Update: While Billy Te Kahika Jr and Vinny Eastwood’s arrests at the beginning of the lockdown gained viral notoriety on the internet, the protest itself was a sign of things to come. A number of large protests held in the Auckland Domain, spearheaded by Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki during Auckland’s protracted lockdown, saw thousands gather to raise their voices against vaccine mandates and lockdowns. Presumably obeying bail conditions, neither Te Kahika Jr nor Eastwood were central figures at these.

Four protesters, including Billy TK Jr, were arrested at an anti-lockdown rally in downtown Auckland today for breaking the Government health order

Everywhere in downtown Auckland was dead today. At least, almost everywhere. The street corner outside the TVNZ building was a throbbing hive of activity as around 80 protesters met to voice their opposition to the snap lockdown.

The rally, which was organised on the hoof through social media after the news of New Zealand’s return to Level 4 lockdown yesterday afternoon, devolved in a mosh pit once the police arrived to arrest organisers Billy Te Kahika Jr and Vinny Eastwood.

Police allowed the gathered crowd to chant and hold up signs for half an hour, before entering the maskless throng and giving out warnings for breaking the health order.

Around 15 minutes later, a squad of police officers approached Te Kahika as he was speaking on the steps of the TVNZ building and led him away for arrest.

While Te Kahika did not struggle, intimating before arrest that he was sure his followers would be able to pay for his legal costs – once the officers apprehended him, the crowd erupted in disdain.

Around 15 officers formed a line in front of the TVNZ building entrance, stopping the crowd from following Te Kahika, as he was led across the street to a waiting police vehicle.

Police officers face off with the angry crowd after arresting Billy Te Kahika Jr. Photo: Matthew Scott

Te Kahika, who came under fire last year for spreading misinformation related to Covid-19 as the leader of the New Zealand Public Party, greeted fellow protesters with kisses on the cheek and hongi before taking the microphone.

The target for this particular protest seemed this time to be the media – hence the choice of venue.

“If it weren’t for TVNZ, Stuff and Newshub, we wouldn’t even know there was a pandemic,” Te Kahika told the crowd, potentially confusing onlookers for a moment as to whether that was a good or bad thing.

But it was spelled out plainly in the signs of his followers, with messages such as “Can we trust the media”?

One protester whose sign noncommittally read “Down with this sort of thing” didn’t seem too sure about what he was there for.

Before the police arrived, a number of speakers took to the steps, including conspiracy theorist Vinny Eastwood, who was banned from his YouTube platform earlier this year for spreading misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines.

Despite not being able to watch him on YouTube anymore – or perhaps because of that – the crowd hung on his every word, even as he began his speech with a perplexing reference to the “This is Sparta” call of Gerard Butler in the movie 300.

Anti-lockdown protesters seek support from passing motorists. Photo: Matthew Scott

It was Eastwood’s turn once the police had taken away Te Kahika Jr.

For some reason, he and the remaining crowd crossed the intersection before they came for him.

Once they did, he gathered the crowd around him and called for them to protect him, saying he was afraid of being arrested.

“Guys, please protect me,” he yelled. “Don’t let them take me away!”

It could have been an act to lighten the tension or satirise the police’s actions, or perhaps just to confuse onlookers.

“I am willing to obey instructions to keep the peace,” Eastwood told the police, despite having just disobeyed the instruction to not host large public gatherings.

Once the ringleaders of the event were in police vehicles, the crowd seemed to lose a bit of steam for a moment.

“I’m sorry I was swearing before, everybody,” one woman said. “I was just worried about Billy.”

Then somebody had the idea of taking the whole show down the street to the police station, where they would find out what had happened to their leader.

Police keep the protesters from following Te Kahika as he is led away. Photo: Matthew Scott

Meanwhile, Karl Barkley, last year’s New Conservative candidate for the West Coast-Tasman electorate, found himself in handcuffs.

He had been an intermittent but forceful presence at the protest, spending most of it driving around the block in his family van emblazoned with “Ban 1080” slogans and giving his point of view through a jerry-rigged loudspeaker. The voice of whoever was speaking on the TVNZ steps and Barkley’s monologues intermingled into an indecipherable mess numerous times.

He popped up in the crowd after the police made their first arrest, and was at the front of the throng shouting down the line of officers.

Once the initial burst of chaos settled, he approached another group of police officers and admonished them for their part (or lack thereof) in the Pike River Mine recovery.

Nevertheless, as he pulled off in his vehicle, a police car appeared behind him and flashed at him to pull over.

After he failed to do so, the police officer forced him to a stop by pulling in front of him, before a group of police took him from the vehicle and handcuffed him.

“That’s one way to shut him up, ay,” an onlooker called to the police.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was disappointed by the need for four arrests, but didn’t want the actions of a small few to represent the whole population. “It is disappointing that some choose to put others at risk,” she told reporters this afternoon. “It’s just a small number of the team of five million.

“We have a low tolerance for unlawful gatherings,” said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. “People can expect that we will move more quickly to enforce.”

He declined to speak today on the individual arrests, but said the crowd had been given plenty of opportunities to disperse.

“When that did not occur, we began arresting people until it did disperse,” he said. 

“The vast majority of people are doing the right thing, so I think it’s important not be distracted by the very small number who seem determined to do something else. We will deal with them.”

In addition to the four in Auckland, four people were arrested in Tauranga after refusing to be moved on by police.

Activist Karl Barkley is arrested by police for failing to pull over. Photo: Matthew Scott

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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