Is Christchurch more racist than other New Zealand cities?
Dr Rawiri Taonui
Is Christchurch more racist than other New Zealand cities?
There has been debate about whether New Zealand’s third largest city is more racist than other parts of the country since 51 members of the Muslim community in Christchurch were shot dead.
This article argues the evidence suggests that Christchurch is not only more racist than other New Zealand cities but is also a primary exporter of white supremacism around New Zealand and overseas.
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 white community harboured racism. For example, then mayor, Garry Moore, 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.
White racism against Māori
In many ways, Christchurch is no more racist than anywhere else in New Zealand. 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 … 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 intergenerational 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.
against other communities
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries 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 … 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 excluding Māori, Chinese and Indians from barbers’ shops and private bars and segregated seating in the cinema and public pool.
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 more recently 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 grows in response to real and imagined threats.
The 1970s New Zealand economic downturn, rising unemployment and 1980s/1990s Roger and Ruthanomics restructuring, which disproportionately impacted low socio-economic Māori and Pacific communities, also differentially 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.
Most 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 formed uniting multiple groups. The Skinhead
Bastards, the New Zealand Hammerskins and other groups
joined the National Front forming the National
Violence followed. Harris gang member, Neil Swan, took witnesses hostage, firebombed houses and nail-bombed a police station. In 1989, skinhead Glen McAllister, shot and killed an innocent bystander then took his own life.
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 because they wanted an ‘Aryan and pure’ New Zealand.
The extent of white racist
The full extent of this violence will never be known because New Zealand does not record hate crime data. From 2004 onwards, we do have informal monitoring of media reported hate crimes 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 between 2005 and 2013, cross-checked with media, show 108 incidents of racist violence and harassment against more than 200 victims ranging across murders, three firearms incidents, a bombing, assaults, vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues and mosques, arson of a synagogue, setting dogs on Asians, and driving new immigrant citizens from their homes and in some cases to leave the country.
The targets 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, lies in the 93 per cent European Tasman region.
Present day 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 was attacked three-on-one and had his jaw broken.
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 … get the fuckers out, 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’. When questioned he said, ‘I could not give a fuck’.
This year, Darius Shahtahmasebi, a specialist in humanitarian refugee and immigrant law, said racism is ‘normalised’ for Muslims and Asians living in Christchurch, including skinhead harassment and regular swastika and ‘Asian go home’ graffiti in high school toilets.
Last month Against Racism Ōtautahi launched a poster campaign highlighting racism in Christchurch, including: skinheads stomping the sandwiches of Pacific kids playing in a park; African and Muslim women being told to take off their scarves, go back to their own country and being called ‘terrorists’.
The Right Wing
Professor Paul Spoonley has said that we ought not over-estimate right wing groups ‘because very often they are exceedingly small’, that numbers have dropped and figures such as Kyle Chapman have 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. They denied being racist or fascist and avoided public displays of the swastika and Nazi salute. The public face included marches, leafletting, 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 here to ‘take over New Zealand’, ‘rape white women’ and ‘kill all 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 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’. In 2015, the RWR offered military training in South Africa.
Members were encouraged to obtain firearms. They often posed with firearms, several of which remain legal under the new Arms Act (2019). Their emergence RWR paralleled the rise of white violence in Christchurch.
Utilising the web, they exported the RWR 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.
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 and difficult not to think that some of them knew of him. And, rather than Chapman retiring, he has advised on the setting up groups on university campuses. Scandinavia’s very strong Nordic Resistance Movement resembles the RWR model.
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
hiding they will
Combating white supremacy
Natasha Frost wrote that ‘the biggest barrier to fighting racism in New Zealand is a reluctance to admit that it exists’. 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 supremist 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 Jacinta 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 Twitter 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 was the first to describe the attack in Christchurch as ‘an act of terrorism’. Monocultural intolerance and hatred defeats; difference, strength and courage embraces all colours.