Action Zealandia has long denied any connection to the Dominion Movement, a far-right group that shut down after the March 15 terror attack. Now, a set of security guidelines for ex-Dominion Movement members joining Action Zealandia shows that members of the former intentionally started the latter.

The document references the “reformation” of the Dominion Movement and, although it states that “this group is entirely unrelated to the Dominion Movement”, an expert on New Zealand’s far-right says this isn’t the case.

“It appears that there are very clear links between the Dominion Movement and Action Zealandia,” Paul Spoonley, a Distinguished Professor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University, told Newsroom.

Distancing from Dominion Movement

The document makes a concerted attempt to distance Action Zealandia from its predecessor organisation.

“The fact that members of this group may have had connections to the Dominion Movement is information that is to be closely held. This information is never to be acknowledged over unsecured means, or with people who were not already aware of this information,” the document, which noted at the start that it was “only for members that have previously belonged to the Dominion Movement”, states.

In addition, the document encourages members to lie to other members of Action Zealandia about their prior affiliations.

“If any members are asked (by non-government personnel) whether they were a member of the Dominion Movement, they are to deny so. You may have been aware of the Dominion Movement and their activities in your region, but you don’t know anyone that belonged to it.”

The document went so far as to recommend that Dominion alumni destroy their branded flags and other equipment. “While those members that belonged to the Dominion Movement may have pride in it, which they have a right to do so, all memorabilia is to be either destroyed, or held securely in a location away from where they live.”

An attempt to turn the page

Spoonley sees this as an attempt to distance Action Zealandia from the Dominion Movement, which was roundly criticised after March 15 for its white supremacist ideology.

“In my experience, far right groups have disbanded and then reformed with a different name at frequent intervals. Like any group with a brand, it is important to maintain a positive image and avoid critical attention. The leaked documents certainly suggest a rebranding and renaming exercise,” he said.

After March 15, the Dominion Movement website was edited to read: “The Dominion Movement categorically and without reservation condemns the events in Christchurch. [Neither] our movement nor any of its members have ever had any communication or association with the perpetrator.

“In light of the atmosphere which is emerging in the wake of these events, it will be impossible for the Dominion Movement to continue our work. We will be ceasing all operations immediately. This site will stay online for a few days before shutting down permanently.”

According to Radio New Zealand, the site was later edited to say that the group “will be taking a hiatus”.

Action Zealandia is softer spoken than the Dominion Movement, replacing calls for a movement of “white men” with calls for a movement of “Europeans”.

In a newly-published academic paper on New Zealand’s far-right, University of Canterbury criminologists Jarrod Gilbert and Ben Elley note that Action Zealandia’s “website uses similar language to the Dominion Movement, but has noticeably pulled back on the former’s use of overt far right imagery, presumably as a reflection of the greater scrutiny levelled at such groups after the March 15 attack”.

Second document shows sophisticated protocols

A second document leaked to Newsroom and first reported on by Stuff shows Action Zealandia is operating on sophisticated security protocols. The document outlines three different levels of security clearance and provides instructions on how and when to cooperate – or not cooperate – with law enforcement.

“I have never encountered anything like this before. It really is a step change in terms of managing the public image of far right groups and activists,” Spoonley told Newsroom.

“They are into image management and providing extremely detailed advice to their activists. It is a comprehensive document that anticipates scrutiny from officials and looks to protect their members and to limit the information provided publicly and to government agencies.”

This seems in line with international patterns. An intelligence document from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation that was leaked to The Saturday Paper “warns that the far-right movement in Australia has evolved from ‘loose, fragmented networks’ to ‘highly structured, security aware, and strictly vetted groups, largely consisting of white males’”.

The ASIO briefing anticipates these far-right groups splintering further in the coming year. “We are concerned that splinter groups are likely to be more extreme than their predecessors,” it states.

Claims of legality doubted

The second document also emphasises that Action Zealandia is committed only to legal action. However, Spoonley says that’s ironic in light of the group being linked to three potential crimes in the past week alone.

“I would regard any claims that the law is being observed in full by such politicised and radical groups should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. Recent actions by the police and other leaked information does suggest a rather different reality,” he said.

Last week, an Action Zealandia member was arrested in relation to a terror threat against Masjid Al-Noor in Christchurch, first reported by Newsroom. Sam Brittenden, a 19-year-old previously convicted of disorderly conduct after shouting “f*ck the Muslims” on March 16, was charged with failing to assist with a search warrant.

This refusal to cooperate with law enforcement seems in line with instructions in Action Zealandia’s security guidelines.

Over the weekend, Action Zealandia posted an image of a leaked police Financial Intelligence Unit document to Twitter. Police have said that distributing the document violates the Policing Act 2008.

On Monday, Newsroom reported that an anonymous Action Zealandia member had discussed plans to start a terror cell in New Zealand and purchase firearms from the black market with members of overseas terror groups like Atomwaffen Division, which is linked to eight murders.

Newsroom understands that police are investigating this individual.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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