The fringe popularity of Bill Te Kahika

It seemed a bit odd that when Jami-Lee Ross joined his party with a virtually unknown fringe party and conceded leadership to a dude called Bill Te Kahika, but it turns out that Te Kahika is a lot more popular than Ross (this shouldn’t really be a surprise given the place Ross is in).

The allied parties aren’t likely to get close to the 5% threshold (the threshold imposed by large parties is one of MP’s biggest flaws), and there seems to be close to no chance of Ross retaining the Botany electorate, but could Te Kahika shake up the Te Tai Tokerau electorate?

If he and maybe one or two others made it into Parliament I don’t think there’s any chance either Labour or National would do any sort of governing deal with them (which would allow them to hold the balance of power), but they would be an interesting addition to the mix in Parliament.

Charlie Mitchell (Stuff): The conspiracists’ election: How the farthest fringes of politics are making a play for the centre

Billy Te Kahika is nearly 40 minutes into a two-hour monologue, delivered like a sermon and streamed live on his personal Facebook page.

It is May 17, shortly after New Zealand entered alert level two restrictions. Te Kahika, a 47-year-old businessman and musician, is sitting at a table at his home in Northland, with a pile of hand-written notes scattered in front of him.

Over the course of the video, Te Kahika lays out a theory. It interweaves the Hegelian dialectic, the origins of communism and fascism, satanism, geoengineering, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic into a sinister global plot to control the population.

To me some of their policies are crazy, but if they get enough votes they will have deserved representation.

Te Kahika is even-tempered and eloquent. He speaks calmly, sprinkling te reo into his speech. He often interrupts himself to say what he’s talking about is not a conspiracy, but a fact.

It came out of leftfield. Before the pandemic, Te Kahika’s Facebook page was free of politics. It primarily documented his career as a guitarist, following in the footsteps of his father, the pioneering musician Billy TK.

His posts started to become politically tinged in late March, in the early days of level four restrictions. Like everyone else, Te Kahika was in self-isolation with his family, which meant he had his days free to research issues online.

Much of this research veered towards fringe ideas, circulated on Facebook and YouTube. His political posts became regular, and increasingly incorporated information from the emerging ecosystem of conspiracy theories related to the pandemic, typically centring on unsubstantiated or outright false claims.

It culminated in his live broadcast, which merged these ideas into a unified theory: That the pandemic had been planned, and the New Zealand Government was at the forefront of a global push to enslave the population.

The video was intended for his Facebook friends, but it spread much wider. Within a week, it had been seen nearly 30,000 times. In the days afterward, Te Kahika continued his live broadcasts, which drew thousands of views each.

In modern politics you have to be outlandish to get noticed. Attempts at starting up moderate modest parties get ignored.

Three weeks after his first video, Te Kahika launched the New Zealand Public Party (NZPP) at Auckland’s Akarana Yacht Club. From there, he took his theory on the road – At an event in Christchurch on July 11, a month to the day after he announced the party, Te Kahika drew a raucous crowd of 500 in Christchurch. A few days earlier, he had spoken to a similarly-sized crowd in Tauranga.

He leveraged his growing influence in conspiracy theory circles internationally, with a long-form interview with Pete Evans, the Australian chef and conspiracy theorist. Perhaps the world’s most notorious conspiracy theorist, David Icke, has shared Te Kahika’s content on social media.

Just seven weeks after it started, the party launched its campaign at the Logan Campbell Centre in Auckland. Thousands of people cheered for Billy Te Kahika, and the hope that he represented. By merging with Advance NZ, the political vehicle for Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, the NZPP could officially contest the upcoming election (the party had formed too late to officially register).

“The momentum that we’ve got now… New Zealand politics hasn’t seen anything like it, and that’s a fact,” Te Kahika told Stuff this week.

The party’s Facebook page, not yet two months old, already has 20,000 followers, more than the ACT party, which has been online for nine years. Content on the NZPP’s Facebook page is getting engagement levels similar to that of the National Party.

Like them or not they are likely to play a significant part in the election. At least they seem to have popular support that isn’t bought by big money backed parties such as the Colin Craig, Kim Dotcom and Gareth Morgan parties.

With the fading away of small parties in Parliament there was always going to be opportunities for someone with social media savvy to make a bit of a mark.

The stuff article has a detailed look at their policies and conspiracies and their chances.

Jami-Lee Ross – valedictory interview

Jami-Lee Ross gave what may have been effectively a valedictory interview with RNZ yesterday. He has effectively conceded his proposed Advance NZ party is struggling by joining with a conspiracy based party .

He very slim chances of being re-elected must now be even more unlikely.

Ross was selected as a candidate for the safe National electorate of Botany in 2011 and gradually rose through the ranks the become senior Whip in 2017, and was re-elected then with a majority of 12,839 votes.

But a year later, in October 2018 his political career crashed and burned. Ross turned on National and became an independent MP. Allegations were made by MP Sarah Dowie and by electorate staff that Ross had bullied them.

Last year the serious Fraud office announced that Ross was one of four people being investigated for donation fraud, and he was charged in January this year (the trial won’t be until next year).

There’s a summary here.

His problems have continued as an independent MP.

February 2020 (Newsroom): New allegations surround MP Jami-Lee Ross and Ross’ ‘toxic’ office problems raised in June

21 July 2020: ‘Go back into a room with a predator? No thank you’

Despite this Ross has been working towards trying to get re-elected – May 2020 (1 News): Jami-Lee Ross announces own political party for 2020 election

Mr Ross announced Advance NZ in a Facebook post last night, saying it’ll focus on the freedom and sovereignty of New Zealanders and creating a new economic plan to get Kiwis through a post Covid-19 world.

Advance NZ wants to see a democratic country that has brave voices in the middle that speak truth to power. People that stand up for freedom, sovereignty and independence.”

26 July (The Spinoff): Jami-Lee Ross, Billy Te Kahika and the rebel alliance of Election 2020

Can the conspiracy theories of social media be coalesced into a party that makes parliament under MMP?

It hardly needs saying that the views of Te Kahika – and evidently shared by the crowd – go against official scientific advice. In fact, it might even be fair to say that they don’t believe official scientific advice precisely because of who the messengers are. They have no trust in the government, international institutions like the World Health Organisation or the United Nations, or billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates.

There were attacks on Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who had spent time at the WHO. “Anyone who does any length of time at an organisation like that is going to be fully indoctrinated.” There were enthusiastic boos for the “fully groomed globalist” Jacinda Ardern. “Her story speaks like the perfect history of a prime minister who will betray our people.”

It was Agenda 21. It was anti-vaxxing. It was 5G. It was people being forced out of the provinces to live in “technocratic high-rise cities”. It was all on the way, said Te Kahika, and he was the only one who could

…But for the people who turned out, it had been a thrilling day, and they left upbeat. They had come from all parts of the North Island. And over the next weeks, they’ll take that message out far and wide, and in the process probably reach people totally unreachable by other forms of politics and messaging. The results of that could be unlike anything New Zealand has ever seen before.

RNZ: Jami-Lee Ross launches Advance New Zealand party

Former National MP Jami-Lee Ross has merged his Advance New Zealand party with the Public Party, in the hope its leader will win the seat of Te Tai Tokerau.

That looks like Ross is conceding he has no hope of retaining his Botany seat, and probably also indicates he has been unable to get the 500 members required to register a party.

The Botany MP will co-lead the new party with Billy Te Kahika, who will stand in Te Tai Tokerau.

But there must be close to no chance of Te Kahika winning Te Tai Tokerau.

If he wins it, Ross would make it back into Parliament as a list MP under the coat-tail rule, even if he lost Botany.

Ross said Advance New Zealand would suspend the free trade agreement between New Zealand and China within its first three months and would support Hong Kong and Taiwan in seeking independence.

So a politically toxic MP facing SFO charges who has failed to get a credible party going has joined with a party with even less credibility, best known for it’s support of conspiracy theories, including that Covid-19 is a world order plot.

In what may be virtually a farewell interview yesterday Ross kept refusing to distance himself from the Covid conspiracy.

Ross: “I think there are New Zealanders out there who feel we have lost a lot of rights and freedoms to this Covid-19 issue and there’s questions that are being asked.”

Dann: “But do you believe that it is a bioweapon, man-made, being used against people?”

Ross: “Covid-19 is a real virus and it is impacting people around the world. We have in the situation in New Zealand that we no longer have that virus.”

Dann: “Is it a man-made virus that is being used as a bioweapon to undermine our democracy? I just want an answer on that question.”

Ross: “Covid-19 is a virus that has been in New Zealand and we have lost a lot of rights.”

Dann: “Sure, but why would you align your party with someone who believes in, frankly, ridiculous conspiracy theories which are an insult to those who are working on the front lines dealing with Covid-19, to the families who have people dying – why would you align yourself with that?”

Ross: “I think its insulting to say that New Zealanders who care about rights and freedoms shouldn’t be listened to or be taken seriously at all. There are people out there who believe that we have lost a lot of rights and freedoms, who believe that our sovereignty over many many years has been eroded.”

Dann: “You’re happy to lend your name – as someone who was the chief whip of National Party – to the Public Party and its policies, be it their scepticism around 5G, 1080, fluoridation, anti-vaxxers – you’re happy to lend your name to that?”

Ross: “When you have been involved in one of those big political parties you see how much of a cult they are and you see how much of a big problem just blindly following what the big political parties are. There’s an opportunity for small parties unite together and challenge the status quo. That’s what this alliance is about… I think there’s going to be some real momentum here.”

Full transcript and audio: Jami-Lee Ross faces Covid-19, China questions after new Advance NZ party alliance

But the chances of joining forces with other small parties doesn’t look great.

From The Spinoff Bulletin:

A quick point about the ‘alliance’ nature of the Advance NZ/NZ Public Party merger: On stage yesterday, Ross reeled off a long string of parties outside parliament, saying they’d still be welcome to join up.

Since then, people in the leadership teams of the Opportunities Party, Outdoors Party, New Conservative and Social Credit (the largest four parties listed by Ross) have all confirmed to me that they’ll be doing nothing of the sort.

Ross and his new party alliance may get a few supporters online but they are likely to need a lot more than that to come anywhere near close to getting into Parliament.