taking the world by storm is not like the racialised version Hitler employed, but is rooted in global capitalism. It is the inevitable end point of globalisation, the machine doing what the machine does.

Before Trudeau suddenly walked back his emergency powers just two days after Parliament approved them (starting a bank run isn’t great politics), saying the measures were no longer needed, the ‘new normals’ were for a short time cheering Trudeau on. Why? Because he was dealing to a bunch of ‘anti-vax, white supremist, misogynist insurrectionists’.

Just like Ardern is being cheered on for refusing to speak with the ‘fascists antivaxxers’ at Parliament.

We need to talk

But here is the thing, in democracies we talk things out. That is part of the social contract, as is the right to protest.

Since Canada and New Zealand are practically mirroring one another’s current politics, take a listen to this speech to the Canadian senate by Senator Donald Plett.

The senator accused Trudeau of stoking the flames of division and admonished him for not speaking directly to protesters but “speaking down” to them and characterising them as Nazis.

We haven’t yet heard anything this sane and reasonable from a serving New Zealand politician, but we can live in hope.

Now, I’m not asserting that we have gone “full blown fascist” yet, but I think democracy is in a very dangerous place.

In this compelling discussion between Canadian ethicist Dr. Julie Ponesse (she taught at Ontario’s Huron University College for 20 years and was placed on leave and banned from accessing campus due to the vaccine mandate) and Laurier University professor David M. Haskell, he comments:

“Whenever society gets to this place, from an historical perspective, you don’t get out of it … we’re just on the tip. We’re not full blown totalitarian, we’re not full blown authoritarian. But we definitely are where other countries were just prior to going full blown authoritarian. When you lose the ability to dialogue and to have competing ideas, you are reduced to competing in other ways, and that is ugly.”

What is happening right now on Parliament grounds is ugly. And we must not forget the Government’s outright refusal to dialogue with the protesters ahead of today, even when a third party mediator was put forth as an option.

For those genuinely interested in understanding both sides of this story, please inform yourself, the media will not do that for you.

On the Voices for Freedom telegram channel there are numerous ‘voices from Parliament’, videos in which protesters explain who they are why they have joined the camp at Parliament. Similarly, on Liz Gunn’s Free NZ Odysee page.

First published on 2nd March 2022 at https://www.thelookingglass.co.nz/

The push to align protesters and the unjabbed with extremism and the far right

Those protesting Covid restrictions and fighting for health freedom are being cast as unhinged loonies and extremists

Protesters have been repeatedly slated as extremists and unhinged loonies, despite representing a diverse and peaceful group of disillusioned Kiwis. Sourced from the Voices For Freedom Telegram channel.

People protesting against the loss of freedom due to restrictive Covid policies, along with those who don’t want to take the Covid jab are being smeared as extremists and sometimes cast as far right activists.

No evidence is presented for these claims, however. Instead it appears that mischaracterising people who are by and large peaceful, reasonable, intelligent and open-minded as the complete opposite appears to be the strategy for particular interests.

While it’s pretty common to hear derogatory terms such as ‘loonies’ or ‘unhinged’ in reference to so called ‘anti-vaxers’, it was not until a prominent lobbyist and pundit referred to them as ‘extremists’ in a couple of tweets recently, as noted in a previous story, that I heard the term directly employed that way in the New Zealand context.

Then after this week’s freedom protest in Wellington, the slurs came again.

We should be under no illusions how dangerous and extreme these people are.

That was the comment from a lobbyist who posted a picture of a protestor with a sign reading “violating the Nuremburg code bears the death penalty.”

Of course, the sign is not a threat of vigilante violence as is being suggested, but a reminder to those in power that the war criminals tried at Nuremberg did in fact, meet the death penalty for their crimes against humanity and their sentences were passed by judges in a criminal court.

This is probably not the most constructive sign to carry at a protest for freedom, but the handful of people carrying such signs were hardly representative of the majority.

The lobbyist continues with more hyperbole: “The thing to remember about the unvaccinated folks protesting in Wellington today is that their entire grievance is based on deranged and often dangerous conspiracy theories that put themselves, and all of us, at risk of serious illness and death.”

To cast a diverse collection of grassroots campaigners expressing genuine concerns about Covid policies as a dangerous group of extremists would be laughable if it were not so serious.

All this was to be expected, however. Here’s why.

Freedom rally in Wellington on 9 November. The footage shows a large cross-section of New Zealand society is concerned about the Government’s Covid policies. Courtesy of Parallel Media.

Questioning Government policy on Covid and jabs could get you labelled a security threat

The narrative emerged in the US earlier this year. A briefing from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence in March, ominously signaled it was shifting its focus from foreign threats to domestic ones.

In the briefing, ‘domestic violent extremists’ were described as people who were motivated by a range of ideologies and galvanised by recent political and societal events in the US, and were considered to pose a threat to homeland security.

What’s worrying is that the description is broad and could be applied arbitrarily to mean any grassroots movement in opposition to government.

In August, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin in much the same vein, which highlighted domestic threats that included concerns about people interested in “conspiracy theories concerning the origins of Covid-19 and effectiveness of vaccines”.

Alternative media and health freedom advocates in the US picked this up early on.

Greenmedinfo’s Sayer Ji noted in August, “The latest DHS report now weaponises the agenda to “fact-check” and “debunk” any dissenting voices or free speech by tying it to terrorist threats or potential acts of violence.“

A recent report by US group Citizen’s Commission to Safeguard Freedom also warned that “Government and powerful allied forces” were working to brand the diverse health freedom movement as a “monolithic right-wing group” in order to classify those involved as extremists or domestic terrorists.

Meanwhile, back in Aotearoa …

An 18 June address given by the director general of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Rebecca Ketteridge called “Navigating Domestic Security Threats in a World of Uncertainty” carried the same message.

In it, she said that part of the country’s “threatscape” was “the emergence of Covid-19 specific grievances and conspiracy theories amongst a small proportion of our population. The prevalence of on-line rabbit holes of disinformation may radicalise some individuals in New Zealand.”

Ketteridge goes on to explain that “Single Issue-Motivated Violent Extremists are those who condone the use of violence to achieve a specific outcome on a single issue – such as anti-1080, or anti-vaxxers.”

While Ketteridge emphasises that security services are looking for those that intend to use violence in the name of a cause, it’s unclear why she has singled out those two issues as examples. Those who want to remain unjabbed and be left alone to live their lives in peace will likely feel deeply unnerved to know our security services take this view.

Journalism or advocacy?

For the last 22 months the media, for whatever reason, has chosen not to question the need for restrictions and authoritarian policies and has gleefully embraced the demonisation of the unjabbed.

The ubiquitous term ‘anti-vaxxer’, almost certainly dreamed up in a public relations firm and seeded into the modern lexicon to protect the interest of pharmaceutical companies, is a clear sign the legacy media have abandoned principles of objectivity and balance.

The hate speech leveled at the unjabbed would trigger outrage if targeted at any other minority, and gives lie to the claim of ‘inclusivity’ spouted by so many legacy media outlets.

In an early November interview with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Newshub political journalist Tova O’Brien asked if the 4.6 per cent or 188,000 thousand “hardcore anti-vaxers could potentially pose a threat?”.

An egregious Herald opinion piece on 16 November claimed the country was likely to experience a terror attack at the hands of someone filled with rage over Covid policies by the end of next year. This piece of scaremongering was rightly slated on social media.

And earlier this month, Stuff ran a piece called “The age of misinformation is here” which reinforced the narrative that anti-Government protestors and ‘anti-vaxxers’ posed a national security threat.

The intro reads: “Misinformation can kill, and almost two years since Covid-19 hit our shores it’s a national security issue with no easy solution. How is it impacting how we treat each other, and society at large?”

Again, the subtext here that any opinion that goes against government policy, or orthodoxy generally, is dangerous.

Many protesters at recent rallies carried signs such as this with messages of unity and positivity, but go unacknowledged in legacy media.

The Stuff article cites a briefing to the Department of the Prime Minister and cabinet:

“Anti-mask and anti-lockdown narratives, often couched in broad human rights and basic freedoms terms (and often grounded in narratives linked to the US constitution) [have] found fertile ground amongst followers of a few influencers, political parties and some church congregations.”

OK, so have I got this right? Masks and lockdowns good, human rights and basic freedoms bad? It’s hard not to come to the conclusion the public is being groomed to think of freedom and bodily autonomy as ‘selfish’.

The media has been very quick to pick up on any anger or outburst expressed by the many thousands of Kiwis who have been affected by mandates or who are feeling the incessant pressure from Government and media to take a jab they do not want, not to mention the psychological trauma of being cast out of the lifeblood of society with no objection from the majority of their fellow citizens.

Similarly, the legacy media refuse to acknowledge with any sincerity what these people have lost or show any willingness to tell their side of the story.

On 12 December much loved veteran broadcaster, John Campbell’s tv special “Anger, anxiety and us” purported to be very confused about why people are so angry (hint: medical mandates, segregation, mass sackings, media bias, censoring of dissent, constant fearmongering) while ultimately reinforcing the now familiar trope that the unjabbed are at best misguided and at worst, a menace.

Look out for these pieces, they are likely to keep coming.

Troll on social media gets in on the act

Last week this tweet was posted from a doctor trying to pin the alt-right label on grassroots activists Voices for Freedom (read the thread in its entirety for all claims).

Alt-right forces such as those that provoked the January 6th insurrection in the US are at work in New Zealand, and they’re using COVID health policies as the anchor to indoctrinate and radicalise people.”

” … It is no coincidence that Voices for Freedom, whose revenue streams remain high and hidden, uses the same language … “

As one commenter replied, VFF was started by “three mums from Ponsonby” as a response to the draconian Covid restrictions put in place last year, and which has grown a membership base of about 100,000 through good old fashioned community building around a common interest – freedom. Revenues come from donations from concerned citizens.

The group is explicitly non-partisan. Their website states:

“We are independent and not allied with any other organisation in New Zealand. Our supporters represent a diverse cross section of New Zealand society. Being non-political we do not discriminate on the basis of political affiliation. We built our database independently and continue to experience rapid growth with supporters numbering in their many thousands.”

And just to be clear, since they are invariably referred to in the legacy media as ‘anti-vax’, whatever that means, they aren’t:

“Voices for Freedom is not anti-vaccines. We value medical freedom and are pro-choice. We champion the right to be free from coercion and from discrimination based on vaccination status.”

Scapegoating and dehumanising the unjabbed

A more realistic threat comes from hatred towards the unjabbed that continues to be stoked by the media and the state.

The front page of Canadian broadsheet the Toronto Star in August featuring vitriolic tweets about the unvaccinated which it later admitted was a mistake. Sourced from CJ Hopkins’ substack.

Vaccine fundamentalism – an irrational, blind, bottom-line faith in the beneficence of vaccines that can tolerate no questioning or dissent – has been extant for a long time and is increasing in the Covid era. Many people unjustifiably believe the unjabbed are a threat to them.

Examples from overseas show this clearly. In Germany, graffiti saying “Gas the unvaccinated” and a newspaper cartoon showing a man playing a video game in which unvaccinated people are hunted down and killed. In Canada earlier this year the front page of the largest online news site featured a host of hateful statements made about the unjabbed on Twitter.

A cartoon published recently in a mainstream German newspaper shows a video game player shooting unvaccinated people for fun. Sourced from CJ Hopkins’ substack.

We have yet to see anything as extreme in New Zealand but if intolerance and hate continue to be pushed, we might still get there. Let’s hope not.

Rather than ramping up the fear and exclusion, psychologist Paris Williams notes in his excellent analysis of the current situation that the path to healing and rebuilding social cohesion begins with dialogue and mediation, restoring informed consent, and ending medical mandates.

He suggests the Government should make “an explicit acknowledgment of and responsibility for the harm done to those who have chosen not to get vaccinated—the harm and humiliation caused by generally scapegoating and vilifying them, invalidating their perspectives, and threatening to take away their livelihoods. This would go a long way to repairing this social rupture and re-establishing trust in our democratic institutions.”

I couldn’t agree more.

First published on 22nd December 2021 at https://www.thelookingglass.co.nz/

There is no division in New Zealand

The same people pushing social division, deny it’s a thing

Protester faces police at rally against Covid restrictions and jab mandates, Wellington, November 9 2021

The current media and Government line about the social division caused by vaccine mandates and certificates is that it’s over-hyped and not really true.

They say that because around 90 per cent of Kiwis are now vaccinated, we can assume there is a broad and unusually rare consensus on the necessity for the measures. Both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson are on the record for this.

But with at least 40 per cent of the work force under mandatory vaccination orders imposed by the Government and increasing numbers of private businesses implementing their own mandates, it’s clear a very large number of people have been vaccinated in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Commentators argue, as if trying to convince themselves, that talk of Government policies rending the social fabric in two (see here & here) is greatly exaggerated, and offer up dubious numbers to prove their point.

This from Newsroom political reporter Marc Daalder on twitter last month:

“Even the largest anti-vax Telegram channels have only about 10,000 members. Even if they were all actually from NZ (many aren’t), that’s still just 0.2% of the population….

“They couldn’t fill even half of Eden Park….”

RNZ’s The Hui presenter Mihingarangi Forbes also tweeted last month (these numbers are out of date now), “73% of Māori and 88% of all NZers have had at least one vaccination. Helpful to remember when some are convinced it’s dividing the country.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on 6 November, speaking to Newshub political editor Tova O’Brien that, “Actually the group of people that are strongly anti-vaccination, remains relatively small. But as you can see, they can be quite vocal.”

Lobbyist and former advisor to Jacinda Ardern, Neale Jones, who has repeatedly used the term ‘extremist’ to refer to people who don’t want to take the jab, also denied a social split was taking place, after TVNZ political editor Jessica Much McKay wrote a piece arguing protestors and hecklers had shifted the political mood.

“A small handful of deranged extremists protesting against vaccination, which ~90% of the population has done, doesn’t reflect a shift in the public mood. If there is a shift, it won’t be this.”

By this view, the roughly 20,000 strong cohort of protestors at parliament on 9 November were ‘extremists’, not ordinary citizens who have deep concerns about the safety of a new drug, and the loss of their rights, incomes and freedom of movement. No, they are adjacent to people who undertake ritual beheadings, mass stabbings and bombings, according to Jones.

You can now scapegoat and dehumanise people with impunity, who for whatever reason have chosen not to take the jab, then turn around and say ‘there is no division in New Zealand’.

This is news to the tens of thousands of people now out of a job, at risk of losing their assets and unable to get a haircut or even sit in a cafe and drink a cup of coffee because of the Ardern’s Covid policies.

The media has increased the division by not representing their views and joined in the name-calling and bullying by mischaracterising the unjabbed as ‘anti-vax’ and all protesters as ‘right-wing conspiracy theorists’.

An upset worker @thistooisagift, posted on 14 December:

“Cleaned out my office this evening. Working from home until they fire me I guess … just a question of how long they will allow it before I’m gone. Decades of service, bloody hard work, and being a top performer. Feel so angry and sad, but mostly betrayed. Fuck NZ.”

You can see hundreds of such posts on Twitter.

It seems apt to recall an iconic Kiwi post punk classic here – Blam Blam Blam’s There is No Depression in New Zealand, 30 years on.

The 1981 song was adopted as an alternative national anthem by some due to its satirical take on the socioeconomic and political vibes of the day – high unemployment, industrial disputes, and disaffection with the Muldoon government, as well as a country divided by the upcoming Springbok rugby tour.

About writing the lyrics, Richard von Sturmer told the Sunday Magazine in 2015: “It was a reaction to the really grey, repressive Muldoon years. I wasn’t prompted by a single event; it was more the general atmosphere … It’s an ironic song.”

“Grey and repressive” feels familiar. It’s arguable that the country hasn’t since experienced a period of such high tension until now, with the possible exception of the 2004 hīkoi against the proposed foreshore and seabed legislation.

Speaking to people out and about, the festive season isn’t feeling that festive, and anecdotally nearly everyone you speak to, no matter which side of the ‘divide’ they fall on, is experiencing mental health issues, from anxiety to depression to panic attacks.

Still, many people are holding out and refusing to get jabbed. As of 14 December, 21% of the total population has not been injected at all and 24% have not yet had a second dose. And while that includes children who are not yet eligible, it’s hardly a tiny minority.

First published on 15th December 2021 at https://www.thelookingglass.co.nz/