Terror in Chch

Army reservist linked to far-right group

A former soldier and current Army reservist participated in far-right activities, including at least one event hosted by the group Action Zealandia, Marc Daalder reports

James Fairburn, a former Army communications operator and a current member of the Army Reserves, has attended at least one event hosted by the far-right group Action Zealandia.

This is the second Defence Force soldier who has been found to have ties to the far-right in recent months. In December, Newsroom exclusively reported on the arrest of a soldier with ties to the far-right group Wargus Christi after a joint-NZDF and police investigation.

When contacted by Newsroom on Wednesday and asked about Action Zealandia, Fairburn said "No comment" and hung up.

An NZDF spokesperson confirmed to Newsroom that someone by the name of James Fairburn is currently serving in the NZ Army Reserves but declined to comment further on the specifics of the case.

"If anyone has information about personnel of an adverse nature they are welcome to contact the New Zealand Defence Force directly," the spokesperson said.

Links to the far-right

Fairburn took part in some of the first activities carried out by Action Zealandia after its formation in July 2019. Pictures of an event posted to the Action Zealandia website show members of the far-right group, with their faces blurred out to preserve their anonymity, standing in front of a statue of Michael Joseph Savage with a New Zealand flag.

The metadata of one of these photographs states that James Fairburn created it. A Facebook account linked to an online alias of Fairburn's has also "liked" the Facebook page for Action Zealandia's podcast, Voice of Zealandia, which launched in April.

Fairburn has engaged in other far-right activity. Using his online alias, Fairburn participated in two far-right Discord channels in 2018, the contents of which were later leaked online. While other users in the channels discussed terror attacks and hatred of Jews, Muslims and LGBT people, Fairburn spent his time discussing his military experience, New Zealand politics and his quest for a firearms licence.

He was under the impression that, as a member of the Army Reserves, he would have an easier time getting an "E" endorsement for his firearms licence. At the time, such an endorsement would have allowed him to purchase military-style semi-automatic weapons.

A spokesperson for the police declined to comment on the case of Fairburn in particular. However, when asked whether an Action Zealandia member could or should be able to obtain a firearms licence, the spokesperson said licensing decisions were made on a case-by-case basis.

"Each application is unique in its circumstances, and these must be considered when making a decision. Membership of different groups may be one of many factors taken into consideration."

In the Discord channels, Fairburn referred to the Great Replacement or white genocide conspiracy theory, which falsely posits that a shadowy cabal of elites - often Jews - is fostering mass immigration of non-white people to white-majority countries.

Using his own name, Fairburn in 2018 lodged a petition with Parliament asking that New Zealand give priority consideration for visas for white South African farmers, mentioning a far-right conspiracy theory which falsely alleges the South African government is committing genocide against its white minority population.

Fairburn also ran an online blog on which he wrote far-right articles. The website was deregistered in April, but information from the Domain Name Commission shows the domain was registered in 2018. Fairburn promoted the website on Discord and, using a different alias, on Reddit.

The Reddit account Fairburn used to link to his website also discussed his military experience and his political views. He wrote repeatedly about connections between New Zealand politicians and the Chinese government - a particular focus of Action Zealandia, which as recently as May 17 posted anti-Chinese posters on the offices of media outlets and MPs in Auckland.

On Reddit, Fairburn also mentioned attending a rally in Auckland that opposed the United Nations migrant compact. The UN agreement has been bugbear for the far-right and was mentioned in writing on one of the rifles used by the March 15 terrorist.

Fairburn's last comment on Reddit was made on March 15, 2019.

Action Zealandia linked to crimes

Action Zealandia, a successor to the far-right Dominion Movement which shut up shop after the March 15 terror attack, has been linked to at least three potential crimes in March alone.

On March 4, an Action Zealandia member was arrested in relation to a terror threat against Masjid Al-Noor in Christchurch, first reported by Newsroom. Sam Brittenden, a 19-year-old previously convicted of disorderly conduct after shouting "f**k the Muslims" on March 16, was charged with failing to assist with a search warrant.

This refusal to cooperate with law enforcement seems in line with instructions in Action Zealandia's security guidelines.

Over the subsequent weekend, Action Zealandia posted an image of a leaked police Financial Intelligence Unit document to Twitter. Police have said that distributing the document violates the Policing Act 2008.

On March 9, Newsroom reported that an anonymous Action Zealandia member had discussed plans to start a terror cell in New Zealand and purchase firearms from the black market with members of overseas terror groups like Atomwaffen Division, which is linked to eight murders. Newsroom understands police are investigating this individual.

Paul Spoonley, a Distinguished Professor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University, told Newsroom Action Zealandia's claims to lawfulness should not be automatically believed.

"Any claims that the law is being observed in full by such politicised and radical groups should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. Recent actions by the police and other leaked information does suggest a rather different reality," he said.

NZDF hasn't reviewed extremist procedures

Fairburn is the second NZDF-linked person found to have far-right ties. The far-right soldier arrested in December was charged with an unauthorised disclosure of information that was "likely to prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand". The Action Zealandia member who planned a terror cell also claimed he used to be in the NZDF, but the military was unable to comment on this without more information about the individual's identity.

Despite this, the Defence Force told Newsroom in March that it hadn't conducted any review of procedures relating to extremist personnel since March 15, 2019.

At the time, a spokesperson for the Defence Force said: "NZDF acknowledges that people with extremist views have existed both in New Zealand and around the world well before the events of March 15, 2019. There have been robust policies and procedures in place within NZDF that highlight potential threats from a wide range of groups for years preceding March 15 2019."

"The NZDF has confidence in its security measures, which include the threat posed by those belonging to, or who sympathise with, groups that may threaten the security of the Defence Force and wider public. The Defence Force is a community of people who look out for each other, and there are robust systems in place to hold people to account."

The far-right soldier's case has been disrupted by Covid-19, an NZDF spokesperson said on Tuesday, but added: "the New Zealand Defence Force is approaching the final stages in making its decision on the charges to be laid before the Court Martial".

The soldier currently has name suppression so Newsroom is unable to publish certain identifying details.

After the soldier was charged, Stuff reported he was a co-founder of the Dominion Movement, the far-right organisation that closed down after the March 15 terror attack.

The man has been in the military for at least five years. His friends and family have been interviewed by counter-terrorism detectives from the Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG). 

The soldier also ran a racist Twitter page after his arrest. On the Twitter profile, the man has ranted against Jews, Māori and gay people and self-identified as a Nazi.

The soldier's account, which was shut down on January 31, had posted more than a thousand tweets since it began posting on December 29.

Two other social media accounts, including a Reddit account belonging to the accused, were removed between December 18 and December 29. An NZDF spokesperson told Newsroom the military "has not been involved in the deactivation of the social media accounts of the accused", but declined to say whether the soldier had been released or otherwise given access to the internet.

In numerous tweets, the soldier refers to eugenics-based conspiracy theories for the racial origins of Jews, says gay people deserve to be punched and dismisses Māori as savages. After a Wellington synagogue was vandalised with neo-Nazi graffiti, the man claimed without evidence that the synagogue members themselves were responsible.

In one tweet, the man writes simply, "I'm racist". In another, he says he is a Nazi.

Help us create a sustainable future for independent local journalism

As New Zealand moves from crisis to recovery mode the need to support local industry has been brought into sharp relief.

As our journalists work to ask the hard questions about our recovery, we also look to you, our readers for support. Reader donations are critical to what we do. If you can help us, please click the button to ensure we can continue to provide quality independent journalism you can trust.

Comments

Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

With thanks to our partners