Billy TK is not a duped victim of far-right interests, but is instead employing their conspiracies for his own NZ-style conservative Evangelical purposes, writes Dr Deane Galbraith

In dozens of online videos, Billy Te Kahika has told hundreds of thousands of viewers that the Covid-19 crisis obscures a massive conspiracy. He doesn’t use the word ‘conspiracy’, mind you. For Te Kahika, he is simply providing ‘the facts’, easily discovered if you ‘do the research!’

After Te Kahika’s decision to contest the 2020 New Zealand election, he has been the focus of a flurry of media interviews, reports, and even an online documentary. Almost all of these have missed the driving factor behind his sudden entry into politics. It is a factor that flies under the radar for most secular New Zealanders, but is well known inside New Zealand’s Evangelical Christian minority.

Behind the jumble of conspiracy theories that Te Kahika promotes, what drives him is a ‘master conspiracy’, a term coined by Charles J. Stewart to describe a complex conspiracy that incorporates smaller conspiracies into one grand, nefarious plot. Te Kahika’s master conspiracy is known as the ‘New World Order’ or ‘One-World Government’ conspiracy: that secret forces are preparing for an authoritarian one-world government. For decades, the idea has been central to populist Evangelical interpretation of Bible prophecy

In the US, where according to the Pew Research Centre, 41 percent of the population believe they live in the final generation before the End Times, the New World Order conspiracy is hugely influential. This master conspiracy was set out in detail in Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970), which was the number one best-selling ‘non-fiction’ book of the 1970s in the US. It spawned many imitations, including best-selling novels in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins.

An obsession with the End Times can be found also within New Zealand Evangelical circles, only on a smaller scale.

The fact that Te Kahika was able to gather such a large following, and in so short a time, is not a testament to his creativity or exceptional charisma, but due to the existence of a ready-made support base for the New World Order master conspiracy among New Zealand Evangelicals.

Until recently, travelling evangelist Barry R. Smith was perhaps the most influential end-times populist that New Zealand has produced. He published eight books on the End Times, as well as his own monthly newspaper, The Omega Times. He was convinced that a secret elite was using New Zealand as a testing ground for early introduction of the Antichrist’s New World Order. As the title to one of his videos puts it, New Zealand was the Back Door to the New World Order.

Te Kahika, likewise, is primarily interested in conspiracy theories to the extent they corroborate, as he puts it, ‘a global plan to bring the entire world into a global system’, which ‘some call … the New World Order’. In this, he is not a duped victim of far-right interests, as commentators such as Tina Ngata have charged. That belittles the agency of Te Kahika and his many Evangelical followers. We should instead say that Te Kahika is using the far right. He is taking the conspiracy theories that they are circulating, but employing them for his own NZ-style conservative Evangelical purposes.

Te Kahika’s master conspiracy reframes each of the conspiracies it incorporates. For example, Te Kahika’s opposition to the United Nations and WHO is not primarily driven by right-wing nationalistic ideals, but by his belief that the UN is a scheme to impose ‘a one-world religion’. To this end, Te Kahika introduces the conspiracy theory that the UN’s principles were devised by three female occultists (Helena Blavatsky, Annie Besant, and Alice A. Bailey), and that the UN endorses ‘satanism’.

Te Kahika also promotes conspiracies about a coming banking crisis and cashless society, a conspiracy likewise promoted by antisemitic groups around the world. But Te Kahika is an equal-opportunity conspiracy theorist: he blames equally Freemasons, Illuminati, the IMF, Bill Gates, and other billionaires of attempting to ‘reset’ the financial system. Te Kahika’s primary concern is not with Jews nor Bill Gates, but with their purported attempt to impose the ‘mark of the Beast’ as prophesied in the book of Revelation, without which nobody will be allowed to buy or sell. ‘In the Bible,’ explains Te Kahika, ‘Revelation 13:17 says there will be a religious system that will be forced to be worshipped and that by doing so you will receive its “mark”…. To achieve this, they need to collapse or re-engineer the entire financial system among other issues. Certainly looks like we are on track.’

Te Kahika’s generally favourable view of Donald Trump does not make him a white supremacist or patsy of the far right, either. He supports Trump because he appears to fight the coming New World Order. It’s a common position among more conservative New Zealand Evangelicals today. Senior Pastor Peter Mortlock (City Impact Church, Auckland), contended in August 2020 that the world’s elite are trying to ‘reset the world as a One-World Government’. These covert elites, he claimed, ‘are anti-Donald Trump, because he is anti-globalisation. He’s anti the One-World Government’. Apostle-Bishop Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church made much the same claim in a March 2020 lockdown sermon about ‘the New World Order’. Tamaki claimed that ‘President Trump has been a spanner in the spokes. He has been, basically, used by God to slow that down.’

In this time of crisis and anxiety, not to mention lockdown boredom, end-times conspiracy theories have prospered, with dire consequences internationally for the spread of Covid-19. The fact that Te Kahika was able to gather such a large following, and in so short a time, is not a testament to his creativity or exceptional charisma, but due to the existence of a ready-made support base for the New World Order master conspiracy among New Zealand Evangelicals.

Dr Deane Galbraith teaches in the Religion Programme in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Otago.

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