Election 2020

Jami-Lee Ross hitches wagon to conspiracy theorists

The embattled MP from Botany has joined up his party with the conspiracy theory-driven New Zealand Public Party, allowing the latter a plausible path to Parliament, Marc Daalder reports

Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross has joined his nascent political party to a would-be party led by a man who believes Covid-19 is a 5G-related bioweapon that was released by a shadowy cabal of global elites in order to impose control over the world population.

The New Zealand Public Party (NZPP) was launched by former blues guitarist Billy Te Kahika Jr. in June, after his Facebook Live rants about the Covid-19 "hoax" went viral among conspiracy theorists here and abroad. Now, Ross has announced his own Advance New Zealand party, which is currently pending registration with the Electoral Commission, and Te Kahika's NZPP will join.

That gives NZPP a plausible path to Parliament, as supporters will be able to vote for the Advance NZ/NZPP alliance on their ballots. Previously, NZPP party secretary Michael Stace told Newsroom the party had missed the deadline to register and was scrambling to find a registered party to work with.

In a statement, Ross said Advance NZ would form as an umbrella for smaller parties, including NZPP. Te Kahika will continue running as an NZPP candidate in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate, currently held by Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis, while also serving as co-leader of the new Advance NZ.

"Our political system is fast becoming one where there are two big party blocs, and no viable third option sitting in the middle," Ross said.

"By forming an alliance of parties, together with other small parties that believe in greater freedom and democracy, we stand a stronger chance of uniting together and crossing the 5 percent threshold in to Parliament."

The news comes after public health experts and conspiracy theory researchers told Newsroom Ross was "pandering" to anti-vaxxers.

NZPP platform rooted in conspiracies

Te Kahika's worldview is centred on the United Nations Agenda 21/30 conspiracy theory, Waikato University teaching fellow M. Dentith says.

Dentith is a conspiracy theory expert. He told Newsroom the Agenda 21/30 theory is based on two UN sustainability platforms which have been twisted by conspiracists into a secret plot to reduce and dominate the world's population.

"Agenda 21 is a particularly common trope in New World Order conspiracy theories," Dentith said.

"Agenda 21, basically, is a whole bunch of directives around building a more sustainable form of society. It's suggestions as opposed to orders as to how you might have a more ecologically sustainable version of Western civilisation. But for some reason, people have latched onto these directives - which are not orders, they're not things that the UN requires people to engage in - and said this is actually something that is at the heart of the Marxist plot to redevelop civilisation."

Te Kahika said as much in a Facebook broadcast.

"This plandemic has been the very cause that globalist global leaders, political leaders needed to use the United Nations Agenda 21 and 30, which are the greatest challenges to the personal liberties and freedom of all human beings on Earth," he said.

Dentith said the Agenda 21/30 conspiracy theory is "drawn from the same cloth" as the UN migrant compact theory, which falsely posited a non-binding agreement to treat migrants better was part of a secret plot to import millions of non-white people to white countries. The terrorist who killed 51 people in Christchurch on March 15 referred to the latter theory in his attack.

In a response to a Newsroom request for comment, Ross said Advance NZ and NZPP were forming an alliance which would include other minor parties outside Parliament.

"Part of the alliance of parties structure is a campaign committee that will decide all policies and candidates to contest the election with. We will spend the next few weeks making decisions on how to merge election policies," he said.

However, some policies have already been decided. On the United Nations, Ross said the alliance has "strong concerns for New Zealand's sovereignty and freedom, particularly where previous governments have signed our nation up to international treaties or UN agendas without a mandate from New Zealanders. We will oppose any attempts to erode New Zealand's sovereignty by implementing UN Agenda 21 and Agenda 30, and we will review all existing UN agreements or treaties that New Zealand is a party to."

Te Kahika has also pledged to ban fluoridation and the use of 1080 poison for conservation purposes, and pull New Zealand out of the United Nations. He believes climate change is a UN hoax and the Government is going to put New Zealand into lockdown in early August in order to rig the upcoming election.

Ross said the alliance of parties would "ensure a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry is held to examine the available evidence, seek independent advice, as well as community views, on safe levels for human exposure to radiofrequency fields" used in 5G technology.

Anti-5G activists are concerned the technology could kill bees or give humans cancer. The Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor launched a new website in December to dispel these myths.

"The radio waves used for 5G have frequencies that are ten thousand times too low to damage molecules," the website says.

"Radio waves can heat our body if we are over-exposed to them. However, these effects can only occur when exposed directly to a very powerful source so that the heat builds up enough to damage tissue before it dissipates. 5G sources are simply not powerful enough to cause damage in this way. Many researchers have explored possible connections between radio frequency radiation and cancer and as is often the case when there are many separate studies, a small number have reported an association between exposure and cancer, such as mobile phone use and brain tumour risk.

"Significantly more high-quality studies have found no associations, including studies funded by cancer research organisations. The clear conclusion reached internationally, supported by health authorities in New Zealand, is that exposure to this type of radiation at levels experienced in New Zealand is not hazardous."

On fluoride, Ross said the joint party would oppose a bill before Parliament that has bipartisan support to grant decision-making power on fluoridation to DHBs. "Any decision by a local authority to fluoridate a water supply must only be given effect to if supported by a binding referendum of voters in that local authority's area," he said.

"We will further require that every local authority that currently fluoridates its water supply holds a binding referendum at the 2022 council elections on whether to continue fluoridating its water supply."

Te Kahika has also not been shy about his interaction with other prominent conspiracy theorists. He has a weekly appearance with Vinny Eastwood, a knockoff New Zealand version of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones who believes Oranga Tamariki is running an "industrial-scale child trafficking ring", that the March 15 terror attack was a hoax and who publishes videos with titles like "Elite CLONES, Freemasons, Demons and the communist new world order".

David Icke, the world's most infamous conspiracy theorist and a man known for espousing the belief that Jews are a secret reptilian race from outer space which control world governments from behind the scenes, gave Te Kahika a shoutout on his website and Twitter profile. In response, the official NZPP Twitter account replied, "Thank you, David! Every week, we are losing more and more of our rights here in New Zealand. The blatant drive towards a total UN-controlled police state is totally unacceptable."

Ross said in his statement that "the views of the people [you] have outlined are their views and not the views of Advance NZ. We welcome the broad support that has been amassed to date. Just like every political party, there are supporters that hold views that aren't necessarily shared by the political party. The specific views from [Eastwood and Icke] that you quoted are not our policies."

Third time's the charm

Despite his obvious roots in conspiracy theories, Te Kahika has seen decent turnout at small town rallies across the country. At times more than 200 people have shown up to see him rail against the United Nations, 5G and the "plandemic".

He also attempted two previous alliances with minor registered parties. A prospective union with the Outdoors Party fell apart due to personality clashes between Te Kahika and anti-1080 lawyer and Outdoors candidate Sue Grey, according to posts from the NZPP Facebook page. Likewise, Vision New Zealand's Hannah Tamaki attended the launch of the NZPP in June, as did her husband Brian Tamaki, but they later withdrew their support, Te Kahika said on Facebook.

This time, it seems the alliance may stick, as Ross and Te Kahika have formally announced the compact in Auckland, complete with an embargoed media advisory issued on Friday.

Although he toed the NZPP line on 5G, the United Nations and fluoridation in his statement to Newsroom, Ross did differ on one regard: Covid-19.

"This is a very real virus and is harming very large numbers of people around the world," he said.

However, he continued, "it is wrong is that [sic] in the process the Government has taken so many rights and freedoms away from people. The Government has also given far too much control to an unelected doctor [Ashley Bloomfield], and trampled our Bill of Rights in the process."

Ross said he supported public health advice on social distancing and washing your hands but not "the agenda the Government and the National Party have to use coercive approaches to forcing vaccinations on the population". As Newsroom has previously reported, there is no evidence of a Government plan or intention to require vaccination against Covid-19.

Dentith said there are more conspiracy theorists in New Zealand than most people might expect.

"David Icke has come out to this country twice in the last 10 years to give talks. Those talks were very well attended and I went to both of them. One at the Manukau Event Centre which had at least 800 people in attendance and one at the Ellerslie Event Centre which must have had close to 2,000 people in attendance. There are more people who are at least sympathetic to elements of these claims, not necessarily the whole package," he said.

"There is a section of this population which is going to entertain these ideas because there is a section of the population that really does tend to believe there is a large-scale, global conspiracy to enslave us."

At the moment, there were not enough of them to make a viable electoral constituency, Dentith thinks.

"On the plus side, there are an awful lot of parties that are now competing for this very tiny section of the vote. There are the NZPP, you've got the New Conservatives, there's the Outdoors Party, there are elements of ACT which are going for this with respect to the gun right stuff and one of their candidates talking about 1080 drops. So there's an awful lot of people competing for what, currently, we think is a very tiny section of the vote," he said.

However, Dentith cautioned against making authoritative declarations that the conspiracy vote would stay small. He compares it to the situation in the United States, where the unlikely and surprise election of Donald Trump as President has emboldened a far-right fringe and led to the mainstreaming of conspiracy beliefs about climate change, the United Nations and the QAnon theory.

"Part of the problem with the growth of the alt-right in Europe and the US, for a long period of time we said these people are minor parts of the population, they're always going to be around, but they're not particularly big and they're not particularly popular. We can ignore them in political debates," he said.

"And that allowed them to grow in the background with no one paying any attention to them to the point where they actually emerged as a big problem. Actually, if we had dealt with this years ago, this wouldn't be an issue now."

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