Earlier this week the Freedom and Rights Coalition, a group led by Brian Tamaki, travelled to Wellington to hold a “People’s Court” in which they condemned the Government for Crimes Against Humanity.
If you haven’t heard of them, the Freedom and Rights Coalition is an anti-government group that has opposed many of the Government’s public health measures, including the lockdowns of the Covid years and the vaccine mandates. Brian Tamaki is the founder of this group, and a key figure in the movement.
Leading up to the protest there was some concern that this protest may result in the violence and upheaval of the Convoy protest earlier this year which saw protesters camp on the steps of Parliament for 23 days.
However, leading up to the protest Brian Tamaki took pains to distance himself from the violence of #Convoy22, stating his movement was peaceful and assuring the public that violence would not be tolerated.
But, is this true?
To be clear here (and I could be wrong about this) I believe on one level Brian is not directly aiming for violence, nor do I believe his desire is to see it come about.
However, Brian is also a populist, Christian leader. He is adept at using language and rhetoric to build support and evoke emotions that tie people to his cause. Within the Christian, and especially Pentecostal context, it is not uncommon to use military imagery to evoke an “us and them” mentality within the Christian community. We – those who are good and true Christians – are the Just, obedient, loyal, chosen people of God. They – those outside our group, Christian or otherwise – are deceived, dangerous, enslaved by the powers of this world.
Recently, Brian’s rhetoric has expanded, and we’ve seen him integrating the language and messaging of his faith community, with the language and rhetoric of the Freedom Movement (a movement broadly defined by its opposition to government, vaccinations, and public health measures).
The “People’s Court” that Brian led earlier this week was a perfect example of this integration. And equally, it was a chilling illustration of the dangers of mixing these ideologies.
Regardless of whether one says they are after peace, or whether they genuinely are opposed to the use of violence to achieve political ends, words have power.
And the words being used by Brian Tamaki and the Freedom and Rights Coalition have buried within them the seeds of violence and anarchy.
Take for example the accusation that the Government, medical professionals, journalists, and anyone in a position of power who supported the Government’s public health measures is guilty of Crimes Against Humanity.
Crimes Against Humanity as listed below are defined as crimes committed by a State against their own people. Take a read of this list, and then ask yourself, what action would you take if you believed this was really what has been going on throughout the Covid years?
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
Crimes Against Humanity
- For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
d. Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
e. Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
g. Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
h. Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
i. Enforced disappearance of persons;
j. The crime of apartheid;
k. Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
Though many of those who joined Brian earlier this week very likely see themselves as a part of a peaceful movement speaking truth to power, it is also important for us to recognize that the language and rhetoric employed by the group holds within it the seeds of violent revolution.
Because when you tell people that they are being oppressed, that the Government is manipulating them, that the media is intentionally deceiving them, that the world powers are working together to harm and control you, your family, and your children, how do you expect people to respond?
Perhaps the majority attached to the movement see the protest for what it is, empty rhetoric, and theatrical politicking, but what about those who truly believe?
Is it not natural for an individual who believes their children, their freedom, their liberty, are at risk, to consider engaging in acts of terrorism in order to protect those they love?
It is important we recognize that this language and the images and messages they convey are leading us to violence. Brian Tamaki may not be intending to pull the trigger, but his movement is loading the gun.
Unless we step back from this divisive narrative, we will see people hurt. Already we have fringe groups who identify with the Freedom Movement calling for the execution of politicians, journalists and medical professionals. The language employed by Brian and the People’s Court, was their language, and feeds directly into the narrative they are building.
Regardless of his intentions, Brian Tamaki’s Peoples Court and the groups theatrical condemnation of the Government as guilty of Crimes Against Humanity, heightens tensions and feeds the energy of those are already calling for violence.
If we truly want peace, we must name this rhetoric for what it is, dangerous and divisive.
Frustration and anger at the Government is both reasonable and rational. However, those who are truly on the side of peace, will seek to create language that is able to give voice to that frustration, without feeding the beast of disunity and division which prowls throughout our nation, awaiting its moment to feed and destroy.
Love is the Way, those who truly want peace, must seek to place their feet upon it.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.
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