Fascism 2.0: Lessons from six months in New Zealandís largest white supremacist group

Fascism 2.0: Lessons from six months in New Zealandís largest white supremacist group

Content Warning: Nazism, violence, racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, queerphobia.

A note on aliases: Members of Action Zealandia use aliases to obscure their identities, even from other group members. In the article aliases are signalled by the use of single quote marks the first time a name is mentioned, e.g. ‘Marc’. 

Read the companion news article here

They want fascism in New Zealand. They justify the actions of the Christchurch mosque shooter. They believe that widespread “white genocide” is occuring as part of a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Western civilisation. They put up posters and banners in an attempt to recruit people across the country. They are connected with violent neo-Nazis overseas. Multiple members have been arrested for charges including disorderly conduct, vandalism, and threatening national security. Action Zealandia is Aotearoa's biggest white supremacist group, formed in the wake of the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks and the collapse of white nationalist group the Dominion Movement. 

Increased scrutiny after the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks forced groups like Action Zealandia to change their public appearance, but the violent neo-Nazi core of their ideology remains just as influential as ever. Critic Te Arohi’s six-month-long investigation into Action Zealandia, the largest white supremacist group in New Zealand, has provided insight into how they function, what they believe, and their aspirations for political power. How we think about them, and what we do about it, is critical in shutting down white supremacist fascism in Aotearoa.

The terms far-right, alt-right, white supremacist, white nationalist, fascist, and neo-Nazi have overlapping but distinct definitions. While there are some groups that could only be accurately described by one or some of these terms, they tend to go hand in hand. All of the terms are applicable to Action Zealandia.

 

Fascism, evolved

White supremacist groups in New Zealand are not new. Far-right, anti-semitic, and fascist ideas gained an organised following in New Zealand towards the end of the 20th century. National Front and the National Socialist Party of New Zealand gained prominence in the early 1970s. Skinhead Nazi gangs such as Unit 88 became active in the ’90s. As time went on, the groups evolved and re-formed. Kyle Chapman, former leader of National Front, started the far-right white supremacist group Right Wing Resistance in 2009. At around the same time, the Dominion Movement, a white supremacist group, grew in size.

On 15 March 2019, a white supremacist terrorist killed 51 people in mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch. There were connections between the attack and the rise of white supremacist extremism globally. Almost immediately, the far-right landscape transformed significantly. Research by Professor Paul Spoonley, who has studied the far-right of New Zealand for decades, and reporting by Gyles Beckford from RNZ, showed how these groups went underground and evolved. 

When the Dominion Movement announced it had dissolved in the wake of the attacks, Action Zealandia emerged within months. Professor Spoonley highlighted the links between the Dominion Movement and Action Zealandia. Critic Te Arohi’s investigation further confirms the close links between the two successive organisations.

The increase in scrutiny after the Christchurch shooting forced groups like Action Zealandia to move further underground than the fascist organisations of previous decades. Identities of members are hidden behind aliases, even to other members. The public profiles of the organisations are hateful, but sanitised. Although they slip up regularly, and multiple members have been arrested for their activities, Action Zealandia are careful not to explicitly advocate for violence or to publicise their illegal activities. 

Senior members of Action Zealandia, particularly ‘Zane’, are preoccupied with the image of the organisation. They are paranoid about online chats being leaked, even when the discussions appear trivial. After members joked about marrying their relatives, Zane demanded everyone delete their messages from the chat, saying it “doesn’t help our public image to say ‘yeah we should fuck our distant relatives.’” Members stress that certain topics should only be talked about in person with trusted fellow members, suggesting their online chats are more sanitised and generally acceptable than their in-person conversations.

 

The group’s operations 

After a person reaches out to Action Zealandia to become a member, the group requires them to participate in a “vetting” voice call with one of the senior members of the group. They are asked about their political beliefs, their drug and alcohol use, and their fitness. They then have to meet an established member in person, or come along to a group event, in order to be fully vetted and added to online member chats. 

Although regular physical meet-ups are a key part of the group’s activities, the internet is essential to their existence. They are far more online and internationally connected than New Zealand far-right extremist groups of the past. In March last year, Professor Spoonley highlighted his concerns at how “sophisticated” their online activities were. 

Part of that sophistication is their interconnectedness within the global neo-fascist movement. Action Zealandia has relationships with white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups everywhere from the USA to Italy to Syria. That network helps them form ideas, coordinate campaigns, and socialise with other extremist groups. Their strategy document highlights how connecting with Australian fascists is a priority for them, reading: “Continue to plan how Australians or other groups overseas could support us behind the scenes. Avoid public displays of overseas or NZ community cooperation to keep fed alertness low.”

Action Zealandia believe their leader, James Fairburn, being stopped at the border was a result of their connections with Thomas Sewell and the Australian National Socialist Network, in addition to Fairburn’s carelessness. They value the Australian connections too much to give them up entirely, instead opting to try and keep cooperation between these groups hidden from the public.

When it comes to putting posters, stickers, and banners up, they take their directions from the International Conservative Community, a network of far-right extremist groups around the world. However, it is clear that they want to stake out their own distinct identity in the global fascist landscape. They take ideas from violent groups overseas, such as Rob Rundo’s Rise Above Movement, into the political landscape of Aotearoa with varying degrees of success. 

As Action Zealandia try and crawl their way into the political mainstream, their members have expressed conflicting opinions on the group’s direction. After Fairburn was kicked out temporarily in May, senior member ‘Fred’ appeared to take over leadership. Fred announced a change in focus for the group, from political actions to community-building, including hikes, gym regimens, and bushcraft. After Fairburn’s return, the group returned to political activism. 

There is conflict between members about whether they should focus on public or private outreach. Some members argued they should advertise openly online, while others argue that they should focus on converting friends of existing members. Some expressed frustration that the group only attracts “outcasts”.

The perception of Action Zealandia members, by other members, as “outcasts” is unsurprising. The concept of being an outcast or underdog is common among the online alt-right. Media scholar Daniel Kreiss concluded that extremist media can provide places for self-proclaimed outcasts to call home. The perception of oneself as an outcast helps to foster the group’s shared sense of being under attack. That feeling feeds into the wider white genocide conspiracy theory that structures the ideology and activities of Action Zealandia. It allows them to foster a community amongst themselves that promotes camaraderie and love towards the people in the group, and fear and hate towards others.

 

A race under attack

Action Zealandia’s ideology is based on the white genocide conspiracy theory, through which they portray themselves as protectors of western civilisation. Their discussions, on the other hand, reflect a simpler desire to restore the total power that they imagine straight, white, cisgender men once had, through fascism. 

They describe individuals who share their beliefs as “red-pilled”, especially where those beliefs relate to what they describe as the “Jew Question”. In this context, someone is “red-pilled” if they share the belief that Jewish people are behind a sinister plot to eliminate white people and are to blame for the perceived decline of Western civilisation. Every other group they hate fits into this worldview. They claim that this supposed Jewish cabal is responsible for the existence of LGBTQ+ people and that LGBTQ+ people are paedophiles in disguise. They claim black people are deliberately brought into white countries to cause conflict and violence. 

Action Zealandia’s belief that people of other races are a threat is reinforced through a selective intake of media and personal anecdotes. Group members share stories, reliable or not, of people of colour committing violent crimes and getting away with it. Every story of someone they hate, particularly black men or immigrants, raping or killing someone gets amplified in their chats until it looks like an undeniable pattern. This perceived pattern reinforces the narrative of white genocide and their feeling of being under attack. The end result is a collective belief that white people are objectively more civilized, more cooperative, smarter, and entitled to a homogenous community that belongs solely to people that look, act, and speak like them.

Action Zealandia claim that they are not a hateful organisation. Leader James Fairburn, under his alias ‘Hector’, asserted in February that “I don’t hate anyone and I don’t think anyone in Action Zealandia hates anyone.” He said this less than two minutes after arguing that when it comes to Nazi Germany, “you sort of have to take the good with the bad.” Members have previously claimed they “don’t mind” Māori, but they frequently complain about Maori “handouts”, talk about how they “felt like getting racist” when te reo was used, and advocate for a white ethnostate on Māori whenua. 

Action Zealandia insist they are non-violent. Being seen as non-violent is a key goal of theirs. The last item on the strategy document obtained by Critic Te Arohi reads: “Have a plaque on our website, which is one of the first things a visitor will see. On it, It should say that we employ only peaceful means in an effort to seek out and propagate the truth. (Something along these lines). The opposite of what the media portrays us as.” Despite that aim, they maintain close ties to violent overseas extremists, celebrate violence against marginalised groups, and defend the terrorist behind the Christchurch mosque attacks. Their promotion of a hateful ideology that dehumanises other groups also increases the risk of violence against those groups. 

Research has highlighted how dehumanisation is key in enacting and excusing violence against groups of people. Muslims in New Zealand face ongoing threats of violence since the March 15 terror attacks. In March this year, Newsroom reported a man was charged after a car bomb threat was made against the same two mosques targeted in the 2019 attacks. In June, RNZ reported further threats against the Al Noor Mosque. 

Sam Brittenden was still a member of Action Zealandia when he yelled “fuck the Muslims” on Castle Street. Another Action Zealandia member, known as ‘Matt’ and ‘Max’, discussed starting a terror cell in New Zealand with the Atomwaffen Division. Atomwaffen Division is a neo-Nazi terrorist group who have planned terrorist attacks and been found responsible for a number of murders. Max is still an active member of Action Zealandia. Johann Wolfe, the alias used by a soldier charged with sharing sensitive military information and threatening New Zealand's security, was also present in Action Zealandia chats. He expressed admiration for the Christchurch mosque shooter. As reported last year, he is the first New Zealander to be charged with espionage.

It is important to emphasise that Action Zealandia’s end goal, whether they call it fascism, white supremacy, or a peaceful white ethnostate, can only be established through racist violence and genocide. The creation of an entirely white state within Aotearoa would require the forceful segregation or removal of innumerable immigrants and tangata whenua from their homes and livelihoods. Presumably, queer people, leftists, and various other groups would face similar fates. When these people refuse to leave, or other countries refuse to assist and take these people in, violence is the only option remaining. Preventing their feared white genocide would require real genocide. In pre-war Nazi Germany, Jews were first faced with “voluntary” deportations. Nazi functionaries even devised a plan to move the entirety of Europe’s Jewish population to Madagascar. Conspiracy theories about demographic replacement also underpinned the Armenian and Bosnian Genocides. Action Zealandia’s end goals are far from peaceful. 

The group currently avoids violence only because of the risks it poses. When senior members discuss the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks, they criticise the shooter not for his actions and their horrific consequences, but for how his actions make white supremacists in Aotearoa look bad. This reflects their wider attitude towards violence. They are more concerned with their public image than with the harm that their violence could cause. 

Action Zealandia justify their hate through the sense of urgency created by their narrative of being oppressed and under attack. The white genocide conspiracy is powerful because it creates hate, and because it justifies hate that already exists, giving it direction and purpose. When that hate is directed into political action, it becomes even more dangerous.

 

Their political agenda

To further their violent political goals, Action Zealandia prioritise gaining influence and power through what they perceive as vulnerable political parties and “weak” electorates. Entryism, a strategy involving infiltrating political parties or groups with the intention of changing their objectives or policies, is frequently discussed in Action Zealandia chats. 

In one discussion, members ‘Gil’ and Fred debated the merits of attempting to infiltrate the National Party and Social Credit Party, respectively. Gil believed that there was an opportunity to “reinvent” the National Party to spread white supremacist ideas to a greater portion of the population, seeing National as weak because of their poor polling this year. An attempt to infiltrate the National Party would mimic similar plans by National Front in the ’70s. 

They frequently discuss infiltrating the Social Credit Party, and encourage members to vote for the party if they vote at all. Members attended a public Social Credit Party meeting in Ashburton in May this year. They believe the Social Credit Party can become the third largest party in New Zealand politics, as it was in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. 

Action Zealandia’s inclination towards Social Credit is likely due to the historical anti-semitism that was tied to its founding. The global Social Credit movement was started by Clifford Douglas in the early 20th century. It believed in breaking up big banks and dispersing economic power to individuals, but Douglas also claimed “international Jewry” were behind those big banks. Jewish financial conspiracy theories were present in The New Zealand Social Credit Party in its early years, but the group reformed in the ’70s and ejected anti-semitic members. These new efforts from Action Zealandia are nonetheless concerning, and they are confident in their aims.

 

Deplatforming works

Action Zealandia fluctuate in how active and bold they are. There appears to be an overall increase in their activity over time. But they face significant setbacks when group members get arrested, or when their individual or group social media accounts get deplatformed. Deplatforming has been around as an anti-fascist tactic since the British National Union of Students’ “No Platform” policy in the ’70s. It became a common term in public discourse after the rise of far-right conspiracies on social media, most famously used when U.S. President Donald Trump was deplatformed by Twitter for encouraging violence.

Deplatforming works to slow the spread of hateful misinformation outside of the extremist circles they form. Action Zealandia knows this. In their interview with the Nordic Resistance Movement, a Scandinavian neo-Nazi group responsible for multiple murders and bombings, ‘Zane’ told a NRM representative his thoughts on deplatforming. Zane said that deplatforming isn’t effective against people who are already committed fascists, but it does create a “stop gap between a kid who is watching Jordan Peterson videos, and our stuff”. That stop gap is essential, but it is also fragile. It aims to stop the spread of their ideas, but doesn’t stop existing members from posing a genuine threat to individual safety and national security.

While police and intelligence agencies have turned their attention to these groups more in recent years, the Christchurch shootings laid bare how these groups were allowed to proliferate. When they invested more time into white supremacist threats, the SIS found new targets quickly. The police saw similar results once they had a team dedicated to monitoring public online activity, which started up seven months after the mosque attacks.

An important part of the resistance against these groups are the anti-fascist researchers from groups like Auckland-based Tāmaki Anti-Fascist Action, Australian-based White Rose Society, and Aotearoa collective Paparoa. The bomb threats made against Christchurch mosques earlier this year were only addressed after Paparoa tipped off police. Paparoa assisted directly with the Critic undercover investigation. They can be found on Twitter (@Paparoa3).

This article first appeared in Issue 18, 2021.
Posted 12:52am Monday 9th August 2021 by Elliot Weir.