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.