Politics

Calls for ACT to return far-right donation

Activists and civil rights organisations have called for the ACT Party to return a donation it received from a far-right extremist who threatened to destroy mosques after the Christchurch terror attack

ACT Party leader David Seymour has come under fire after accepting a donation from a far-right extremist and characterising the man's threats to destroy mosques as "a silly comment on Facebook".

In October, Newsroom reported that a far-right extremist who had threatened to "destroy mosque after mosque till I am taken out" had made a donation to the ACT Party by auctioning a hat signed by Seymour.

Mike Allen is a Christchurch e-bike salesman whose parody Trump hats - which read "Make Ardern Go Away" - went viral after he was temporarily banned from selling them on TradeMe. Newsroom then reported that the proceeds from the hats went towards funding advertisements for far-right Facebook pages, including the now-deleted page on which Allen threatened to destroy mosques.

On Sunday, left-wing activist Byron Clark called for Seymour to pass the donation on to an organisation that could make better use of it, like the Foundation Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR) or the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.

Clark, who regularly monitors New Zealand's far-right, framed the call as a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #DonateDavid.

"David Seymour said before that he can't control who's going to vote for him and I understand that position, but he can control whether or not he takes money from the far-right. So I've challenged him to donate that money he received to a cause like the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand or the fund for the March 15 shooting victims," Clark told Newsroom.

"People on the far-right who are seeing David Seymour accepting money from them are seeing it as a legitimisation of some of their beliefs, that a mainstream politician is not refusing to take money from them," he said.

Other left-wing activist groups like Auckland Peace Action and Paparoa also rallied around the hashtag.

Seymour attacks 'obsession'

The same day, Seymour responded on Twitter, saying, "Your obsession with some guy who made a silly comment on Facebook and auctioned a hat to give ACT a small donation is going nowhere. My long and strong support of our Jewish community speaks for itself."

Seymour did not respond to a request for comment from Newsroom. In October, Seymour distanced himself from Allen but refused to return the donation.

"I think it's completely outrageous to make the connection that because you sign a hat saying you want your political opponent to go away that I am in any way associated with people who are terrorists or threatening acts of violence," he said at the time.

"To threaten or incite a crime such as vandalising or destroying a building, especially one that is of significance to people, is a crime in itself. In the strongest possible terms, I denounce that behaviour."

"You are trying to conflate something perfectly innocent - auctioning off an amusing hat - with somebody who made some distasteful comments later and there's no connection," Seymour told Newsroom in October.

"The Holocaust, and indeed the attacks against the Muslim community on March 15 did not began with acts, they began with words that went unchallenged and that, ultimately, is what leads to such events."

In a statement, the Holocaust Centre said it "deplores Mr Allen’s comments that he wanted to see the destruction of mosques and says that it would never knowingly accept funds from someone who used such hate speech".

"These kinds of comments, and the beliefs that underpin them, have no place in New Zealand," Holocaust Centre NZ chair Deborah Hart said. "Words matter. The Holocaust, and indeed the attacks against the Muslim community on March 15 did not began with acts, they began with words that went unchallenged and that, ultimately, is what leads to such events."

The centre's chief executive Chris Harris said ACT "should act in a responsible manner and do the right thing", but did not elaborate.

FAIR similarly said it would decline to receive the donation, but explicitly encouraged Seymour to return the funds to Allen.

"We challenge David to return this donation and to make an explicit public statement rejecting support of white supremacists," FAIR spokesperson Azad Khan said.

"In accepting this donation, David Seymour is saying that he is happy to accept the backing of violent white supremacists. Mike Allen has said he will ‘destroy mosque after mosque’. He has also said that he is a financial ACT party member.

"David Seymour is trivialising the real fear and terror that the Muslim community continues to feel following the [Christchurch] terror attack by characterising Allen’s Facebook comments as ‘silly’."

Clark also said he would support ACT returning the donation to Allen. "I'd certainly be happy with that. The main thing is not keeping the money," he said.

Precedent for returning contributions

There is precedent for declining or returning donations based on the person who made the contribution. In the United States, politicians regularly swear off donations from industries they disagree with.

In the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, then-Senator Barack Obama refused to accept donations from federally-registered lobbyists for his 2008 presidential campaign,while most Democratic candidates for 2020 have declined donations from fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and lobbying executives.

After infamous pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli donated to Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, the senator passed the money on to a health clinic instead.

In New Zealand in July, Victim Support rejected a donation from Martin Sellner, a far-right Austrian activist who had corresponded with the alleged Christchurch mosque shooter. If Sellner didn't take back the money, Victim Support said it would donate the funds to a "suitable anti-racism charity".

Donation came from far-right extremist

Allen has repeatedly posted far-right messages on his Facebook pages, including threats of violence. Linking to an article about an acid attack in England, Allen wrote that "if this happens to my daughter I am destroying mosque after mosque till I am taken out".

Subsequent images posted to the since-deleted page show that Facebook deleted this post for violating its community standards.

However, Allen told Newsroom in October that he had written it "after a couple of beers. It was wrong and I deleted it".

In the comments on that post, users joked about the alleged Christchurch shooter. "Let him out for another go," one wrote.

Allen also wrote on a post about Zahra Hussaini, a Muslim woman running for Christchurch City Council, that "Islam is the problem". He told Newsroom that he stands by that comment.

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