Thursday 3 March 2022

The Twenty-Third Day.

The Fire This Time: The Götterdämmerung the protest’s extremists had willed into existence over the preceding 22 days was finally upon them. Black smoke billowed-up from beneath the Pohutakawas, swirled around the statue of King Dick Seddon, and scudded over the nation’s Parliament on the wings of an early-autumn wind. New Zealand had never seen anything like it.

THE COUPLE sat in the middle of Molesworth Street sobbing. The young man turned his face away from the camera, shoulders heaving. The young woman stared directly at the camera lens, her face a pitiful picture of hurt and confusion. How had it come to this?

On Day 23 of the Occupation of Parliament Grounds, the Police’s patience ran out – as it was bound to, eventually.

Seldom has New Zealand witnessed a policing strategy which placed so much emphasis on “de-escalation”, or was so loathe to use violence to end what was, from the very beginning, an unlawful protest.

The restraint of Police Commissioner Andrew Coster offered a compelling historical contrast to that of Police Commissioner John Cullen, the man who called forth “Massey’s Cossacks” in 1913, and who in 1916 led the Police raid on Rua Kenana’s religious community at Maungapohatu. From the very beginning, Coster was determined to avoid the sort of violence for which Commissioner Bob Walton’s policing of the Springbok Tour is remembered. Coster was, after all, the senior police officer responsible for managing the Ihumatao occupation – the one that ended peacefully.

Unfortunately, it takes two to tango, and what passed for “the leadership” of the occupation steadfastly refused to dance. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that a peaceful resolution was never going to happen.

As the reports of the SIS’s Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG) released to the NZ Herald under the Official Information Act, make disturbingly clear, the “extremist elements” within the multi-faceted and “overwhelmingly peaceful” anti-vaccination and anti-vaccination-mandate movement, never had anything to gain from a peaceful resolution.

Coster, well aware of the CTAG assessments, gave every opportunity for the “overwhelmingly peaceful” elements encamped on Parliament Grounds to send him representatives with whom a meaningful dialogue about the character and duration of the occupation could be sustained. That this proved to be impossible indicates just how completely the residents of “Freedom Village” had allowed themselves to become enthralled to the ideas of its “extremist elements”.

Epitomised by that traumatised young couple in the middle of Molesworth Street, so many of the people participating in the occupation did not appear to grasp the reality of their situation. In spite of the fact that they had set their faces against the laws of the land. Heedless of the dangerous behaviour manifested by a growing number of their fellow occupiers. Regardless of the harm and inconvenience their actions were causing to others. The protesters continued to behave as if they were somehow immune to the likely consequences of their actions.

A pitiful picture of hurt and confusion. Two young protesters, Molesworth Street, Wellington. 2 March 2022.
Like the Native American “Ghost Dancers” of the late-nineteenth century, the protesters had convinced themselves that their powerful “medicine” would save them. The little world they had created on Parliament Grounds was stronger that “Jacinda’s” government; stronger than the journalists of the “evil media”; stronger than Andrew Coster and his “pigs”; stronger than anything the corrupt “system” could throw at them. Every attempt by that same system to engage with them and negotiate a peaceful resolution to their occupation was presented by the movement’s extremist guides as proof of their enemies’ diabolical cunning. All the more reason to “hold the line”.

The New Zealand government, and the New Zealand public, were prepared to let Coster give his de-escalation strategy a decent try. But, their patience was not endless. As the days turned into weeks, and the occupiers’ alternative reality kept smashing into the reality of everybody else, even Coster was forced to concede that his policy of reaching out and attempting to establish common ground had failed.

What’s more his intelligence reports began to align more and more alarmingly with the findings of CTAG. The peace, love and mung-beans crowd was thinning out, replaced by individuals eager to play the roles of “saviour” and “avenger” – by any means necessary.

It was time to wind it up.

And wind it up Coster and his highly-disciplined constables did. In scenes that will long be remembered, the Police in considerable numbers, and properly equipped (at last) with the riot gear needed to do the job, unleashed a torrent of pepper-spray on the protesters attempting to “hold the line” against the Police Commissioner’s encroaching army.

People reeled back in pain and shock. Eyes burning, skin burning, stumbling blindly, they were met by “medics” carrying 5 litre containers of milk to soothe the fire in the victims’ eyes. The skirmishers learned quickly to turn their backs to the Police, but that just offered the men and women with the riot shields increased surface area upon which to apply pressure. Remorselessly, the “line” was driven back.

And on this, the 23rd day, to the dismay of the protesters, the Police did not stop. Like the amplified messages on continuous loop telling the protesters that continued resistance would result in arrest, phalanxes of police officers just kept on coming. Soon, every corner of “Freedom Village” was under assault. In the manner of a garotte, the contracting police lines began, slowly but surely, to throttle the protest.

There was no perimeter to defend now, the blue tide was surging across Parliament Grounds, ripping out the occupiers’ tents, hurling them aside. Then the fires broke out. Tents and belongings burned. The protesters’ angry retreat became a rout. The Götterdämmerung the extremists had willed into existence over the preceding 22 days was finally upon them. Black smoke billowed-up from beneath the Pohutakawas, swirled around the statue of King Dick Seddon, and scudded over the nation’s Parliament on the wings of an early-autumn wind.

New Zealand had never seen anything like it.

In the dying days of World War II, as the British and Americans advanced deeper and deeper into western Germany, and the news of Adolf Hitler’s suicide spread, his people began to give up. His soldiers, too, started to surrender. One of these was photographed by Allied newsmen. Hans-Georg Henke was just sixteen, one of the boy-soldiers that had been Nazism’s last hope, and he was weeping openly before the cameras. His child’s face a pitiful picture of hurt and confusion.

Another Pitiful Picture: Sixteen-year-old Hans-Georg Henke surrenders. May 1945.
What had it all been for? How had the Fuhrer led Germany into this nightmare of death, destruction and defeat. Why had the German people allowed him to set their whole world on fire?

The look in the eyes of that young woman, as she clung tearfully to her young man in the middle of Molesworth Street on the 23rd day of the occupation; and the expression on the face of Hans-Georg Henke; were strikingly similar.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 3 March 2022.


Odysseus said...

The anti-mandate protestors have a legitimate grievance, as the High Court decision last week on the case brought by the Police and the Defence Force indicated. The government's refusal to hear their concerns and to indicate how and when the mandates will be lifted was an appalling failure of governance. To then use violence on such a scale is unforgiveable. This was an attack by the Illiberal Left, of which Ardern is the epitome, upon ordinary working class people who have lost their jobs and who have been ostracized as a result of her policies, which have no effect in limiting the pandemic. A day of shame for New Zealand.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

What scares me is the numbers of people who are willing to believe utterly crazy stuff. And psychology has shown that they are not amenable to reason. You can't reason someone out of an opinion they haven't reasoned themselves into – and there is a distinct lack of reason in some of the demands made by the fringe elements (I hesitate to call them fringe elements given that they seem to make up stand shall number of the protesters but there you are – perhaps fringe in their beliefs).
And of course the more evidence you present them with opposing their beliefs the firm of these beliefs become. Which is why I have consistently said that I don't comment here to change the minds of the conservatives on this site, but to give an alternative point of view for people who are searching for answers.
I think Americans were also surprised are displayed by the number of extreme right beliefs which were legitimised by Trump and his administration. They are now saying the quiet part out loud as they say. But thankfully unlike the United States only a couple of our politicians bother to grandstand by attending the demonstrations and talking to the eejits in charge. It probably won't do Winston any great harm, given that his supporters aren't particularly rational either, but I have hopes for one or two others .:)

David Stone said...

" Every attempt by that same system to engage with them and negotiate a peaceful resolution to their occupation was presented by the movement’s extremist guides as proof of their enemies’ diabolical cunning. All the more reason to “hold the line”."
There was no attempt by our government to engage and that was what was needed to resolve this situation peacefully. This was because the Government has no answer to the protesters legitimate concerns. The result is going to be a widespread dismay at the failure of our governance as perfectly described in the comparison of images in your last paragraph . I do assume that you identified the protester's dismay as being what was happening to her concept of the society she has lived in rather than what was happening to her protest.

Chris Trotter said...

To: David Stone

If, even now, David, you cannot see that the inhabitants of "Freedom Village" were not noble working-class battlers, but violent lumpenproletarians spoiling for a fight, then I cannot conceive of anything that could change your opinion of this incident.

Oh, and just for the record, I believe the young woman was mourning the loss of both her protest and her conception of society - accepting, of course, that both were egregiously misconceived.

The protesters never had any "legitimate concerns".

Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon

A quick proof-reading of your comments before hitting SEND would save them from the eccentricities of your predictive text software.

David George said...

Chris: "The protesters never had any "legitimate concerns".

What is a "legitimate concern"? Concern over state mandated "no Jabs no Jobs" would be legitimate, don't you think? The high court judge certainly agreed; as does a substantial number of our fellow citizens.

Jack Scrivano said...

Chris, do you not get a little depressed when, having put so much effort into crafting your pieces, so many of the comments are bordering on incoherent?

Ced Simpson said...

Sorry, what were the "protesters legitimate concerns"? The most frequently expressed demands of an immediate end to vaccination mandates and "all Covid-19 restrictions" seem illegitimate in a pandemic.

Unknown said...

Some of the original protesters had legitimate concerns concerning the mandates, but they seemed not to realise that they were keeping company with others who were trying to delegitimise the very idea of government. And this is spite of Kelvin Alps's Counterspin spewing out his hateful rhetoric non-stop! Not to mention the Facebook Live feeds from the likes of Chantelle Baker with their marginally sane conspiracy theories. The inability of the more genuine protestors to see what was right under their noses was a perfect example of cognitive dissonance.

Brian O'Brien

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sorry Chris, got too much on at the moment. :) It's not predictive text, it's dictation software as my arthritis won't let me type – it hasn't reached my lips yet. I'll try to do better with this one.

Couple of questions though.
The only people whose backgrounds I've come across in this protest are a couple of small business owners and a retired kindergarten teacher. So where is the evidence that these are all noble workers? Just askin'.

And while I sympathise with people who have lost their businesses, why are conservatives so concerned about them, when if ordinary workers lose their jobs it's just "Winners and losers" and "they'll just have to find another one won't they?" Are ordinary people somehow less worthy than small business owners?

It's also interesting how so many of the middle-class conservatives who comment here are so concerned with the plight of "ordinary workers" just now when they've never shown any evidence of it before. Could it be they are just using this as a stick to beat the left with? Heaven forbid!

Anonymous said...

If you think a lowly paid dishwasher who loses his job because he doesn't consent to a medical procedure doesn't have a legitimate concern, that's an opinion, I suppose.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Trotter says, 'The protesters never had any "legitimate concerns".'

How deliberately provocative. They had lost jobs, relationships and even homes because they didn't want to get vaccinated which is their right under the NZ Bill of Rights. They didn't want to get their children vaccinated because they viewed the vaccine risk as greater than the risk of covid to their children. But their children were being excluded and ostracized. You have your head deep in the sand along with every politician who treated them with the same disparaging condescension.

Archduke Piccolo said...

None so blind as who will not look; none so deaf as who will not listen; none so brainless as who will not think. I think it might not be a bad idea, whichever side of the fence one stands - or even perched upon the top wire - to suppose that those on the other side aren't loonies, or deplorables, or ignorant, or stupid, or are cursed with a nihilistic world view. Or, withal, that they don't have their own agency, that is to say, to suppose they are no one's 'useful idiots'.

It is also not a bad scheme to take as one's mantra a comment often attributed to Mark Twain: 'When you find yourself agreeing with everyone else, it is time to rethink your position.'

Writing off the protesters in Wellington as deluded, etc, etc. absolves one from having to think that maybe - just... maybe - they had something of significance to tell, whatever their difficulties in articulating it. Pretty comfortable spot upon which to ... uh ... stand (sit, lie, fall asleep).

Ion A. Dowman.

Ross F said...

Chris, this is a fine piece of writing. Congratulations

The Barron said...

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again

I get sick of all this crap justifying the virus infected violent shanty town Cesspudlians. We all know they were a messianic leader short of Guyana cool aid or party at the Polanskis. Perhaps it is time to accept that vaccines was the issue they were primed for, not an issue that defined them. If it was not this issue they would be feed another to undermine the state.

They are the fringe, but look at the political outskirt opportunists wanting to mobilize some of the Berserker army next election. Not just ACT, NZ First and the Conservatives, but the careful grooming of the Greens and the Maori Party not to loose the angry and alternative.

'Legitimate concerns'?, there is nothing legitimate about any of this. Bannon put together plans to destabilize - find an issue, claim freedom (even if it is about restricting the rights of others), claim you ae the oppressed ones (yeah, right), flags for patriotism, flags for identity, get the underachievers to think they have legitimate power obtained by force not reason, coalesce those that can not have popular support for vacuous views, add an exploitation of those with mental health issues, put on boil. stir rigorously for 23 days...

Perhaps if Bannonisation hasn't got your attention, I guess you weren't wondering what Paul Manafort was doing all those years in the Ukraine for pro-Russian Oligarchs, or Rudy Giuliani's trips to the Ukraine...

We live in troubling times for democracy and the ability for the state to protect the vulnerable. The most serious global health crisis in a century has still a long way to play out. Institutions and state mechanisms that have been built to service communities must be built on not undermined of dismantled. Processive politics is based on the greater good, support and community. Recognition of need, and meeting that need together.

Opportunists manipulating a mob mentality is dangerous and in a time of epidemic can be fatal to some of the most vulnerable. Long after the mandates have gone, there will be another issue based on disinformation. Those that write to Bowalley Road to rationalize the protesters or their supposed concerns are as manipulated as the retreating virus infested confused.

Yes, she is
Coming down fast

sumsuch said...

Watching the News today disgusted me at what they did to the place of our democracy. Sure, Douglas undermined our democracy for the rich but not on the scale of Reagan. The dissatisfied weaponised by the new media no matter they be 'respectable' or 'unrespectable' dissatisfied.

But lets recognise two things, that internet and the dissatisfaction of yertles that hasn't been allowed an outlet since the self-annointed 'meritocrats' -- that's what the ruling class really believes about itself -- took over in 1984.

sumsuch said...

At the most their concerns about mandates had a way of being addressed in our democratic society -- which they'd never heard of. Their inchoate dissatisfaction like the Capitol Hill people was their 'legitimate' message. Had the people been so near the centre of power there since Johnson, or before him, FDR? Yep, and they wanted rascist Fascism. What happens when you disallow social democracy. Which we've done a bit of here.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"They had lost jobs, relationships and even homes because they didn't want to get vaccinated"

Why all of a sudden are people who lose jobs being defended by people like you when they are normally dismissed as readjustments in the economy, winners and losers, or that grand old conservative/libertarian slogan "poor choices".

Something to tell us? Perhaps (Personally I believe they are just a lunatic fringe) – but you don't have to vandalise Parliament grounds over a period of weeks to tell us that. I've been on demonstrations – they're normally over within a few hours, there might be some chanting and maybe even a bit of damage, but you don't abuse innocent people, and you don't destroy public facilities paid for by taxpayers.
And more importantly, you actually tell people what your concerns are in a coherent and disciplined way. Aside from vaccine mandates – which were always going to be relaxed anyway, and hanging various politicians, I have no clue what they wanted. Perhaps this is all they wanted? But if someone wants to hang me, it might concentrate my mind – but it wouldn't make me want to talk to those people.

Pete said...

I'm enjoying the conundrums. Apparently the police, or someone, should have stopped the mass gathering and setting up camp where they did. Or they shouldn't have been moved on after 23 days.

And the PM or other politicians should have met with the protest leaders, whoever they were, (they didn't seem to know or couldn't decide.) Obviously police and other agencies with intelligence on the who and what of the gathering advised otherwise. Which path to take?

Fun. The realities of identifying 'leaders' and a spokesperson for those who'd lost their jobs with mandates. A spokesperson for those who believe the pandemic/vaccinations are a sinister plot to take over the world? A spokesperson who has the whole story about what's in the vaccines? A spokesperson for Freedom (distracted from their task of preventing media people enjoying the freedom of walking on that part of NZ)? A spokesperson for the "God is the Ultimate Warrior and governments shouldn't dictate"? A spokesperson for the "I have the system for how the country should be run" group? Somehow I don't think Kelvin Alps would have allowed a vote as to whether he should have been the one. but who'd be the leader of the homeless group.

So the 'leaders' get together and assembling becomes a bit of a problem with the rabid racist white supremacist realising there are some there with - shock horror - brown skin.

Or maybe just one representative of the whole group, someone to explain, and cajole and wheedle and ameliorate. Step on down Winston!

Oh, all the chances missed! The Youtube influencers could have streamed it, the reality TV people could have made a killing, (metaphorical) - imagine "Housewives of the Wellington Protest."

Judge Holden said...

Yeah nah. These people issued constant threats to execute politicians and journalists, had an incoherent set of demands and an anonymous leadership. Trying to negotiate was fruitless. They made the lives of everyday New Zealanders miserable when the solution to their problem lay in a short visit to the chemist. Millions of us have made that awful sacrifice. The Police showed remarkable courage and restraint and New Zealanders are grateful.

What needs to happen now us a reckoning for the instigators of tge violence. We all know who they are.