June 20, 2019
Is Christchurch the capital of white racism in New Zealand
Is Christchurch the capital of white racism in New Zealand?
Dr Rawiri Taonui
Christchurch has suffered a lot over the past decade with the earthquakes and the white supremacist shooting that killed 51 members of the Muslim community in February of this year.
Since the shootings, there has been debate about whether the city of Christchurch is more racist than other parts of New Zealand. The evidence shows that Christchurch is not only more racist than other New Zealand cities but is also a primary exporter of white supremacist hatred around New Zealand and overseas.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has said that the shooter was an outsider who imported ‘hatred’ and ‘extremism’ into a city that is neither white supremacist nor Islamophobic. It’s true that the accused gunman was from Australia and not Christchurch. It’s also true that the tragedy has inspired an overwhelming display of compassion and generosity from the wider Christchurch community toward the Muslim and migrant communities. But the research shows that Mayor Dalziel is wrong, and that the city's violent white supremacist history needs to be addressed in order to both heal the wounds inflicted that day and combat the spread of white supremacist hatred.
We have been here before
We have been here before. In 2004, members of the Christchurch Asian community organised an anti-racism march after skinheads assaulted a student from Vietnam. Canadian Professor Audrey Kobayashi, who analysed debate around the march, concluded that rather than focussing on the needs of the victims, community leaders concentrated instead on minimising the perception that the city harboured racism. For example, then mayor, Garry Moore, in The Press accused the organisers of staging a ‘forum for extremists’ and a previous mayor, Vicki Buck, said that apart from the odd incident by peripheral groups, she ‘didn’t see any racism’ in Christchurch.
Christchurch is a great city. I lived there for 10 years. During the aftermath of the main earthquake, people helped each other. Neighbours dug liquefaction out of each other’s yards. My family ran a relief effort in the eastern suburbs.
Christchurch also has a problem with racism. On my first day at work a neighbour rang the University of Canterbury to report that ‘A large Māori man has just come out of one of your houses on Ilam Road’. Without checking the rental list or that I had just picked up the keys, security stormed our house. On the second day, a recreation centre staff member refused to believe I was on the university staff. I complained and received a verbal apology, including an explanation that this had never happened before. Months later, a long-serving Māori colleague asked me ‘Guess what happened to me at the Recreation Centre?’ I did. On our third day, a skinhead approached my wife in a supermarket saying: ‘You look pretty, pity you aren’t white’. Her reply, ‘Pity I’m not desperate’.
And on it went. Being asked what I was studying, replying ‘I am the new Senior Lecturer’. An anonymous hate note sent in the internal work mail; the handwriting later matched to a retired Pākehā colleague. A College funding committee requesting only my CV from a research team of four in which I was second in seniority. My daughter called ‘nigger’ at a football game.
During our last Christmas, we went to watch the parade along Riccarton Road. At one point a series of Asian community floats passed by representing Malaysia, the Philippines and so on. When a rural tractor followed, the dad of the family next to us turned to his wife and said, ‘At last a New Zealand float’.
In many ways, Christchurch is no different than anywhere else in New Zealand. We’ve experienced racism in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North and elsewhere; just much more of it in Christchurch. I lost count of the people who asked if ‘Doctor’ was my first name.
White racism against Māori
Contemporary white racism has origins in the slave trade and colonisation during which European countries applied a pseudo-scientific hierarchy of races, from white to brown to yellow to black, to justify the exploitation of labour and extraction of natural resources from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania.
Māori bore the brunt of colonial racism in New Zealand. When forced selling and confiscation of impacted Māori populations, Member of Parliament Robert Bruce declared ‘we could not devise a more ingenious method of destroying the whole of the Māori race than by these land courts â€¦ a great number die’.
Racism expressed itself in violence. The Kai Iwi Colonial Calvary sabred and shot naked Māori boys at Handleys Woolshed. There were summary executions in the Urewera Forest, bounties for Māori heads in the Taranaki and pacifist Parihaka was sacked.
With suppression of culture and language added to war and land loss, Māori entered an inter-generational cycle of poverty, poor housing, differential rates of arrest, conviction and imprisonment, unequal health care and poor pass rates in education.
Conversely, the economic, political and cultural benefits that accrued from this racism established a ‘white privilege’ in ‘power, advantage and patterns of thinking’, one most often less understood by those it benefits.
White racism against other communities
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that racism reached into fledgling Chinese and Indian communities. Edward Terry shot and killed Joe Kum Yung to highlight the ‘danger of the yellow peril’. Prime Minister William Massey said New Zealand should remain a ‘pure Anglo-Saxon â€¦ white man’s country’. Chinese and Indians were denied citizenship until 1952.
Supported by 160 of 200 local government bodies, Pukekohe, threaded three anti-non-white strands together by excluding Māori, Chinese and Indians from barbers’ shops and private bars, and segregating swimming at the public pool and seating in the cinema.
Racism haunted the Jewish community. The 1930s New Zealand Social Credit Party and later League of Rights drew on the anti-Semitism of fascist Nazi Germany. In the 1970s, Pacific peoples were targeted through Dawn Raids searching for ‘overstayers’. Mid-1980s changes to New Zealand’s immigration policy, saw a renewed targeting of Asians and then more ominously the Muslim community.
White racism in Christchurch
Racism varies by demographic mix, is higher in European dominated areas, follows international trends, intensifies during hardship and responds to real and imagined threats.
The 1970s New Zealand economic downturn, rising unemployment and 1980s/1990s Rogernomics and Ruthanasia restructuring, which disproportionately impacted low socio-economic Māori and Pacific communities, also deferentially impacted predominantly white working class communities in the European dominated South Island.
Add a strengthening women’s movement, the Māori Renaissance, changes to New Zealand immigration laws and the emergence of alt-right online opportunities for young white males burdened with the inadequacy of not advantaging from white privilege and Christchurch had the perfect mix for the rise of white-supremacist racism.
From the late 1960s onwards, more street level white racist groups emerged in Christchurch than elsewhere in New Zealand. Some were local. Others such as the Harris Gang branched out with offshoots like the Road Knights and Bandekreig Skinheads. The Skinhead Bastards and the Fourth Reich formed in Christchurch’s Paparua Prison.
These groups adopted Nazi ideology and regalia. Some affiliated overseas. The New Zealand National Front followed the anti-immigrant British National Front, another became a chapter of the British based Blood and Honour, the Southern Hammerskins joined the American centred Hammerskins Nation. Umbrella organisations united multiple groups. The Skinhead Bastards, the New Zealand Hammerskins and other groups joined the National Front forming the National Front Skinheads.
Violence followed. Harris gang member, Neil Swain, took witnesses hostage, firebombed houses and nail-bombed a police station. In 1989, skinhead Glen McAllister, who had served time for killing a fellow skinhead, shot and killed an innocent bystander in Cathedral Square.
Racist violence was exported out of Christchurch. Members of the Fourth Reich killed a young Māori man, Hemi Hutley and threw him in the Buller River. Afterwards, killer Aaron Howie told his brother ‘We killed that nigger’. Hayden McKenzie and another member Shannon Flewellen killed South Korean student Jae Hyeon Kim on the West Coast stomping on his throat and cutting his head off with a spade because they believed in keeping things ‘Aryan’ and ‘pure’.
The extent of white racist violence
The full extent of this violence may never be known because New Zealand does not record hate crime data. Fortunately, we do have informal monitoring of media reported hate crimes from 2004 onwards via the Human Rights Commission’s Annual Race Relations Report – Tui, Tui, Tuia (these were discontinued after 2013 by incoming Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy).
The available reports cross-checked with media, show 108 incidents of racist violence and harassment in New Zealand against more than 200 victims ranging across murders, three firearms incidents, a bombing, assaults, vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, arson of a synagogue, attacks on mosques, setting dogs on Asians, and driving new immigrant citizens from their homes and in some cases to leave the country.
The targeted communities in order were Asian (37 per cent), Muslim (28 per cent), Indian (14 per cent), Jews (6 per cent), Māori (5 per cent) and Pacific (4 per cent) and other non-white immigrants (4 per cent).
By number of incidents, 52 per cent were in the South Island (23 percent of the New Zealand population); 48 per cent were in the North Island (77 per cent of the population).
The highest percentage by city were Christchurch (24 per cent), Nelson (12 per cent), Wellington and the Hutt Valley (11 per cent), Auckland (10 per cent), Invercargill and Dunedin (6 per cent each).
The higher rate in Christchurch (population 400,000) compared to Auckland (1.4 million) reflects the demographic differential that Christchurch is 86.9 per cent European and Auckland 59.3 per cent European. Similarly, Nelson, with the second highest rate by city, lies in the 93 per cent European Tasman region.
Present day white racism
This racism has continuity to the present. In 2011, Jared Peck was sentenced to two years in prison after he and others attacked five Asians on Riccarton Rd. That same year, Phillipa Parker and her boyfriend Steven Donaldson set dogs on Asian people walking along Lincoln Rd. A Chinese man had his jaw broken in a three-on-one attack.
In 2015, 40 to 50 rugby supporters racially harassed Fijian player Sake Aca, including calling him a ‘black cunt’. In the same year, student Malo Seumanutafa, said his Christchurch school experience regularly included the epithets ‘black nigger’, ‘darkie’ and ‘fuckin boonga’.
In 2016, Philip Arps delivered pigs heads to the Al Noor mosque, performed a Nazi salute and declared he’d prefer to deliver ‘molotov cocktails’ to ‘get the fuckers out’ and that ‘the rules are changing, bring on the cull’.
Arps’ Nazi themed Christchurch business, Beneficial Insulation, used a site ‘BIIG.com’ named after a barracks in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Meterage was charged at $14.88 after a 14-word Nazi phrase from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and doubling the eighth letter of the alphabet meaning ‘Heil Hitler’. His ‘Black Sun’ business logo, also used by the Christchurch shooter, is one Heinrich Himmler had embossed on the floor of the SS Centre at Wewelsburg Castle.
On social media, Arps described the shootings as ‘excellent’. Other posts say he would ‘machine gun Jews’ because ‘Hitler was right’ the ‘filthy little Jew lies behind everything’. Arps is now convicted for distributing the video of the mosque shootings, including asking an associate to add ‘cross hairs’ and a ‘kill counter’ to the footage. When questioned by Police about the shootings he said, ‘I could not give a fuck’.
This year, Darius Shahtahmasebi, a specialist in humanitarian refugee and immigrant law, described racism in Christchurch as ‘normalised’ for Muslims and Asians, including skinhead harassment and regular swastika and ‘Asian go home’ graffiti in high school toilets.
In June this year, idiot Rodrick Woods, was charged with disorderly behaviour, after making racist comments towards Christchurch mosque attack victims outside the court as the Christchurch shooter was charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism.
The Right Wing Resistance
Professor Paul Spoonley has said that we ought ‘not over state how significant’ right wing groups are ‘because very often they are exceedingly small’, that ‘numbers have declined’, ‘there are fewer groups’ and figures such as well-known white supremacist Kyle Chapman have ‘pulled back’ and moved on.
True, street level white supremacist groups are small. But that is precisely what makes them dangerous. Small resists infiltration and conceals violence. Small is agile. Units move from Skinhead, National Front, Right Wing Resistance and now Resistance 14. And numbers are growing.
Founded in 2009 by Chapman, the Right Wing Resistance (RWR) created a new model of street level white supremacy. Their emergence paralleled a rise in white violence in Christchurch.
The RWR denied being racist or fascist and avoided public displays of the swastika and Nazi salute. The public face included marches, leafleting, celebrating ‘white European culture’, ‘street patrols’ to ‘protect the public’, a Fight Club for ‘fitness’ and a Survive Club for ‘paintball’ and ‘camping’. Like the Boys Brigade, there were smart black uniforms and ranks like general, colonel and unit leader.
However, archived posts from now banned sites (links withheld) paint an entirely different picture. Members believe whites are superior, Māori are dumb, Asians are not to be trusted and Muslims, particularly Somalis, are here to ‘take over New Zealand’, ‘rape white women’ and ‘torture our pets’.
The ‘Aryan symbols’ the RWR used to replace the swastika were invariably drawn from the Waffen SS. The wolfs angel insignia on the RWR logo is from the SS Das Reich Division; the lapel and cuff insignia on uniforms also from the SS. Away from the media, leaders and members appear in numerous photos performing Nazi salutes and wielding swastika flags, including on a wedding cake.
Small militia units called ‘Retaliators’ wore balaclavas and carried weapons including hatchets, slashers and rifles and were likely tasked with beating non-whites. The Fight Club and Survive camps were about preparing for inter-racial war. RWR leader Vaughan Tocker said that since his wife had left him for an Egyptian man he was preparing for ‘inevitable race war’.
Members were encouraged to obtain ‘high calibre’ firearms for ‘war’. They often posed with firearms, several of which remain legal under the new Arms Act (2019). In February and March 2015, via well-known white supremacist sites, the RWR offered military training in South Africa.
The RWR aligned with other groups, such as Blood and Honour, the National Front and New Zealand Skinheads. This facilitated cooperation, retained autonomy, maintained the internal security of groups and balanced small group integrity with larger unified actions through a fluidity whereby at the drop of a T-shirt members could morph between affiliates and/or come together under the unifying banners of the RWR or others like White Pride World Wide.
Out of Christchurch
Utilising the web, the RWR exported their model around New Zealand and overseas. By 2012, a dozen other New Zealand branches had emerged. By 2015, there were RWR units in 27 other countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, a dozen in mainland Europe, two in Latin America and several in the United States and Canada. Chapman and later Tocker held the position of World Leader. Scandinavia’s newly emerged and very strong Nordic Resistance Movement resembles the RWR model.
In 2016, the RWR joined the Black & Silver Solution, which included the Sadistic Souls MC, the Aryan Nations, the Creativity Movement, a pantheistic white church advocating ‘holy racial war’, and the remnant United Klans of America, whose members carry convictions for bombing a black church, lynching a black man and other murders.
The networks were such that there is no doubt that the shooter in Christchurch was aware of the RWR. It is difficult not to think that some of them knew of him. And, rather than Chapman moving on, he has been busy advising on the setting up of groups on university campuses.
As the RWR label waned other groups have formed, such as the defunct Auckland University European Club, the Western Guard and the Dominion Movement. Currently in hiding, they are smarter, better educated and more security conscious than the RWR and will re-emerge.
Combating white supremacy
Natasha Frost wrote that ‘the biggest barrier to fighting racism in New Zealand is a reluctance to admit that it exists’. To defeat white supremacist hatred, we must understand it. There is denial about racism in Christchurch. As Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has said ‘We can’t pretend this was an aberration from overseas. The truth is it happened here’.
We need different calls. Māori Party President Che Wilson has called for a national conversation on racism. We can be braver about treating white supremacist racism and violence as terrorism. It took several hours for the ‘t’ word to be used on the day of the Christchurch shootings.
Prime Minister Jacinda Adern’s campaign against social media is good but will only go so far. There are many options for hate on the dark web and sites in other countries. At the highest level we need stronger hate speech laws. We need a database of hate crimes and incidents including the ethnicity of both victims and perpetrators.
We must also consider banning violent hate groups. Finland is currently in the process of outlawing the Nordic Resistance. We can also ban Nazi symbols, including not only the swastika and Nazi salute, which are barred in Germany and France, but also Waffen SS symbols. None of these measures infringes constructive free speech.
We should also acknowledge the heroes in the struggle against racism, those on social media who exposed Arps, others who are reporting distributors of the shooting video, Helene Wong who has called for more peer pressure to challenge racism, Pearl Little who has challenged her university about alt-right racism and Vera Alves who has called on people to report racism in personal and online contexts.
We can commend cities like Nelson who a decade ago rather deny confronted racism with the Nelson – Tasman Speak Out initiative. We should also support Mayor Dalziel. She has a task ahead but is gutsy and on the day of that dreadful attack in Christchurch was the first to describe it as ‘an act of terrorism’.
And, let’s applaud the citizen group Against Racism Ōtautahi who in April this year, launched a poster campaign highlighting racism in Christchurch, including: skinheads stomping the sandwiches of Pacific kids playing in a park; telling African and Muslim women to take off their scarves, go back to their own country and calling them ‘terrorists’.
We must acknowledge Naeem Rashid who lost his life tackling the shooter at Al Noor, Abdul Aziz who fought him off at Linwood and the dignity of the Muslim community in Christchurch who have lost so much. Alongside the earthquake that killed 185, few have lost more.
Intolerance and hatred divides and defeats. With the courage to self-reflect, difference, diversity and inclusiveness strengthen and embrace all colours.
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