Lara Whyte on female hardline right-wing activists

Investigative journalist Lara Whyte reports on the rise of the new wave of female hardline right-wing activists, a band of reactionary influencers gaining a huge online following.

This concudes with adiscussion of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand

The killer used language and symbols pushed by women featured in this programme – and Lara argues this offers a chilling reminder of the dangers that can come out of some of their ideas.

@inThePaePae:

Exceptional work by Lara Whyte. Features recent visitor to NZ, Canada’s Lauren Southern; & UK’s Lucy Brown, with unconvincing squirming about being labelled ‘far right’; ‘nazi’. Whyte puts their PR, rebranding, softening & mainstreaming in context with Christchurch terrorist.

(Whyte describes herself as a reporter, producer and editor from Belfast).

Anti-extremism expert Julia Ebner, who has infiltrated multiple far-right groups, reveals that many of these organisations have begun actively recruiting young women in the hopes of softening their public image and potentially increasing their mainstream appeal.

We hear from Lucy Brown who underwent a political transformation that saw her quit Black Lives Matter and end up working alongside Tommy Robinson, the former head of the English Defence League. Lara also speaks to Canadian YouTube “star” Lauren Southern who was banned from entering the UK in 2018 following a highly offensive protest.

Many of the women Lara speaks to are outspoken critics of Islam and enraged by the grooming gang scandals for which they blame Muslim culture, including a member of 120 Decibels, a campaign group founded in Germany with the aim of combatting what they call “imported sexual violence” towards women committed by illegal immigrants.

Lara explains that most of the young women in this political movement reject the term “far-right”, despite getting routinely labelled as such in the media and by anti-extremist think tanks.

Also Investigating Extremism on Radio 4:

Roger Bolton hears listener views on a documentary investigating the role of women on the far-right, and discusses the BBC’s annual plan.

Radio 4 documentary In The Right caused controversy this week, stirring debate from listeners over whether figures considered to be on the far-right should be given airtime.

Both are worth listening to.

Latta on what our politicians do

Nigel Latta has had a look at what our politicians (and media and lobbyists and activists) do.

Stuff: Nigel Latta: What Do Our Politicians Actually Do?

We decided to go and look at Parliament because whenever you’re looking at how to solve the nation’s problems, it always comes back to Parliament. 

Politicians are despised but when you spend some time with them, you quickly realise that almost all of them are there because they want to make a difference and do something positive. It’s just that ambition and ego sometimes get in the way. 

And the public mostly sees what our politicians do through the eyes of the media, who tend to focus disproportionately on conflict, disruption, controversy and mistakes.

Our Parliament is based on a clash of ideas and we’ve been led to believe that’s a good way to solve problems, but that’s the worst way to solve problems. It’s not the best idea that emerges, it’s the person with the loudest voice  who wins.

To an extent that’s true but it does require about 60 MPs supporting the loudest voices.

In a perfect world we’d be able to sit down as humans and talk through ideas. We’d just have a bunch of people who aren’t members of any party; they’re smart people, they’re going to talk about ideas.  They’d be genuinely open to any solution rather than driven by ideological views.

Theoretically perhaps, but what sort of people would we end up with as MPs if things worked like that?

The politician who is elected on the basis of a cause will behave very differently than the politician who is there for a career.

The problem now is we have this political class, career politicians whose primary focus is on getting reelected, and because of that they can stay in power for decades.

We seem to be getting a growing number of ‘career politicians’ under our party based system.

We spent some time with Paula Bennett, and regardless of what you think of her as a person or her politics, she works incredibly hard. She oversees a huge budget. And that’s the thing, they do an important job so we want smart people in there.

The public doesn’t see anything of the hard graft that goes on. Instead we are bombarded with images of opponents trying to destroy their credibility and careers, and of the media trying to concoct sensational stories hold them to account.

The bulk of Parliament’s work is in select committees. In the select committee that we sat on, it was the politicians who were being sensible, and it was the public servants who were trying to argue for a position that may have been legally correct, but was not in the actual interests of everyday New Zealanders.

It was the first time I’d seen MP’s as the sensible ones protecting all of us, and that was refreshing. 

MPs working for us against the bureaucrats? Who’d have thought.

One of the interesting things we did was to follow the procedure of how questions are asked in the House.

The whole process builds in intensity over the day and I can understand how they all get caught up in the drama of it all.

The problem is that while they all think it’s a really big deal getting to ask a question in the House, but none of the rest of us care. In fact most of us are appalled by their behaviour in the Chamber.

It was fascinating watching the reaction of school kids who’d come to see democracy in action. Their faces alternated between amusement and disbelief that our nation’s leaders could be acting like this. 

Ultimately though, our knowledge if what happens in Parliament comes from the media. And a lot of what we see is the antics in the debating chamber or gotcha journalism.

We see a small snapshot via a media seeking sensation and readers/viewers.

The real work in Parliament happens in select committees, and a huge amount of that work happens with politicians working together to get stuff done.

It’s not as entertaining as the silliness in the house so it doesn’t get covered.

Sensible and hard work doesn’t make good headlines.

And the end result of that is that we think they’re all acting like kids all the time, when actually they only behave like kids a very small percentage of the time. The rest of their day, they’re actually doing important work.

And quite a bit of that work involves working together.

At the end of my time in parliament the thing I was most concerned about was the influence of lobbyists.

I think any time a lobbyist goes to see a politician, given this is a person who’s being paid to influence politicians and policy, we should know who’s there, who they’re representing, and what was discussed. That goes for all lobbyists, whether it be a lobbyist for big alcohol or for environmental groups. 

We should all be concerned about the influence of lobbyists.

Yes, lobbyists (and often the money and vested interests behind lobbyists) have more influence on what happens than many realise.

After watching this people might say ‘you were too soft on them’. I’ll undoubtedly get emails about why I didn’t slam them on issues like inequality, or housing or any of the other weighty problems we face as a nation.

But that wasn’t the point of going. I wanted to know more about how Parliament works, not circle round the usual policy debates. So now I know that if you want to have some influence find your local MP and feed them a question they might get to ask in the House. Because if it gets asked in the House, you might just get some media attention on your issue. 

So the influential voice is not always the loudest voice in Cabinet, it is influenced by getting a loud voice for your views in the media.

This is something that’s also attempted via social media and blogs, and it sometimes succeeds, like the Red Peak flag. But it’s very competitive, there’s a lot of political and social activists competing to be the Nek Minute in the spotlight.

There are some principled, genuinely compassionate in there who really want to make a difference.

I think most are to an extent at least.

And then I think there are people that are the complete opposite.

Some seem to be hanging in there to collect healthy pay packets. Some seem to think that destruction (of their opponents) is a requisite for getting power to change things.

For us though, as voters, I’m hoping we can learn to demand more than coverage of the trivial, or the endless inane controversies, and instead expect a higher quality of debate. We should also, just by the by, lift our own game.

To an extent at least we get (from the media) what we demand or deserve. And those active in politics outside Parliament demand sensation, as long as it is applied to those they oppose.

Ordinary people (voters) are either bored by politics or turned off by the worst that the media shows them, so they are turned off rather than inspired to demand better.

So I doubt that we will see much improvement. The noisiest politicians, the noisiest journalists and the noisiest activists and lobbyists rule, and while the rest of us allow it to continue like that it will continue being like that.

Police v activists, chilling versus no problem

Two Dunedin anti-TPPA activists have responded differently to police discussing with them their plans for campaigning against the TPPA.

This follows news that police have had additional anti-riot training and growing talk online about riots and violent protest.

Police are in a common position for them of damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Some have claimed their approach of activists amounts to anti-free speech intimidation, but it isn’t uncommon for the police to try to pre-empt possible trouble by talking to people.

Nationally most attention was given to Dunedin activist Scout Barbour-Evans. NZ Herald reports:

Visits to activists ‘worrying’ trend

A national police campaign to door-knock TPP activists is part of a larger trend of “chilling” opposition to the Government and the right to protest, a civil liberties lawyer says.

Police have been visiting “known activists” opposed to New Zealand’s involvement in the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement ahead of protests planned in several cities tomorrow.

Lawyer Michael Bott said the tactic appeared to be part of “an increasing trend on the part of the police”.

“They seem to be doing it proactively on behalf of the Government and its projects.

Or proactively in reaction to threats. of targeting political events.

“It’s worrying that New Zealand citizens who are concerned about the agreement suddenly find themselves the target of police.

“It has a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the right to protest.”

Not necessarily. There has been no claim they are trying to stop expression of protest. It depends on how it’s done by the police. And how it’s played by activists.

Scout Barbour-Evans, a Dunedin activist who goes by the gender-neutral pronoun “they”, said an officer knocked on their door about 10am yesterday.

The officer wanted to know what the plans were for the anti-TPP protest in Dunedin, Scout said.

Scout compared the situation to the Springbok tour, saying the increased surveillance felt akin to 1981, particularly following the presence of armed police at Prime Minister John Key’s State of the Nation speech on Wednesday.

By the look of Barbour-Evans they won’t have been born in 1981 so she can’t have felt what that was like. A number of people (it seems like it could be a planned strategy) have been trying to liken TPPA protests with the Springbok tour.

The ODT headlined Police visiting activists labelled ‘a disgrace’.

Police calling and doorknocking activists about their plans to protest the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement is “an absolute disgrace”, Dunedin city councillor Aaron Hawkins says.

“If the police are going door to door intimidating known TPP opponents, in case they might be thinking of expressing their disagreement publicly, then that’s an absolute disgrace,” Cr Hawkins said.

“The TPP has never been primarily about trade, it’s about protecting the interests of big business from the meddlesome interference of democracy.”

Hawkins is closely associated with the Green party. Green leader Metiria Turei calls it Implicit police threat appalling:

“It carries with it an implicit threat and New Zealanders have the right to speak out and have their voices heard. Being an activist isn’t a crime, being an activist is being passionate about something and last time I checked that wasn’t illegal.”

So no actual threat, just one that the Greens view as ‘implicit’.

But less prominently the ODT also reports:

TPP Action Dunedin organiser Jen Olsen said she had spoken to police this week about what was planned for this weekend.

“We’ve got not problem about the police and are happy to tell them what we’re doing, because we have no plans to do anything illegal.”

So no claim there that the police intimidated or tried to stop expression or protest.

If there are violent protests or riots as some activists have promoted over the next week the police are likely to be condemned for doing too much, and condemned for not doing enough.