Hard News by Russell Brown

172

On joining the international troll circuit

Speaking shortly after the event at the Powerstation in Auckland was cancelled on Friday, Caolan Robertson, the self-styled agent for Canadian race grifter Lauren Southern declared that "powerful forces" were behind the venue's decision to dump the booking for Southern and her associate Stefan Molyneux. The reality was more prosaic.

I don't credit Powerstation co-owner Peter Campbell's claim that when the Canadian pair's promoter Axiomatic Events came to him seeking a booking the evening before (the timing does suggest that the company had had trouble getting a booking anywhere in the city) he had no idea who they were. (Peter has been known to say random things to journalists when under pressure.) Nor Southern's own claim that the cancellation was the work of a "scary and violent minority".

What happened was that from the minute the venue was revealed to ticketholders at 1pm on Friday, the people who use the Powerstation, both artists and fans, revolted. Music venues serve a community and the Powerstation's community swiftly made its unhappiness apparent, on social media, by email and, quite probably, by telephone.

That's reflected in the account of Campbell's co-owner in the venue, fashion designer Gabrielle Mullins.

Powerstation co-owner Gabrielle Mullins told the NZ Herald yesterday that after receiving complaints from the community, they decided to cancel.

Ms Mullins said she was "not comfortable at all" to have the speakers at the venue.

"Certainly freedom of speech is fine but there are also humanitarian issues.

"They can say whatever they want but personally I don't want it in my venue."

Update: I'm told Gabrielle attended the anti-fascist rally herself on Friday evening.

At heart, it's a similar problem to that faced by the Canadians' original venue, the Bruce Mason Centre, but in the Powerstation's case, the reputational risk was even greater. Hosting this show would potentially be very bad for business. Not because the "far left" would exact punishment, but because the usually-not-terribly-political community the Powerstation relies on for business would feel betrayed.

And yet, what the Powerstation owners did was potentially a breach of the Human Rights Act. You can say "You can't play here because your band sucks" – venues do that all the time – but saying "You can't play here because your Nazi band sucks," is discrimination on grounds of political opinion, which is a breach of the Act. Of course, on the face of it, that's what every other venue in Auckland had already done.

I don't expect it to end up in court on those grounds. But while the Canadians, deprived of a paying audience, went on an interview jag, Robertson, not so much an angry manchild as an angry child, was threatening retribution:

"We're going to go after the venue, we're going to go after the media, we're going to go after all the people who've decided to slander it," he told Newshub.

He said this about two hours after an email from the promoters to ticketholders lamented the way venues were "bullied", and continued:

"It's basically the whole media in this country who have written hit pieces constantly saying that Lauren's racist and a white supremacist."

In truth, most news organisations have avoided bluntly describing the Candians as racists, and some prominent columnists (most notably John Roughan in the Herald) seemed keen to minimise the awfulness of their ideas. That became a more challenging rhetorical job after Simon Copland's shocking live-tweeting of their Sydney event, in which he transcribed Molyneux regaling his audience with vile and explicitly racist pseudohistories of indigenous Australians.

That followed the "free speech" protest in Aotea Square, which emerged as more of a fan rally for the British racist and serial criminal Tommy Robinson. Certainly, it was still possible to defend the Canadians' speech as vile but nonetheless worthy of protection. But it was hardly viable to crack on like they were just some oddball intellectuals with interesting ideas. As if to make the point, a group protesting against the cancellation back in Aotea Square on Saturday was literally displaying swastikas.

And now we're left with the mess. There was some strong criticism of TVNZ's Sunday programme for giving the Canadians a "platform" last night. But it's a fact that it was the resistance to their speaking visit that made it a news story – that was the point of the resistance – and I thought reporter Tania Page and producer Paul Deady did a pretty good job.

Their description of Elliot Ikilei, who was presented as a supporter of the Canadians' message, should, however, have been better. He was described as a "youth worker" – but the context of his youth work bears noting.

Before he went to Statistics NZ to train census field teams last year, he was the community liaison manager at Villa Education Trust's South Auckland Middle School, and last year he stood for the Conservative Party in Manurewa (he is now deputy leader of the New Conservative Party). In the past week on his Facebook page, he has celebrated being "honoured" by Whaleoil, championed Donald Trump, shared a Dinesh D'Souza video slating multiculturalism and ceaselessly backed the two Canadians. I'd have been interested in asking him how he squares touting his Tongan-Niuean-Māori whakapapa to his electorate with championing Western culture and vilifying multiculturalism. (The answer possibly lies in his background with the Pentecostal Horizon Church.)

But, he exists and he is not alone. There will remain a market in New Zealand for ideas like those of Molyneux and Southern. And it will be messy, because the international troll circuit is in the nature of a shitshow.

In June, the Canadians' Aussie promoter Dave Pellowe was the subject of a threatening visit from notorious neo-Nazi Neil Erikson and some biker muscle, who believed Pellowe had sabotaged a rival's attempt to tour Milo Yiannopoulos in Australia. (A week later, Erikson and some other neo-Nazis were in court facing assault and other charges subsequent to Yiannopoulos's gig in Melbourne last year. He has also been convicted of stalking a rabbi.)

It's just who these people are and what their world is like. Caolan Robertson, for example, is a close and keen associate of Tommy Robinson, who has a long criminal record, including convictions for fraud  and for violently assaulting an off-duty policeman who tried to stop him assaulting his girlfriend. There's a lot of crime and violence in this world.

So the bear has been poked now. Supporters of Southern and Molyneux on local social media have been both profoundly butthurt and notably emboldened by recent events. Then there are the troll/bot accounts with single-figure followings who have appeared suddenly to harange "leftists". That's a little unnerving. Some of these people are fond of depicting cultures other than theirs as a pestilence, but really, it's their own ideas that most resemble an infestation. And sadly, they're probably not going away.

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