THERE IS A DREADFUL LOGIC to the growth of fascism. To begin with, it seldom emerges in circumstances of left-wing weakness. Indeed, fascism is almost always a response to what the Right regards as the dangerous strength – or even the imminent triumph – of the Left. Fascism seeks to check the Left, and establishes its typically dictatorial political regimes to prevent the Left from rebuilding and reasserting the power that made fascism “necessary” in the first place.
I couldn’t help musing upon the genesis of fascist movements as I watched a recording of the Dargaville meeting organised by the Christian evangelist Julian Batchelor. The third of many such meetings planned by Batchelor under the banner: “Preserve Democracy, STOP Co-Governance”.
The explicit purpose of Batchelor’s roadshow is to build a mass political movement of Pakeha New Zealanders, not only to stop co-governance, but also to halt what he sees as the state-sanctioned elevation of Māori over European culture. Batchelor’s principal targets are the “tribal representatives or elite Māori” and “elite Māori treatyists” who, he alleges, are hell-bent on transforming New Zealand into “the Zimbabwe of the South Pacific”.
The planned culmination of Batchelor’s anti-Co-Governance crusade is a 100,000-strong gathering to be held at the Auckland Domain on the eve of the General Election – Friday, 13 October 2023.
This is a truly ambitious target. The largest political demonstration ever recorded in New Zealand took place on the eve of the 1938 General Election, when 70,000 supporters of the First Labour Government – most of them trade union members – rallied at the Auckland Domain in a non-violent show of working-class strength.
For Batchelor to succeed, he would need to awaken a huge, and so-far undetected, strata of angry Kiwi racists. And when I say “huge”, I’m talking in the order of a million citizens. A million! Yep. To get a crowd of 100,000 supporters in the Domain, he would have to generate at least that many followers. In any organisation, the ratio of passive to active members is generally around 10:1. Batchelor is, therefore, hoping that at least 20 percent of New Zealanders are mad as hell about co-governance, everything it stands for, and that they’re not going to take it anymore.
About now, the readers of this post will be saying to themselves: “Not. Going. To. Happen.” What they may not be factoring-in to this political equation, however, is the dangerous dynamic at work in what appears to be Batchelor’s method of building his mass movement.
The crowd that gathered in the Kaipara Community Hall in Dargaville on 9 March 2023 was not composed solely of angry and/or curious Pakeha. As any astute observer of current events in the Far North could have predicted (especially following the “Karakia Incident” at the Kaipara District Council meeting back in October 2022) roughly half of the people turning up to hear Batchelor were angry and/or curious Māori. Unsurprisingly, it did not take long for the meeting to dissolve into rancour. Local Māori were shocked by Batchelor’s uncompromising rhetoric. Accusations of “blatant racism” elicited angry responses from those supporting the speaker’s argument. The Police were called. Things turned nasty.
And it was all recorded. Cleverly edited, the confrontation at Dargaville, may yet serve as a powerful recruitment tool for Batchelor’s cause. Posted on social media it may persuade a larger number of angry/curious Pakeha to turn up to the next meeting. Which may turn even nastier, because, predictably, Māori and their anti-racist Pakeha allies are threatening to turn up to shout down Batchelor’s “hate speech”. Undoubtedly, the Police will, once again, be present to keep the antagonists apart. All the elements will be there for another riveting social media post.
Thinking ahead – and apparently unaware of the many legal and political fish-hooks embedded in their intentions – Batchelor’s opponents are planning to contact local councils around the country and urge them not to allow the “blatant racist” to hire their facilities for his public meetings. If some local councils, perhaps worried that Batchelor’s meetings might become unruly, or, even worse, attract threats of serious violence, decide to deny him access to their facilities, then as sure as eggs-are-eggs, the Free Speech Union will become involved. Instantly, Batchelor’s cause will expand to embrace not just the “dangers” of co-governance, but the threat its promoters pose to New Zealanders’ freedom of expression.
It is at this point that Batchelor, providing he possesses both the political smarts and the rhetorical skills to take full advantage of the unfolding situation, may be able to break his movement out of its narrow psychographic confines to engage with a much broader ideological community. People who may not be as hostile to co-governance as Batchelor, but who are extremely hostile to the angry crowds who turn up to shut his meetings down, may feel obliged to, at least, defend his freedom of speech. There may even be an element who feel strongly enough to offer themselves as “security” for Batchelor’s meetings. Naturally, they will wear uniforms – to assist both the Police and the public in distinguishing them from the “extremists”.
With unnerving speed, Batchelor’s movement will begin to acquire all the historical hallmarks of fascism. This will only increase if the Police and the mainstream news media are widely perceived to be – and are criticised for – taking the side of the protesters. Batchelor’s essentially conspiratorial argument that “the elites” are determined to destroy New Zealanders’ rights and freedoms on behalf of anti-democratic “treatyists” will, in the eyes of more and more citizens, be vindicated. The claim that the Left has become too powerful will find a growing number of adherents.
Observing the rapid growth of Batchelor’s far-right pressure group, the National and Act parties will find it very difficult to resist the temptation to range themselves alongside it. Neither of these “official” representatives of the Right will want to be caught opposing Batchelor, for fear that their rivals will immediately come out in support. It is equally hard to see NZ First and the other, even smaller, right-wing parties turning down the chance to piggy-back on what Batchelor’s opponents are angrily calling New Zealand’s shameful “white supremacist” movement.
An awful lot would have to go completely right for Julian Batchelor before his currently tiny travelling roadshow burgeoned into a movement capable of mustering 100,000 New Zealanders into the Auckland Domain. The best reason he has for optimism, however, is the current febrile state of the New Zealand Left. More than any other single factor, the Left’s reaction to Batchelor’s campaign will determine whether it remains a passing curiosity, or develops into something really nasty.
It is, sadly, entirely possible for the worst to happen. If Batchelor becomes the voice of aggrieved Pakeha. If National, Act, NZ First, and all the others rally to his cause – for fear of being lumped in with “treatyists”, “cultural Marxists”, and all the other manifestations of the “Woke Left” – then a great, 100,000-strong, gathering of the right-wing clans in the Auckland Domain on Election Eve suddenly becomes a “live” proposition.
Fascism almost always starts small. Sadly, it doesn’t always stay that way. Especially when the Left helps it to grow.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 17 March 2023.