John Ansell, lizard creature
John Ansell did a good impression of one of those sci-fi lizard creatures on national television tonight, when he appeared on Close Up to discuss race relations in New Zealand with Hone Harawira and Morgan Godfrey.
A veteran of the advertising business, Ansell is best-known as the author of the Iwi/Kiwi billboard deployed by Don Brash during the bitter 2005 general election. Ansell was enthused by Brash's denunciations of Maori nationalism and biculturalism, and when his hero took control of the Act Party last year he was employed to produce a new series of provocative advertisements. But the long-winded broadsides Ansell created against the 'Maorification of everything' were unpopular even inside Act, and the party quickly distanced itself from him.
Ansell may be out in the cold politically, but his rhetoric has only become more heated over the past few months. In comments on right-wing blogs and in intermittent but often prolix posts to his own website, Ansell has warned of the 'Maori tradition' of 'treachery', decried the National government as a bunch of closet Marxists, expressed sympathy with the idea that 9/11 was an 'inside job', and cast doubt on whether women possess the ability to be responsible voters.
A number of Ansell's statements have shown his sympathy for the conspiracy theories of New Zealand pre-history and history promoted by men like Martin Doutre and Kerry Bolton and organisations like the One New Zealand Foundation and the National Front. The likes of Bolton and Doutre claim that white people established a civilisation on these islands thousands of years before Maori, and that the remains of this civilisation are hidden by a coalition of Maori, scientists, historians, and civil servants. They insist that the same sinister coalition has hidden the true text of the Treaty of Waitangi from public view, and has in recent decades set about the 'Maorification' of New Zealand.
Ansell has never held public office or an elected position in a political organisation, has never worked as a scholar on New Zealand society or history, and appears never to have published much except vituperative blog posts. Ansell was put on Close Up not to provide political or historical insights, but to engage in a bun-fight with Hone Harawira. While the token 'moderate' Morgan Godfrey sat looking rather bemused, Close Up host Mark Sainsbury repeatedly invited Ansell and Harawira to fire at each other. Ansell was happy to let loose, and his first few verbal volleys would have had many conservative Pakeha viewers nodding and muttering agreement. He complained about the "appeasement" of Maori radicals and about the establishment of "special" rights for Maori, and called for a "colourblind" government in New Zealand.
Ansell's charges were unfounded. Maori radicals like Rua Kenana, Syd Jackson, and Tame Iti have traditionally been arrested, not appeased, by the authorities they have railed against, and institutions like kohanga reo schools and Maori Youth Courts represent not privileges for Maori, but specifically Maori ways to access universal rights. But Ansell's misperceptions are shared by many Pakeha, who equate their own history with New Zealand history and their own identity with New Zealand identity, and regard the state institutions they crafted as institutions designed for the needs of all Kiwis. Many Pakeha are still personally affronted by Maori who do not identify with Pakeha history, traditions, and institutions, and some perceive Maori institutions like kohanga reo as symptoms of separatism, rather than the products of a desire for equality.
After his initial rhetorical success on Close Up, Ansell showed a little too much of a very strange ideology. The well-seasoned and popular complaints about Maori radicals and separatists gave way to a blast of conspiracy theory, as Ansell claimed that the National-led government is in the process of turning New Zealand into "apartheid Aotearoa".
With the excitement of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Ansell began to talk about the Constitutional Advisory Panel, an obscure committee set up last year to organise public debates on such burning issues as the royal honours system and the relevance of the Privy Council to New Zealand. The Constitutional Advisory Panel has no power to formulate, let alone implement, changes to New Zealand laws and institutions, and has widely been seen as a sop given by National to the Maori Party during coalition negotiations, and as a salary-earner for clapped-out politicians like Michael Cullen, John Luxton and Deborah Coddington.
Ansell assured Close Up's audience, though, that the Constitutional Advisory Panel is actually the tool John Key and Pita Sharples are using to turn New Zealand into a "communist, animist, and racist" state. The panel is apparently intent on creating a constitution which will outlaw private property, force all Kiwis to follow ancient pagan beliefs, and remove political rights from non-Maori inhabitants of these islands. Noting that he was speaking on the eve of Anzac Day, Ansell compared the coming Key-Sharples dystopia to the Nazi empire New Zealand forces fought in World War Two, and urged a new struggle against evil. The disguise of the fair-minded bloke had dropped; the weird lizard creature was revealed. Even Hone Harawira looked embarrassed by John Ansell's outburst, and Close Up's producers must have wondered whether they had taken their penchant for 'controversial' guests too far.
To his credit, Harawira refused to get down in the mud and wrestle with Ansell, and instead gently questioned the man's credentials and knowledge. When Ansell proclaimed that many Maori share his views, Hone wondered whether Ansell could name even three of his Maori supporters. Ansell fell quiet. After Ansell had banged on about New Zealanders losing their country to Maori radicals, Hone noted the thousands of Maori and Pakeha uniting to protest the sale of state assets and proposals for deep sea mining off New Zealand coasts by foreign companies. After Ansell had made his absurd link between 'Maorification' and Nazism, Hone discussed the experiences of his ancestors in the Maori Battalion during the First and Second World Wars.
It is not surprising that Hone Harawira was unimpressed by John Ansell's conspiracy theories, but I doubt whether even the more conservative viewers of Close Up bought into the notion that John Key is about to turn New Zealand into a communist, Maori-dominated, pagan society. With his half-dozen luxury homes and squillions of dollars in investments, John Key seems an unlikely Lenin. And National, with its overwhelmingly white membership and long history of rhetorical Maori-bashing, seems an unlikely surrogate for the Black Panther Party. Nor do the proscription of Bibles and the state-enforced hugging of trees on Sunday mornings seem likely in the near future in New Zealand. To all but a handful of viewers, Ansell's claims must have seemed otherworldly.
John Ansell's lurch from redneck respectability to purveyor of loony-fringe conspiracy theory reflects the intellectual difficulties of the far right in this country. Although Ansell and his co-thinkers are able to land isolated blows on their opponents by using rhetoric about 'Maori separatism' and 'special rights' that is popular with Pakeha, they are unable to formulate the credible narrative of New Zealand history and the coherent analysis of contemporary New Zealand society that are preconditions for building a serious following for the far right.
Until the 1970s, the far right in this country was able to piggyback on the hegemonic view of our history, a view which Chris Trotter expressed very well in a column for the late Independent:
In the beginning were the Moriori – a primitive Melanesian people who were easily defeated and exterminated by a proud and warlike Polynesian race called the Maori. The arrival of Europeans profoundly disrupted Maori society, forcing their chiefs to seek the protection of the all-powerful British Empire. Almost alone among Britain’s colonies, New Zealand was founded peacefully and in good faith. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed native property rights and gave Maori the legal status of British subjects. Unfortunately, the warlike Maori tribes proved incapable of keeping the peace, and the British Government was required to subjugate them by military force. As the Moriori succumbed to the more powerful Maori, so were the Maori forced to give way before the more civilised Europeans. However, the dignity and valour of their Maori adversaries left a deep and favourable impression on the victorious "Pakeha" settlers. Convinced they were descended from the same Indo-European stock, the two peoples intermarried freely, producing a vigorous hybrid nation famed throughout the world for its racial harmony.
For most of the twentieth century, the far right could happily assert that New Zealand whites were indigenes, by virtue of the martial victories of the nineteenth century and the interbreeding that had supposedly destroyed Maori as a distinct people. Opposition to Chinese and Indian immigrants and American movies and Marxist ideas could be justified with straightforwardly nativist rhetoric about the dangers of foreign pollution. The Maori seats in parliament and the Ministry of Maori Affairs could be condemned as obsolete. The march of assimilation could be cheered on.
For Maori banned from practising their traditional religion, from sitting on juries considering the fate of Pakeha, and from speaking their language at school, the assimilationist New Zealand that prevailed from the 1880s to the 1970s seemed anything but colourblind. The rise of Maori protest and the increased circulation of sensitive studies of New Zealand history made the old 'myth of New Zealand' described by Trotter untenable. As academic courses, official rhetoric, and the occasional law began to recognise New Zealand's binational nature, the racist far right found itself suddenly out in the cold. The sheer size of the Maori protest movement, both on the streets and in the universities, made the notion that New Zealanders constituted a single, harmonious race impossible to sustain.
Although a number of prominent Kiwi intellectuals, like CK Stead and Michael Bassett, emerged in the 1980s and '90s as critics of aspects of Maori nationalism, none of them has called for a return to the assimilationist policies of old. The National Party continues to engage occasionally in Maoribashing, but it is generally content, in practice, to try to coopt parts of the Maori renaissance, by making alliances with conservative iwi leaders and courting 'upwardly mobile' young Maori. National's coalition with the Maori Party, which nowadays mostly represents the Maori business community, exemplifies this strategy.
The far right has been struggling for decades to deal with the loss of its traditional narrative of New Zealand history and its traditional allies in the mainstream right. The claims by Doutre and Bolton about Celts, Phoenicians, and various other pale-skinned peoples reaching these islands and eventually being overwhelmed by Polynesians are attempts to give the far right a new narrative of New Zealand's past. Bolton and Doutre believe that their theories deprive Maori of the status as indigenes, and make the white dispossession of Maori in the nineteenth century a delayed act of justice. But Doutre and Bolton's claims are fantastic and poorly presented, and their connections to neo-Nazi movements, Holocaust deniers, and 9/11 Truthers hardly enhance their credibility. Attempts to explain the Maori renaissance of the last forty years as a sinister plot to impose communism, animism, and apartheid on New Zealand are similarly desperate. Conspiracy theories are generally a sign of intellectual failure, and the crackpot notions John Ansell has chosen to promote are no exception.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]