Researchers who infiltrated Action Zealandia say the group’s members identify as neo-Nazis and fascists in violent, private online chats, Marc Daalder reports
Two new academic studies on New Zealand’s main white supremacist group, based on 18 months of covert research, indicate Action Zealandia sees itself “as the seeds of a larger fascist social movement, and as a street fighting spearhead in the manner of the Nazis Sturmabteiling or brownshirts”, rather than as a terrorist organisation.
University of Auckland terrorism and conflict lecturer Chris Wilson and then-independent journalist James Halpin (who now works at Stuff) published a paper in late July and another last week, after Halpin joined Action Zealandia undercover. He witnessed nearly two years of online private chats and attended in-person events, according to the studies, which were first reported by Stuff on Tuesday.
The two researchers found that, contrary to its watered down “identitarian” public image, “in closed spaces online, members express overt white nationalism and discuss the use of political violence. Members self-identify as Nazis, fascists, nationalists, and white supremacists.”
That public image will be even harder to launder after the group’s website was knocked offline over the weekend in an unrelated incident.
Action Zealandia’s website was hosted by the owner of overseas hate site KiwiFarms, which coordinates real world stalking and harassment of minorities and critics. Multiple suicides have been linked to KiwiFarms and the website also infamously hosts copies of the March 15 terrorist’s livestream.
A weeks-long campaign to take KiwiFarms offline succeeded over the weekend, with the security provider Cloudflare dropping the site. That appears to have removed Action Zealandia’s protection as well – the site is currently inaccessible.
Crackdown on violence
For most of the first year of Action Zealandia’s existence, its members “began indicating that they had embarked on a path of radicalisation”. Violent threats and rhetoric became increasingly common during this period.
The papers shed light on the group’s reaction to media and police investigations into their activities. Newsroom first reported on the existence of the group in 2019 and in 2020 revealed that a member had plans to create terror cells modelled after violent far-right group Atomwaffen Division. Ahead of the first anniversary of the March 15 terrorist attack, another Action Zealandia member was arrested after a violent threat against one of the mosques involved was posted online.
“Kind [of] defeats the point of having this kind of group if one is going to be like that,” one member wrote after the mosque threat.
“They could take little things like this and eventually ban us as an organisation,” another agreed.
The group’s leadership cracked down on violence, with Wilson and Halpin theorising that terrorist attacks would conflict with Action Zealandia’s strategic approach.
“Instead of planning a large scale attack in the manner of Christchurch 2019, the group instead hoped to project ‘good optics’ which would allow greater recruitment and create a larger, more influential white nationalist movement. Many sought to widen the ‘Overton window’ of extremist rhetoric in New Zealand,” the researchers wrote.
“Moving away from discussing violence, members instead discussed the creation of a ‘whites only, high functioning and crime free’ commune in rural New Zealand. Some members talk excitedly of the group as a fascist street fighting force in the manner of the Nazi brownshirts or the Proud Boys and other militant groups overseas. Members have also discussed infiltrating or influencing political parties.”
Threats and violent rhetoric also brought the attention of the state, media and anti-fascist activists. If Action Zealandia was shut down before it had a chance to spearhead a new fascist society, “then the white nationalist movement in New Zealand would lose its only organising force”.
The researchers also posited that the “uninspiring” offline reality of Action Zealandia dampened terrorist sentiment.
“Offline gatherings and activities, attended by one of the authors, were invariably disappointing, deflating any nationalistic fervour while at the same time allowing for friendship and meaning, something sought by some members of the group.”
Group still a danger
This wasn’t to say that the group is no threat, Wilson and Halpin cautioned.
“As we have shown, many members discuss and support the use of violence against minorities, women, or leftists even if they do not commit it themselves. And while they may not engage in mass casualty terrorism, the presence of groups can have an influence on those prone to doing so,” the researchers wrote.
“Group propaganda seeks to disseminate white nationalist ideas and hatred to a much wider audience which includes individuals disposed to acting violently. In some cases, groups such as Action Zealandia may even hope to provoke isolated individuals to mass casualty violence, particularly if it causes polarisation and instability and a swell of support for nationalist organisations.
“Individuals on the periphery of the group who perceive themselves as ignored and excluded may also become frustrated and turn to extremist violence as a way of proving themselves. Because influential members of a group encourage restraint does not necessarily mean all members will conform, or that these norms will not change in the future. The group may later decide that the time is right for violence: the fact that strategic calculations are more important than moral objections in preventing violence allows for future change in this calculus. And increased factionalism within the group might drive extremist outbidding and violence.”
That factionalism was also evident in Halpin’s monitoring of Action Zealandia’s communications.
Even after leadership banned any violent threats, one member jokingly promised to “bomb a marae”. Another “posted a photograph of scissors fashioned into a blade on a copy of [white supremacist text] The Turner Diaries. Under the post he wrote ‘alright, guess we’re going sicko mode the night quarantine (Covid lockdown) ends’.”
According to the paper, police visited the latter man in response to the threat and confiscated a rifle.
Old guard fascists pushed the group to abandon its edgy, violent rhetoric and to instead engage with white supremacist theory and literature. But the member whose rifle was seized pushed back.
“What has the intellectual side of AZ done? They’ve written some articles that … some boomers read. The aryan race = saved,” they wrote sarcastically.