This article originally appeared on VICE NZ.
Shortly after the attack that killed 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch on March 15, Paito Sonny Fatu posted an online message to his hundreds of followers in the Mongrel Mob Kingdom. “It is at times like these, when our people seem most divided and apart, that we must unite and forget our differences for the greater good.”
The Waikato-based gang boss has been a prominent voice for solidarity with the Muslim community in the media this week. Fatu and his patched whanau members turned up to their local mosque with bouquets of flowers and returned today to offer protection during Friday prayers, one week on from the massacre which has left New Zealand in a state of shock and grief. As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons and all assault rifles, Fatu declared gang members would stop using the rallying cry "sieg heil" and swastikas, symbolism the Mongrel Mob has historically used as a deliberately offensive anti-social stance rather than due to any links to Nazism.
Now, says Fatu, the Mongrel Mob Kingdom—the world’s largest Mongrel Mob organisation—is reaching a new stage of maturity, one that’s focused on “getting people productive, constructive and positive”.
His statements about the attacks have been met with messages of thanks from Muslims throughout the world. “We did it for the cause, not for the applause,” says Fatu “But it’s good to see that there are people out there who see what we’re doing. Usually, if someone’s going to read something about what gang members are doing, they’re going to do it with a closed mind. It’s good for people to see it with an open mind.”
Fatu knows a bit about bringing people together. He’s one of the brokers of a relationship between Waikato chapters of the Mongrel Mob and Black Power, two gangs that have a 30-year history of fierce, sometimes deadly, conflict.
VICE talked to Fatu about this horror week and where to next for Aotearoa.
VICE: After the attacks you put out a call for us to “ forget our differences for the greater good” . Why did you make this public statement?
Sonny Fatu: So many people are so focused on what they are getting up to that they lose track of things going on in the world. Somebody has got to do something about it. In terms of who we are, we love our people. We love our communities. The gangs are actually a community. We have to play our role.
The Mongrel Mob has a history of deadly rivalry with Black Power. What do you know about hate and what it does to people?
Wherever there is sickness bad things will follow. Gangs were created through colonisation and all the rest of it—it was all about us re-finding our identity, finding our mana. All the wars went on then. Back in the early days people were prepared to die for the cause, this period is all about who is willing to live for it now. We have to build and we have to be more productive and constructive. If we don’t, then we'll perish clinging on to our own self-interests.
How do you overcome hate?
You look for the common ground and use those magic words, it’s all about family, it’s all about respect and it’s all about love. You put out those subliminal messages. It’s like seeds—you plant them in minds and carry on working on it and you’d be quite surprised how things change. This is something that has been going on for some time. We didn’t make it happen in the last year or so, it’s been over 13 years. And it’s got to maturity now.
Have you personally encountered white supremacists views in New Zealand?
We all live in the same world. Each and every one of us has come across disrespect and stereotypes. We all have our experiences with it and it is was it is. Some people feel ugly about it and some people can choose to be more productive. Understand that it is out there and when you come across it you are already prepared for it. You’ve already got it in your psyche.
Why are you providing protection for prayers at the mosque on Friday?
We knew that sooner or later something was going to pop off. The writing has been on the wall for some time now. We were approached by that organisation [the Waikato Muslim Association] and we heeded the call. These people need it. They are us, and we are them.
Will you be going back next week?
We’ll be there as long as they need us. We’re in it for the long term. We don’t want to go over there because it’s going to make us look good. This is genuine love and awhi and manaakitanga for the people.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about New Zealand’s future?
I believe that we’ll get over this. Absolutely. New Zealand will get up, dust ourselves off and get back into the struggle. This hasn’t weakened us. It has strengthened us.
See more photos by George Goss on Instagram.