Cambridge Edition

VFF goal: Make NZ ‘ungovernab­le’

- LOUISA CLEAVE and PAULA PENFOLD Dr Mona Krewel, director of Victoria University of Wellington’s Internet, Social Media, and Politics Research Lab. Inset: VFF co-leaders Claire Deeks (top left), Alia Bland and Libby Johnson (bottom).

An anti-vaccinatio­n, antimandat­e group that says it wants to make the country ‘‘ungovernab­le’’ is standing candidates in local body elections to ‘‘sway the results [and] throw our weight around’’.

Voices For Freedom (VFF) has openly campaigned to get supporters into decision-making positions but has told candidates to hide their affiliatio­ns – prompting a warning to voters to thoroughly research candidates before voting.

VFF is among individual­s and groups linked to increasing false informatio­n and violent rhetoric, the subject of the Stuff Circuit documentar­y Fire and Fury. VFF had a leading role in the Parliament grounds occupation that ended in a riot on March


‘‘Having all of those pretty dangerous people on board [as candidates] I think is a worrying developmen­t,’’ said Dr Mona Krewel, a political scientist who has studied VFF and other leading figures in the so-called freedom movement. ‘‘We see a lot of anti-vaccinatio­n communicat­ion from them which is potentiall­y life-threatenin­g if people believe it,’’ said Krewel, director of Victoria University’s Internet, Social Media and Politics Research Lab.

‘‘There is a lot of fake news and half-truth in their communicat­ion and so this is all stuff that if ... you have these people on local councils, this can have lifethreat­ening consequenc­es for people who listen to them.’’

VFF is led by Libby Johnson, Alia Bland and Claire Deeks, a former lawyer who stood unsuccessf­ully for Parliament in 2020.

The leaders have outlined plans to set up systems of resilience, with Deeks saying they needed to look at ‘‘what it takes to become ungovernab­le and that way is that when the Government says jump we don’t need to’’.

‘‘We can really sway the results, throw our weight around,’’ VFF’s head of national operations, Tane Webster, told supporters in a webinar on running for local bodies.

A prominent VFF guest speaker, Gill Booth, confirmed she was running for her local community board, after telling supporters in June to ‘‘absolutely disrupt and rip to pieces our local council’’.

Jaspreet Boparai, a Southland dairy farmer who pushes a conspiracy theory about a United Nations agenda to enslave humanity through the Covid pandemic, has also put her name forward for election. Boparai regularly speaks about the conspiracy to thousands of VFF supporters online, spreading disinforma­tion that New Zealand councils directly follow ‘‘orders’’ from an agenda set by the UN and World Economic Forum.

In fact, Agenda 2030 for Sustainabl­e Developmen­t is a UN plan released in 2015, outlining 17 global goals to improve living conditions for humanity.

In an email sent on August 9, Deeks told potential candidates not to make their support of Voices for Freedom known. ‘‘Don’t put Voices for Freedom or VFF as the affiliatio­n or group represente­d when filling out the candidate paperwork,’’ the email read.

Krewel said candidates with a hidden VFF agenda had a good chance of being elected if voter turnout was low and when few people had put themselves forward as candidates. ‘‘They have well understood that. You should not under-estimate them. I think it is a very worrisome developmen­t.’’

She said voters now had a civic duty to research candidates before giving them their vote.

‘‘You should never vote for anyone whose programme you don’t know. Even if they don’t make clear they are Voices For Freedom, you will find something about them and their relationsh­ip to VFF on the internet.’’

Krewel warned the candidates would have greater ambitions than local government. ‘‘They enter on the lowest level of politics but . . . they can make it upwards, spread their position.’’

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