THERE’S A CURIOUS disconnect between the Left’s support for the Muslim community and its deep-seated mistrust of the security services. On the one hand, they are demanding that white supremacists be hunted down and brought to justice – by any means necessary – while, on the other, they are wary of expanding the already extensive powers of the secret state. The problem, of course, is that it’s very difficult to achieve the former without promoting the latter. It is, however, far from certain that the Left understands this.
One of the most consistent themes to emerge from the Left’s response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque Attacks is that of the authorities’ failure to identify and neutralise Brenton Tarrant’s terrorist operation. Unspoken in these critiques (most probably because those making them are unwilling to acknowledge the full implications of their own demands) is the expectation that, in order to guard against such a terrible crime ever happening again, the Ardern Government will oversee a significant expansion of the National Intelligence Community’s (NIC) counter-terrorist capabilities.
But what, exactly, would that look like? By what means could the activities of a Brenton Tarrant be detected? He had planned his operation with considerable care, always conscious of the need to avoid attracting the attention of the authorities. He understood the acute vulnerabilities of a democratic society and exploited them ruthlessly. Most particularly, he took advantage of our system’s fundamental assumption that people are motivated by good (or, at least, not illegal) intentions. By the time a society like our own realises that it is dealing with someone whose intentions are homicidally destructive – it is far too late.
To its credit, the Royal Commission recognised this core truth of the Christchurch Attacks: that only the intervention of pure chance could have prevented Tarrant from carrying out his deadly mission. The Left, however, remains unsatisfied. It refuses to accept that Tarrant was essentially unstoppable. With all its powers, surely the secret state could have intercepted Tarrant’s electronic communications? A proper network of spies and informants, buried deep in the white supremacist movement, would have had no difficulty in picking-up on this new member of the gun club; this obsessive body-builder at the gym; this traveller with the interesting collection of stamps in his passport.
But, what sort of society would that be? A society in which the state is permitted to eavesdrop on any and every communication without the benefit of a judicial warrant, would hardly merit the title of “democratic”. Likewise, any society in which every new face, every unguarded comment, is noted, recorded and reported to the security services by a vast secret network of spies and informants. A society, in short, bearing a striking family resemblance to the society of the (East) German Democratic Republic (GDR) and its state security (Stasi) protectors.
Is that really the direction in which the Left would like to see Aotearoa-New Zealand travel?
The scary thing is that it’s not entirely clear that such a society is not the Left’s ultimate goal. Not when its extreme antipathy to white supremacy and its determination to protect vulnerable groups from its “hate crimes” and “hate speech” are factored into the equation. After all, it was the Socialist Unity Party’s (as the GDR’s communists called themselves) fear of fascism, both within the GDR and across the border in the Federal Republic (West Germany) that led to the creation of the Stasi and the building of the Berlin Wall.
Is it really too fanciful to suggest that, just as the East German working-class sought protection from any resurgence of the recently defeated Nazis, so, too, does Aotearoa’s diverse multicultural society require protection from the hateful manifestations of white supremacy?
It is so very tempting to buy into the goals and methods of counter-terrorism when the terrorists are people you despise. Think back to the early 1960s, when the Black civil rights movement was being beaten, bombed and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Recall the enraging photographs, published in Life magazine, of lounging Southern sheriffs, obscenely confident that their murderous suppression of African-Americans would go unpunished by the all-white juries empanelled to determine their guilt or innocence. Remember the increasingly shrill demands from liberal Americans that the FBI must “do something” to shut the Klan down. The unspoken assurance being that, whatever the FBI's “something” amounted to, the federal government would turn a blind eye.
And it worked. Of course it worked! Paid informers, midnight abductions, threats of torture, infiltration, disinformation, fostering extreme paranoia, deliberately inciting factional strife: such tactics always work. And when the Ku Klux Klan began to eat itself and its members started ratting each other out to the Feds, well, liberal America just set its jaw, shook the FBI Special Agents’ hands, and murmured “Well done.”
It is, however, important to remember that although the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Programme (COINTELPRO) may have started with the Klan, it didn’t end there – no siree! Having shut down the southern white supremacists, the FBI turned its attention to the burgeoning left-wing movement against the war in Vietnam; the Black Panther Party; Students for a Democratic Society. Because, that’s the thing about counter-terrorism in a capitalist society: it may crack down on the Right out of a sense of duty; but destroying the Left is something it will always do happily – for the pure pleasure of watching it burn.
Has the New Zealand Left forgotten already the enormous fuss they made about the ill-fated “Operation Eight”. How appalled they all were when the Police and other elements of the security services moved against a group of left-wing activists observed training in the Urewera Ranges with semi-automatic weapons and Molotov cocktails? Have they forgotten their outrage at the illegal use of surveillance equipment? The interception of e-mails. The heavy-handed raid on Ruatoki? Their message to the National Intelligence Community, then, was admirably clear: “Stop trying to turn New Zealand into a police state!”
Ah, yes, but Operation Eight was directed against the Left’s friends and comrades – wasn’t it? Thirteen years on, what would the response be if the news media broke a story about a group of heavily armed white supremacists undergoing military training in a remote South Island pine forest? How many on the Left would complain, I wonder, when scores of heavily-armed and armoured police officers descended on the little Canterbury town of Geraldine to apprehend the fascists?
Hopefully, the outcry in defence of New Zealanders’ civil liberties would be just as loud in 2020 as it was in 2007. Hopefully, the insistence on the presumption of innocence would be just as great.
Every state possesses the means to keep its citizens under strict control. The democratic trick is to ensure that it receives no encouragement to use them. If governments are incited to believe the worst of their citizens, then those citizens will not be slow to live up to their masters’ expectations.
Be careful what you wish for.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 15 December 2020.