With strange and toxic prescience, a subject from the new study Histories of Hate: The Radical Right in Aotearoa New Zealand has leapt from the pages of the book into a major news story this week. The book chronicles past and present waves of radical right movements in New Zealand; an entire chapter is devoted to Kyle Chapman, a neo-Nazi and self-confessed racially motivated arsonist, who has hit the headlines by doing what he does best – organising hate groups in Christchurch against our most vulnerable. Chapman is helping grow yet another far-right group, backing Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, who is currently on a world-wide grifting tour attempting to spread her anti-trans hatred. Keen-Minshull’s previous rally was punctuated by her contingent of Nazi supporters giving the Nazi salute on the steps of Victorian parliament. The saying that “those who let Nazis drink at their bar, run a Nazi bar” springs to mind.
Chapman’s latest bid for publicity is straight out of the right-wing playbook as examined in Histories of Hate: hammering a cultural issue until you force people to take a side, all the while creating media attention and bringing sympathetic people to your cause. As the book makes clear, our radical-right does not disappear, it only changes target. When the 2019 Christchurch Mosque shootings finally rendered Islamophobia unacceptable in mainstream New Zealand culture, the radical right here pivoted, importing grievance culture from the US and the UK in the form of transphobia.
I often think about the strangest train ride of my life: March 15, 2019. Given that I was working at the bottom of Queen Street, and commuting via train every day, being strange was a short bar to clear: I had experienced runway drag shows going through the middle of the carriages at 7am, BMX bike tricks, freestyle rap battles and more, but nothing matched the heaviness in the air, or the peculiar feeling of sitting in the middle of a popped balloon on the ride I took home on that sunny Friday afternoon.
What is often forgotten about that day is that the original headlines were expected to centre around the first youth March for Climate Change. Working opposite Britomart, my workmates and I decided to spend our lunch hour on the side of the road, experiencing the full immediacy of the joy and hope that tens of thousands of passionate students had brought to their protest. Heading home early to prepare for playing a show later that evening, I shuffled onto the train amidst cardboard signs referencing Shrek and the excited chatter between high school students and their proud parents. My train ride home took a consistent 24 minutes, yet by minute 15 I turned my music off, aware that a hush had come over the carriage. Despite the warmth of the sun on the windows, suddenly the train felt cold; high school kids who were previously gleefully holding their signs to the windows were now sitting, staring straight ahead while their parents shuffled about, forming little clusters, heads titled oddly, and talking quietly in the way that only parents who are trying to have an adult conversation in front of their kids can do. Checking my phone revealed the source of this rapid deflation in mood: someone had shot at a Mosque in Christchurch.
Histories of Hate, a collection of academic essays, describes the question of “How did this happen here?” as a plague on the national psyche. Its unspoken connective premise is that the Christchurch Shootings were not the end of our innocence, but instead the end of our naiveite. Every detailed account of the wide range of bigoted movements in Aotearoa’s history form a collective message: a gentle, if unequivocal, rebuke to those who added temporary frames to their Facebook profile pictures that, in a deliberate twist on Prime Minister Ardern’s words: this may be “a little bit of us”.
There is no longer a meaningful difference between the online and the real worlds – your shitposting is someone else’s manifesto and motivation
There is something uniquely Kiwi in the way that our proudly ‘no-fuss’ national psyche avoids confronting even ourselves on the unsavoury aspects of our own history. We are more than ready to puff our chests out over giving women the right to vote, or our nuclear free status – these are our national triumphs, after all. Yet we have never been immune to strains of bigotry and hate. Histories of Hate, in its academically endearing thoroughness, lays out the major components and perpetrators of hatred such as anti-Chinese sentiment, antisemitism, and skinhead movements. International tendrils of hatred have always tried to reach out to Aotearoa. Even as early as the 1960s there were multiple attempts by resurgent Nazi groups in Europe to reach out to, and even visit in person, those here with similar anti-Jewish sentiment.
That fascist for all seasons, Kyle Chapman, is examined in microcosm by Mark Dunick. His excellent profile profile reveals a man who likes to wear SS paramilitary-inspired uniforms while demanding he be taken seriously as definitely not a Nazi. The timeline of Chapman’s bigotry runs the gauntlet from antisemitism to anti-Māori, to anti-Asian immigration (Don Brash’s Orewa speech is pointed to specifically as being helpful for Chapman’s cause). His current grievances of choice have him producing and distributing anti-vax literature and targeting the LGBTQ+ community in Christchurch.
What stood out like a sore thumb (or a middle-aged man in Nazi inspired uniform) is that Kyle Chapman, bizarrely, never had a problem being taken seriously by the media. Despite being a self-confessed racially-motivated arsonist; despite deliberately leafleting well-to-do neighbourhoods with the most offensive literature he could dream up; despite leading organisations whose members went to prison for hate crimes, Chapman constantly got the benefit of the doubt. As a well-enough spoken, white male with enough cunning to avoid being directly involved with the most unsavoury aspects of the groups he led, Chapman spun his notoriety into numerous newspaper pieces, Mayoral races, and Breakfast TV interviews.
Why? Chapman’s presence in the media is in stark contrast with how the Christchurch shooter was treated. Along with most local media, I’ve deliberately avoided use of his name. His manifesto and live-streamed video are deemed objectionable by the Chief Censor and illegal to possess; there has been a concerted, and reasonably effective, effort to make sure that the shooter’s views are hard to find and unacceptable to spread.
It’s this aspect of contrast between the Christchurch shooter and the Kyle Chapman story that kicks Histories of Hate into its highest gear. Its editors Matthew Cunningham, Marinus La Rooij and Paul Spoonley tie all the foundational strands of bigotry that previous chapters so excellently lay out, and throw them forward in time, asking: where do we stand now, and where do we go from here? They make a compelling case in the merging of multiple and previously disparate worlds and ideologies: the first is that there is no longer a meaningful difference between the online and the real worlds – your shitposting is someone else’s manifesto and motivation. The second is the coalescence of the multitudes of conspiracies into QAnon, and bigotries into The Great Replacement Theory. There is a certain dark irony in the concept of a global network of white nationalists, yet there is good evidence that most radical right groups share the same ‘white’ identity, with similar talking points and grievances.
The Molyneux and Southern speech issue felt like a genuine intellectual debate at the time – do we shut them down, or let people spread hate in the hope that the response is even greater? Post-Christchurch, the question seems foolish
It’s hard therefore to understand why so many of these white nationalists, who (despite what they may say when asked for comment) share most – if not all – of the same beliefs as the Christchurch shooter, still receive the benefits of the ‘Kyle Chapman treatment’ by the media in general. Previously, far-right activists Stefan Molyneux and Laura Southern whipped up a debate on free speech in Aotearoa, ultimately deciding not to perform after rounds of protests and venue cancellations. Despite this, they were gifted an air of legitimacy by interviews from our biggest names in journalism for our biggest networks. Even at the time, Southern was infamous for attempting to stop a Doctors Without Borders ship giving aid to hundreds of capsised migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Molyneux had a sprawling piece on his website titled “The Great Replacement”. The Christchurch shooter was so inspired by Molyneux and Southern that he donated to their channel, and went one step further in naming his manifesto that he used to justify murdering dozens of innocent, praying people “The Great Replacement”.
The Molyneux and Southern speech issue felt like a genuine intellectual debate at the time – do we shut them down, or let people spread hate in the hope that the response is even greater? Post-Christchurch, the question seems foolish, and the answer painfully obvious. In a world where the online is now the real, ‘The Great Replacement’ has been identified as an ideology with all the necessary components needed to incite violence. The Qanon conspiracy has already led to killings in the United States. There are no genuine issues being raised by a speaker like Keen-Minshull, only grievance and grift that comes with the risk of inspiring much, much worse. The parallels with Molyneux and Southern are painfully obvious when there have already been mass shootings overseas against queer communities of the same magnitude as Christchurch.
It seems like a missed opportunity, though, for book’s authors to not outright say that the far-right has pivoted to anti-transgenderism. To not label the next wave of hatred seems almost remiss after doing such a thorough job cataloguing the previous 100+ years of the various forms of the radical right in this country. Somehow, even with our rugby club masculinity, New Zealand has managed to make progress on queer rights, but these are fragile gains. Florida and other states in the US are going backwards on LGBTQ+ rights in a hurry, and this awful political momentum is heading our way. The radical right is re-coalescing, and while trans rights are the target, attacking all LGBTQ+ rights are the goal.
Are we going to wait for another act of terror on our shores – this time against our LGBTQ+ community – to focus on the bigoted content of someone’s speech, rather than their supposed ‘right’ to say it? Hate in New Zealand is always shifting form, finding new targets, new grifts, and new ways to spread the message. The global interconnection of the far-right has also added gasoline to the fire, bringing international hatred to our shores in quantities the likes of which we have not had to deal with before. We have to be active in making these choices against hate in Aotearoa. We are choosing our own history in the present moment.
Histories of Hate: The Radical Right in Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Matthew Cunningham, Marinus La Rooij and Paul Spoonley (Otago University Press, $50) is available in bookstores nationwide.