Almost a year after the Capitol riot, anti-vaccine mandate protesters in New Zealand attempted to storm the country’s parliament on Tuesday. And just like at the riot in Washington D.C. on January 6, many of those protesting were waving American flags, supporting former President Trump, and spouting QAnon conspiracies.
QAnon played a central role in the attack on the Capitol, and even though the conspiracy theory is based entirely on U.S. politics and politicians, the movement has found a home in almost 100 countries, including New Zealand.
Protests took place across New Zealand on Tuesday, organized by anti-vaxxer groups critical of the vaccine mandate introduced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government. The biggest protest took place in the capital Wellington on Tuesday, which saw thousands of protesters descend on the parliament in scenes eerily reminiscent of the attack on the Capitol.
Prior to the protests on Tuesday, organizers had urged those attending to storm the parliament building. “A group of 1000 people can storm in and get her and her supporters and arrest them for treason,” a user in one Telegram group used to organize the protest wrote. “Or shoot them. If we don’t have guns, shoot them up with a triple dose of Pfizer.”
On Tuesday, while protesters didn’t manage to get inside the parliament building, some protesters in Wellington allegedly grabbed and pushed a cameraman, and threw tennis balls with “Hang Ardern” at the building. In Auckland, a protester allegedly bit a police officer.
The similarities with the Capitol Riots were all the more real thanks to the presence of QAnon supporters, who revealed to local media that while they had adopted the U.S. conspiracy theory, they had also given it a local twist.
One group of QAnon supporters told Stuff that Ardern was involved in child sex trafficking and that she had actually been arrested during a visit to the White House in 2019 and she was now wearing an ankle bracelet to track her movements.
One supporter said the arrest came after Ardern signed some document that authorized China to spy on former President Donald Trump. “That’s an act of war, brother,” the unnamed QAnon supporter said.
Though Ardern did meet Trump in 2019, the meeting took place in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. There is no indication that Ardern ever signed any document to authorize spying on Trump.
As has been the case elsewhere, QAnon took hold in New Zealand at the same time as the country enacted a hugely restrictive country-wide lockdown as it sought to reach a zero-COVID state. The country was one of the first to shut its borders to all international visitors in March 2020, only allowing residents to return if they agreed to complete two weeks of hotel quarantine first. While New Zealand briefly opened a travel bubble with Australia earlier this year, that was subsequently shut down again in response to a spike caused by the delta variant.
QAnon conspiracies quickly merged with other conspiracy theories, including claims that vaccinations were part of a population control effort and claims that 5G cell towers were spreading COVID-19.
In the past, many non-U.S. QAnon groups have dramatically changed the conspiracy theories to their specific sociopolitical and cultural environments. As QAnon emerged from fringe websites like 8chan, early adopters took the messages posted by the anonymous leader Q and interpreted or decoded them to fit their own narratives.
But in Wellington on Tuesday, the QAnon supporters were waving Trump flags, suggesting they had bought into the narrative coming out of the U.S. wholesale.
“Now that QAnon communities are as often disconnected from its originating chan culture, as they are connected to it, we can see that those who were not part of the participatory decoding process take QAnon narratives much more at face value,” Marc Andre Argentino, a researcher who tracks extremist groups, tweeted.
It’s unclear as of yet whether this change in the way QAnon is exported globally at face value is more or less dangerous than adapting it, but Argentino believes that “for some of the more antisemitic or violent narratives in QAnon, this can be more harmful, whereas in other instances it is simply absurd.”
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