The murky politics of the Right
The Press (Christchurch)
The country’s hardcore Right-wing factions look like they mean business. It’s just that their business never gets off the ground. JOHN McCRONE reports.
With a slightly self-conscious smile, the tattooed skinhead, New Zealand flag draped over his shoulder, places a flyer in my hand. Then he and his small rag- tag group continue their quiet parade around the sunny, tourist-filled streets of central Christchurch.
So this is white power, neo-Nazi politics, skinhead malevolence in 2009? Up in Wellington, the National Front’s annual rally drew larger numbers, but was a similarly subdued affair.
The anarchists and anti-fascists, the loyal leftie opposition, did not even bother to show up. With no confrontation, no aggro, the skinheads were reduced to wandering the streets, shyly interacting with the public, passing out their leaflets railing against immigration, multiculturalism, and threatened changes to the national flag. The TV cameras, finding no action, fast got bored and melted away.
White power was looking very much yesterday’s news in New Zealand. But then came the other events of the day. A first surprise was the sight of former National Front leader, Christchurch mayoral candidate and marae fire-bomber, Kyle Chapman, back in the thick of things at the Wellington Cenotaph gathering.
It was only last May that 38-year-old Mr Chapman renounced his white power activities following his marriage to a devout Mormon. Mr Chapman moved from Christchurch to live with his wife on her lifestyle block outside Hamilton.
Yet Mr Chapman says the pull of the movement – the importance of its ideas, the camaraderie of his mates – proved just too strong. “I never really gave it up,” he admits. So there he was with the troops again, split from his wife and full of plans as leader of the new “skinhead survivalist” faction within white power.
Mr Chapman says he wants to spread his Right Wing Resistance, a skinhead “community security” group he claims already patrols Christchurch, across the country. He also wants to build up his Survive Club, a military skills training squad which has been carrying out combat exercises with paint ball guns and ex-army Landrovers in preparation, he says, for the predicted collapse of society.
In a time of desperation and panic there will be no room for pussies, says Mr Chapman: “We want people who will not only stand up for themselves and their families, they have to stand up for the other club members and their families.”
Going even further, Mr Chapman has been fundraising to found a Nationalist Land Base, a protected skinhead commune with long houses and vegetable plots, somewhere in North Canterbury. A “unified mini state for like-minded Europeans”, as he describes it.
While Mr Chapman is organising for the apocalypse, there was also evidence that the National Front, under its new leader, 63-year-old Colin Ansell, is intent on relaunching itself after a chaotic few years under interim chief, Sid Wilson.
Mr Ansell, a Hawera print shop proprietor and former driving force of the New Zealand Nazi Party – in 1967, as a youth in Auckland, he was jailed for 18 months for his part in the fire-bombing of a synagogue – says he agreed to come out of retirement to prevent the movement folding entirely.
Mr Ansell plans to incorporate the National Front for the first time. He is busy redrafting its political manifesto. And crucially, he says, he wants a membership drive to get the party’s paid-up numbers to the point where it will qualify for state funding and free airtime at the next general election in 2011.
This would be following the similar achievements of Australia First, the far Right party emerging to fill the gap left by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation across the ditch. Australia First New South Wales director Jim Saleam was invited as a key speaker at the National Front’s annual meeting which followed the Labour Day rally, and Mr Saleam was able to tell how he has recruited the 500 members needed to take a tilt at Australia’s own next elections.
So this year is about showing the National Front is serious again, says Mr Ansell: “Members who came to the AGM were able to see a proper financial report this time and everything. We’ve set up a bank account to stop the people getting in who’re just going to milk it, as has happened in the past.”
If proof were needed of a resurgent movement, it should have been the sight of one of its key intellectuals, Paraparaumu publisher and “neo-Nazi Satanist”, Kerry Bolton, standing among the black and camouflage-clad Labour Day throng.
All the old gang were back together it seemed. And with the gathering clouds of recession, the strains of globalisation, the National Front might indeed have reasons to be hopeful of a change in fortune. Hard times have a way of hardening attitudes.
So far, the ultra-Right has been a political joke. In the 2005 general elections contesting Christchurch East, Mr Chapman polled just 57 votes. His political partner, Anton Foljambe, fared even more dismally in Wigram, scrapping just 16.
Switching his attention to the 2007 local government elections – running under the banner of a new umbrella organisation, the Nationalist Alliance – Mr Chapman did little better, coming a distant eighth to Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker. His ally, Jason Orme, contesting the Waimakariri mayoralty, ran last.
Yet Mr Ansell believes a great many Kiwis quietly sympathise with the National Front’s “strong New Zealand, anti-immigration, anti-political correctness” policies.
After all, says Mr Ansell, look at how Winston Peter’s New Zealand First party has managed to get so much traction over the years. The difference of course, he agrees, is that when you think “Winston”, it conjures up an image of a community centre packed with smiling, clapping pensioners. But when you think National Front, you still think of a snarling mass of race-hate skinhead thugs.
This image problem has made the National Front frankly unelectable in the past, Mr Ansell says. And it is still something the party is struggling to change.
“I’ve had to come down pretty heavily with those who walk round with swastikas tattooed on their heads. I’ve told those people to at least stick a flaming hat on it. Although it’s pretty hard to get through to them,” he admits.
Yet what if the swastikas can be kept under wraps and the political climate does change? Can the National Front, or some similar far Right alternative, ever gain ground in New Zealand?
Race-hate skinhead thugs. Some phrases just roll off the tongue. And eavesdropping on the internet chatter of New Zealand neo-Nazis can be chilling.
On websites like Stormfront, you will find exactly the kind of vicious and screwball views you might expect. A popular subject is Auckland author Martin Doutre’s theory about a pre-Maori settlement of New Zealand by a fair-haired race of Celts – the justification for an alternative view on tangata whenua, on whose country this really is.
And despite Mr Ansell’s desire for reforms, the National Front’s own site still offers a rather blunt solution for dealing with homosexuals, Marxists and other “undesirable elements”. Such people would not be allowed to remain in New Zealand. From the outside it looks fairly intimidating and worrying. These guys want to give the impression they are a cohesive social force and that they are getting organised.
Yet what is the reality? In fact the leaders of the movement turn out to be surprisingly candid about the degree to which it has just been all something of a game down the years. Always far more talk than action.
Dreaming up a name for a political party, appointing a few mates as officers, and selling some T-shirts with logos fashioned out of a skull, Celtic cross or Norse wolf’s hook, is the easy part. But behind the scenes, say those like Mr Bolton, now aged 53, it has never really been close to coming together.
The white power movement has always been deeply divided, Mr Bolton says. For some, it is just about the political theories. For others, it is the ill-focused expression of poor white resentments. For still others, it is an excuse to get into fights. And for a great many more, the skinhead connection is merely a music and fashion style, a social identity.
When it comes down to it, Mr Bolton confesses, New Zealand just does not have a tradition of fascist causes and ethnic tensions for the National Front to tap into. And its history shows this.
Mr Bolton got involved with the first incarnation of the New Zealand National Front when it was formed in the 1970s in Canterbury by David Crawford and Brian Thompson.
He says they were all school teachers back then, “solidly pro-British, middle-class citizens” who were members of groups like the League of Empire Loyalists. The New Zealand National Front arose as a local version of the British National Front, taking on its same anti-immigration and nationalist policies.
Being young, Mr Bolton says he was attracted to extreme ideas of many kinds. The Satanist tag came from his publication of occult magazines and the founding of occult orders like the Order of the Left Hand Path, though Mr Bolton claims he was more a documenter than a believer. He still makes a living from publishing alternative literature through his Renaissance Press. But it was the political theory he found important.
What gets lost, Mr Bolton says, is that fascism and national socialism are a philosophy. The idea that binds the far Right is that a people, like a tribe, need to be led. The weak must be controlled and the strong allowed to rise to positions of command. It is an authoritarian and paternalistic worldview.
This is what sets it against cultural differences and outside influences, says Mr Bolton. It also reflects a worker’s view of life. A key National Front policy remains the idea of rule by referendum. The people’s say should be binding on politicians. Likewise, the National Front favours vocational representation – each trade or profession appointing someone of its own to Parliament. A housing minister would have to be a former builder, the health minister a doctor.
Mr Bolton says he joined the National Front because he believed in its fascist principles. Yet he was never an Aryan racist – his first wife and son had a mixed Maori and Jewish heritage. And officially, he was only a member for a couple of years in the 1970s, then once more as secretary under Mr Chapman’s leadership in 2004. Both times he left in disgust because of the racist element the movement was attracting.
Mr Bolton did strike out on his own, setting up a series of “radical conservative” and “patriotic socialist” groups, like New Force and the Nationalist Workers Party in the 1980s, and New Right in 2006. For a while, he was part of Mr Ansell’s Fascist Union, then more recently, Foljambe’s Nationalist Alliance.
So outwardly, there was the appearance of lots of purposeful activity with all these repackagings and re-brandings. Yet mostly it was posturing, laughs Mr Bolton.
“It probably looked like a hell of a lot was going on when bugger all was going on. And it was absolutely frustrating, especially with the National Front and New Right where you had all the old racial and neo-Nazi attitudes cropping up, and you were thinking can’t anyone get beyond this stuff?”
As for him being back as part of the gang at National Front’s Labour Day rally, Mr Bolton says he just wanted to meet up with Mr Saleam, an old friend. He has actually had enough and been just a spectator of events for a few years now. He was certainly never the secret architect of the New Zealand white power movement – its history is just not that organised.
[Tired and weary.]
Some other long-serving far Right figures have also recently bowed out of the scene.
One is Anton Foljambe, the dapper and youthful bow-tie wearing Christchurch activist. The National Front went through a lull in the 1980s as Mr Bolton and others departed because of internal wrangling. Then Mr Foljambe emerged in the early 1990s to take over its leadership. He had formed his own Conservative Front political party in Christchurch, but found the National Front had more brand awareness.
Mr Foljambe picked up the organisation and ran it for about six years, when again citing the skinhead and racist elements making the party unelectable, he split. As with Mr Bolton, a string of alternative parties followed, including the Freedom Party, the National Democrats Party and an involvement with Kelvyn Alp’s Direct Democracy Party.
Then in 2007, it looked like Mr Foljambe had managed to fashion a Right-wing “super group” under the new banner of the Nationalist Alliance. This was meant to be a combination of the forces of his National Democrats, Mr Chapman’s Right Wing Resistance, Mr Bolton’s New Right and Mr Ansell’s National Front.
It was another of the moves that suggested to onlookers the extremist fringe in New Zealand politics could be mobilising for real. However Mr Foljambe confirms it was mostly hot air. Any actual allegiances soon fell apart. Although the National Alliance still exists as a name, it has become largely the fund-raising vehicle for Mr Chapman’s Land Base, a project Mr Chapman is pursuing with New Right’s current leader, Steve Larson.
In January this year, Mr Foljambe quietly announced his retirement from politics. Now occupied with a conservative Christian blog, Mr Foljambe says firmly: “I’ve not been involved for several years. I have no interest in some of the idiot ideas and idiot people that were part of it. And so now I don’t want to be associated with it in any way, shape or form.”
So another leader has gone. And is Mr Chapman himself really back?
Mr Chapman has been a pivotal figure for the white power movement as he combines both a skinhead’s street credentials and a politician’s brain. He has his rough side. As a teenager in Invercargill in the late 1980s, he admits to a string of petrol bomb arson attacks including one on a Southland marae. However, Mr Chapman also proved to be an articulate spokesman and effective recruiter for the movement when he took over the running of the National Front from Mr Foljambe in 1997, running it until its next implosion in 2005.
Mr Chapman now says he was always keeping the party together by the skin of his teeth. There were tensions in every direction.
The image of the National Front kept attracting the wrong people, he says. Just a few hotheads could cause it a lot of trouble. One Wellington member was charged, but later acquitted, for attacking three Somalis. There was an incident with stolen dynamite. Yet another when airguns were fired and an Auckland mosque was vandalised. This upset the straight members.
But then many of the skinhead members were actually quite moderate in their views, joining the National Front more as a social club, and it was they who found some of the intellectuals rather hard-line.
“The extremists would actually sit in a room and just openly, verbally, insult the moderates. It was like Islamic fundamentalism. Some of the intellectuals were offended by anyone who would take their beliefs in a moderate way,” Mr Chapman says.
It got too much and Mr Chapman says this is why he has now had enough of the politics. After leaving the National Front, he hooked up for a few years with Mr Foljambe’s National Democrats, but it was never anything serious, just protest politics. Done for the show rather than any real hope of achieving power.
Yes, he joined in with the Labour Day rally to hang out with his friends. However his current enthusiasm for skinhead survivalism has in fact been a reason for a falling out with the National Front old guard. They fear it will detract from their higher purpose, steal away members. So, as far as the party goes, he is still definitely retired.
Even Mr Ansell, the National Front’s current leader, would really rather not have the responsibilities. He says he was living quietly in Taranaki but was outed as a former New Zealand Nazi when he joined the board of a local business promotion organisation, Fast Forward Hawera, in 2006.
Unable to put the past behind him – “It was 25 years ago”, Mr Ansell protests – he agreed to take the helm of the National Front. But he says he has told the boys he is hoping someone else will soon step up to take over.
Like the others, Mr Ansell is surprisingly straight about the party’s essential problem. He says the National Front has largely survived as an organisation because it has brand recognition. No-one can remember all the many other splinter groups – the New Rights and National Democrats – and so it keeps coming back to the National Front as the name that gets revived.
And there, ironically, is also the difficulty as the National Front has come to be shorthand for “race-hate, skinhead thugs”. The political ideas are never heard. And the party keeps attracting precisely the hotheads that make it unelectable. The public image that guarantees the National Front wide attention, guarantees its failure as well.
Mr Ansell says he still believes in the politics, so he is going to stick with it a while longer to see what happens.
Yet it appears that this year’s brief flurry of activity is again, as Mr Bolton says, a case of a hell of a lot looking like it is happening, and really bugger all happening at all.