Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Launching Histories of Hate: The Radical Right in Aotearoa New Zealand

Thursday 9 March 2023 1:56pm

We launched the long-awaited book, Histories of Hate: The Radical Right in Aotearoa New Zealand, at the brilliant Unity Books Wellington on Thursday 9th March. The three editors, Matthew Cunningham, Marinus La Rooij and Paul Spoonley, were all there alongside many of the book's contributors. It was a fantastic evening of celebration and it was wonderful to see such a crowd gathered to launch this all-too-important and timely book. A huge thank you to everyone who came along to help us celebrate.

HistoriesofHateLaunch1Professor Jim McAloon did a fantastic job launching the book for us. Here's what he had to say:

"On one level, I would much rather not be launching this book. That’s because I would much rather it hadn’t had to be written. But this is the world we live in and this book is a very important one.

As you know, it deals with difficult topics. Events in the last few years, here and overseas, have made many of us aware of the real dangers from right wing extremism. Most tragically, in this country, of course, in the Christchurch massacres four years ago. But also subsequently here: the events around Parliament a little over a year ago revealed some very unpleasant dimensions. But what is at least as much of a worry is the way in which hate speech becomes normalised. It becomes acceptable. There is a certain rural lobby group which ran a big protest nearly two years ago and some of the placards and slogans were such as to disqualify them from being taken at all seriously.

One of the most important contributions of this book is to show the extent of the history of this sort of thing. It’s not just the last few years. It’s not just the negative side of the internet. It goes way back. It’s fundamental to European colonialism and imperialism. There’s a long history of ideas of superior and inferior, the fit and the unfit, particularly deployed in this country to justify the taking of Maori land and resources over decades. These ideas repeat, often none too subtly, in recent opposition to efforts to give effect to te Tiriti.

Two chapters deal with anti-Chinese politics. We are reminded how integral this racism was to colonial Liberalism. This racism has become mainstreamed again in the last 20 or 30 years; does anyone remember the Labour Party’s offensive exercise in ‘Chinese-sounding surnames’ and Auckland residential property around 2014, to say nothing of a certain veteran politician who’s made this his stock in trade? The border between such ‘respectable’ bigotry and the fringe — whether Lionel Terry or Great Replacements — is pretty open.

HistoriesofHateLaunch3Like all good history, there’s some excellent detective work. Arthur Desmond, aka Ragnar Redbeard, and his Might is Right is a decades-old staple of the alt-right and one chapter
carefully unpacks Desmond’s bizarre history.

There was plenty of right-wing extremism in the middle of the 20" century. A couple of chapters deal with organisations like the Welfare League which targetted the Labour Party and the trade unions. Another was the Loyal Citizens League with its ideas of militias. A third was the PPA, which — as this book reminds us — needs to be seen as anti-socialist rather than sectarian. The atmosphere created by and enjoyed by these organisations was conducive to strict policing of dissent. The special branch even thought that Walter Nash was a Bolshevik. Not much changes. The main conservative party, Reform, happily fellow travelled with this red-baiting. Muldoon and his dancing cossacks were nothing new in conservative politics.

Anti-semitism is a staple of the radical right, and the discussion here implicitly warn about the importance of care in critique. What I mean by that is that the Depression undoubtedly reflected a broken economic system; radical reform was needed; such reform had powerful opponents; but understanding that too often led into anti-semitic conspiracy theories about international finance. There is an echo in recent allegations from the fringe right about Jacinda Ardern conspiring to deliver us all into the clutches of the World Economic Forum.

We’re often told that the 1950s and 60s were years of comfortable consensus. But the right fringe included some openly neo-Nazi figures, antisemites, and a National Front as well as Empire Loyalists. Again shading into the mainstream right were the apologists for apartheid: the New Zealand-Rhodesia society and the Friends of South Africa. If one of the key figures in both — Lt-Col ACR Elderton — seemed a caricature, the fact that senior National politicians were involved speaks volumes. The open support for apartheid which could be expressed in respectable circles in the 1970s reinforces the point made in many parts of this book, that racialised language and ideology is fundamental to the radical right.

And then there’s the skinheads with their openly intimidating approach, and their close relations in the National Front. These are in appearance a far cry from the conservative Christian right, also well discussed, and the influence of which is easy to underestimate. I suspect though that it’s now evident in some of the apologists for the rabble at Parliament last year — think Family First — and in the backlash against the government’s very timid proposals on hate speech, which have now been ditched.

And then there’s the skinheads with their openly intimidating approach, and their close relations in the National Front. These are in appearance a far cry from the conservative Christian right, also well discussed, and the influence of which is easy to underestimate. I suspect though that it’s now evident in some of the apologists for the rabble at Parliament last year — think Family First — and in the backlash against the government’s very timid proposals on hate speech, which have now been ditched.

A recent theme is the rise of identitarianism and the alt-right, and the ease which which international links are made. International networking of course is not new but the internet
presentes opportunities which were previously not there. It’s easy to see it as fringe, but the rapid imitation here of the Ottawa protest early last year makes it clear there’s nothing trivial
here. Even if the fringe political parties got derisory shares of the vote in 2020, the mainstream conservative parties find it convenient to pander to them, and progressive ministers are all too easily intimidated.

So there we are. This book is a major contribution to understanding the past and the present of radical right wing politics. It’s a sobering book, and I am sure the contributors found it difficult, or at least unpleasant, to write. For their courage and their commitment I am grateful. | congratulate all of them, especially the editors, and it is my privilege to launch the book and to tell you all to buy it."

And here's Matthew Cunningham's speech on behalf of the editors:

"E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangatanga maha, tēnā koutou.

Seeing as Sue and Jim have already spoken so wonderfully about our book, I won’t subject you to too much waffle on my part. But it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge some people.

Firstly, we acknowledge the 51 shuhada who were murdered in the March 15th terror attack in 2019. We also acknowledge the survivors of that atrocity – those brave women, men and children who have found the strength to keep going despite the unimaginable emotional and physical trauma. I particularly want to acknowledge the Sakinah Community Trust: a group of widows, mothers and daughters of the shuhada who have come together to ‘fund community initiatives that focus on well-being and bringing communities together for a better future in which we all belong’.

Think about that for a moment: in the face of unimaginable hatred and loss, these women chose not to harden their hearts against the world (though they would have been entirely justified in doing so). Instead, they have devoted themselves to building bridges of understanding among our country’s diverse communities. Can you imagine the faith, the humility, the sheer humanity that must take? When we decided to donate our royalties to the survivors of March 15th, almost everyone we spoke to suggested Sakinah. So when you buy a copy of our book, you’re not only learning about the radical right in our past – you’re helping to address it in our future.

HistoriesofHateLaunch4There are so many others that we are thankful for: the staff at Otago University Press, and the Manatu Taonga for the New Zealand History Research Trust Awards that enabled Marinus and I to get started. I want to acknowledge all the chapter authors who gave their time and energy into developing their own pieces of this book, and for the collegial spirit and patience they all displayed. Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank my wife Helen and daughter Abigail for their ceaseless forbearance as we wrestled this book together these past three years. Our chosen subject does, unfortunately, attract a degree of negative attention from society’s dark underbelly, and it is after considerable agonizing and with much trepidation that I have risked exposing them to that with this book.

Ironically, this was much less of a concern when we embarked upon this project at the start of 2020. While March 15th had shocked each of us to our core, the contemporary radical right was, for the most part, something that was happening elsewhere. Then the pandemic hit, and history unfolded before our eyes as a cornucopia of conspiratorial contortions about the virus and the vaccine swept across the world. Finding a logical end point for our book became increasingly difficult, right up until the occupation of Parliament grounds in February-March 2022 as we were finalising the manuscript for the editor. But more importantly, our book had, sadly, become even more relevant. And I truly mean it when I say sadly – there aren’t many scholars who wish their specialist subject could be consigned to the dustbin.

Why is our book so relevant? I’ll leave that for you to judge. But I would make one final point for those of you who’ve lost friends and family down the rabbit hole these past few years – which is probably most of us. Conspiracy theories aren’t new – our book shows that very clearly. What’s changed is the subject of our fears during times of crisis. In the 1900s it was the Chinese and the Russians; in the 1910s and 20s it was the Kaiser, the Catholic church, the Bolsheviks; in the 1930s it was the Jews, the bankers, the Jewish bankers; in the 1940s and 50s it was Bretton Woods, the IMF, water fluoridation, all of which were somehow mysteriously linked to the Soviets and/or the Elders of Zion. With all these myriad plots against New Zealand, it is a miracle we have escaped unscathed!

All jokes aside though, I think this is one of the most powerful antidotes to conspiracy theories that our book provides. Either every single conspiracy up until the ‘plandemic’ wasn’t real, or it’s all part of the same glacial, multi-generational plot. If it’s the latter, we have nothing to worry about – any secret cabal that ineffectual is nothing to worry about. And if it’s the former, then maybe – just maybe – COVID really was a pandemic after all, not a ‘plandemic’.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa."