Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux brought to New Zealand a taste of the alt-right attitudes currently shaping the political landscape of North America, and now Jordan Peterson, another Canadian, looks set to repeat the dose with his planned visit to New Zealand early next year.
New Zealanders raged against the views of Southern and Molyneux and no doubt will again when Peterson touches down, but these ideas don’t only come from Canada—Aotearoa has its homegrown groups, such as the long-running National Front, whose similar beliefs slip by without much attention. Currently, The National Front sits on the very fringe, with only around 1000 paying members. But is the group learning the lessons of the international alt right and dressing its xenophobia in the respectable clean-cut image exemplified by the Canadian trio?
There are many ideological similarities between these speakers and the National Front, but more interesting than these ideas is their approach to disseminating them, using pseudo-academia, clean-cut appearances and a calm composure to make them less confronting.
In the past, The National Front has infamously been associated with skinheads, white supremacists and violent action. Two of the organisation’s leaders have used violence against minorities: current leader Colin King-Ansell was jailed for 18 months in 1967 for firebombing a synagogue in Auckland and his predecessor Kyle Chapman confessed in an interview in 2004 to firebombing a Southland marae. Ansell is considered one of the founding fathers of the New Zealand Nazi movement; he has since claimed to have renounced Nazism.
I recently interviewed the National Front’s community organiser Chris McCabe and found he was doing his best to project an image at odds with the group’s violent history. Rather than one of the gaunt skinheads previously associated with the organisation, I found that McCabe was an unassuming Englishman in a dress shirt and tie enjoying a scone and a latté outside a cafe. I had come to Palmerston North to meet him and the other National Front members who had travelled from Hawke’s Bay to hand out pamphlets as part of their “It’s OK to be White” campaign. When asked about this change in image, McCabe said that although members of the organisation may still hold some “legacy” beliefs, since he has joined the organisation in 2016 he has not heard any discussion of white supremacy or Nazism.
Instead, the organisation now presents a different image, and claim that all they wish to do is initiate a conversation around ethnic diversity in the modern era, a la Southern and Molyneux. By veiling beliefs and attitudes that many consider hate speech in pseudo-intellectualism, that duo dominated the national discussion for a week, appearing on the 6pm news and garnering the kind of coverage the previous generation of far right-wingers could never dreamed of.
Alt-right speakers like Southern and Molyneux are practiced in the art of treading the line between being inflammatory enough to gain coverage—and as a result a platform to reach potential followers—and being so inflammatory that their perspective is ignored and shunned by mainstream media. It seems clear, in speaking with McCabe, that this is the approach the organisation is taking. They have not yet achieved anything near the level of attention given to out Canadian guests, but in the time I spent with the organisation in Palmerston North, I saw first-hand the effect this new approach is having.
One of the most famous images of The National Front is from the 2004 protest outside of Parliament—a rally of skinhead-style fury, SS neck tattoos, screaming, and scuffles with anti-protesters. Only the most extreme could have found anything to admire in that. But, in Palmerston North, I watched McCabe—fashionably attired and seemingly far from far-right thuggery—approach an unassuming white man in his thirties, who was pushing a pram down the street. McCabe handed the man a pamphlet and told him it was about “the predicament of white Europeans globally”.
The man smiled. “Interesting, I like it!”