21 Feb 2022

Far right elements at convoy could radicalise others to violence - researcher

12:27 pm on 21 February 2022

The protesters at Parliament are certainly not all far-right activists - but those who aren't risk being radicalised into committing violence, a researcher says.

Parliament Protest

Parliament Protest Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Conspiracy researcher Byron C Clark says people in the crowd who are simply sceptical about mandates or the vaccine are now mingling with the far right.

He told Morning Report that while many protesters may not be associated with the far right and these conspiracy theories, there was a risk of them being radicalised to violence.

"Being able to deradicalise someone is not about being able to give them the correct information, it's really about the strength of the relationship that you have with that person," he said.

"We're seeing the inverse of that at the moment where we're seeing some of these far-right activists building up relationships with people at the protest.

"So, there's talk of this sort of festival environment and, you know, people are there and they're doing music together and sharing food, and I think that's going to mean that people develop a level of trust with some people who, you know, previously they may not have trusted."

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The 'festival' atmosphere may help far right elements persuade and encourage others to their point of view. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"With a lot of these protesters, they have a real distrust of the government and a real distrust of the mainstream media and it's likely that they're going to start paying attention to some of this alternative media that they haven't been exposed to before."

Clark said some really nefarious conspiracy theories and rhetoric were coming through media and social media channels run by or linked to some of those attending the protest.

"A big one is the broadcaster Counterspin Media, who've been at the protest and have been doing these long livestreams every day. And they've been around for about a year doing a couple of broadcasts every week on GTV which is a known global disinformation network," he said.

"They're promoting, obviously, conspiracies about Covid-19, claiming the vaccine is some sort of a tool for genocide, for depopulation ... on a recent livestream I saw the host told people to read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

He said much of the rhetoric was linked to ideas that had come from overseas.

"A lot of what you see on Counterspin are conspiracy theories originating in North America. There's been a real growth in 'sovereign citizen'-style conspiracy theories to the point that the police put out a press release about how there aren't any words you can say to avoid being arrested, because that was being spread so much."


A sign outside the University law school, which has been closed until April because of the protest. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Counterspin certainly had financial links back to people who were part of the Trump administration.

"In terms of bankrolling I really wish that I could say more about this, because they keep their funding sources quite quite private. I do know that Counterspin Media has something of a relationship with Himalaya New Zealand which is a local branch of the New Federal State of China, a group started by [former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Miles Guo] who are also founders of GTV."

He said it showed the global influence of far right movements, and he expected to see these again during New Zealand's next election.

"I think it means that the populist right is global ... we're seeing that at the moment with this protest which is obviously taking inspiration from something happening in North America.


A protester's ute parked up against the Wellington Cathedral. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"I think for some of these actors involved it may be to enrich themselves financially, to getting donations to their media project; I think other people have more of a political ambition, I think some of the groups that we're seeing at the protest here we'll be seeing again at the election next year."

"I think when we go into an election next year we'll probably be seeing the populist right having some involvement there."

Police and intelligence services should have been paying more attention to these online movements, which he believed could pose a threat to national security.

"I don't think that our police and intelligence services have been paying enough attention ... people like myself who are researching disinformation conspiracy theories - we kind of saw this coming because there's been discussion of this sort of thing on platforms like telegram and on Counterspin Media for months now and when the convoy happened in Ottawa and then Canberra, it's not a surprise that one then started here.

"I work a day job and I do a bit of freelance writing and a Youtube channel on top of that, whereas the police and the intelligence agencies should really have the resources to be paying more attention to these groups.

"If you look at some of the rhetoric that's spreading, there's talk of holding these mock trials and executing politicians - we know people have gone along to the protests holding nooses to symbolise hanging - I think there's a real possibility that, you know, one of the people there or a small group of the people there could be radicalised into committing violence."

He advised those at the protest to consider critically who they were associating themselves with, and what kind of information they were consuming.

"I think there's a lot of people there who maybe would find these conspiracy theories and things ... abhorrent, but the reality is that they're being part of this conversation so those groups are getting to claim that they've got a mass movement.

"I think some of the protesters there, if they could look a little bit more critically at some of the people that are there, and some of the media they're consuming, you know, hopefully they would leave and detach themselves from that, seeing what they're being used for."

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