Meet Paparoa: The Online New Zealand Community Challenging Hate

12 07 19

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As the homepage of Paparoa reminds us, even after a horrific event such as the Christchurch massacre which rocked New Zealand and onlookers across the globe to their core, “sooner or later we’ll move on”. Before this happens however, it asks “What can we do to make sure this never happens again?”

The headings elsewhere on the homepage double up as a clear, timeless and inspiring response: “Standing up to the far right – it’s about ordinary people doing what comes naturally”. The natural – that is, respectful, caring and vigilant – responses did indeed follow from ordinary New Zealanders. The site notes how, following the Christchurch massacre:

“There were huge public gatherings; vigils; thousands wearing headscarves in solidarity; hakas  performed all over the country; gang members providing security during prayers; sports events and concerts cancelled; floral tributes outside the Botanic Gardens; Christians going to mosques to share worship; websites taken down; laws changed; and millions of dollars collected for the victims’ whānau.”

And Paparoa is another such response. Indeed, as the site details, the Māori word refers to “an area spread with cloaks to mark a special place of honour”. The creators of Paparoa consider it their “sincere tribute to the victims of the terrorist massacre in Christchurch” and call on all of us to “honour them by ensuring racism becomes permanently off-limits in Aotearoa/NZ.” To learn more about this effort, I spoke to Linda Williams, one of the founders of the site, to learn more.

Can you explain what the aims of Paparoa are and what motivated those behind it to create it?

Tēnā koutou katoa.Paparoa was created in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque massacre. It was a day of horror that most kiwis will never forget. 51 Muslims were murdered by a lone wolf who had been blinded by the “Great Replacement” theory.

We’re not your typical antifa collective. Public outrage was so widespread that a lot of ‘everyday’ people signed on within days. This has given us deep roots into a lot of communities. But working people are more cautious about becoming targets, so we decided to anonymise everybody. That is, we’re building a membership-driven organisation with people that don’t (and can’t) know each other! It’s a mind jam at first (how do you keep out infiltrators?) but we’ve found a logistical way through.

We’re not your typical antifa collective. Public outrage was so widespread that a lot of ‘everyday’ people signed on within days.

A couple of savvy computer folk have also put together a wiki-style database which we’re using to collect info on people and organisations on the far right, along with social media screenshots and photos. It’s all so much simpler and cheaper than I’d have ever believed! I’m sure they’d be happy to do the same thing for other collectives, if asked nicely! (You can contact [email protected]).

Many outside of New Zealand were unfamiliar with far-right activity there until the Christchurch attack, was this the case for most New Zealanders also?

Kiwis have been quiety trained to turn a blind eye on racism. Police don’t collect data on hate crimes, despite calls to do so from the Human Rights Commission, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the U.N. Human Rights Council. Spy agencies haven’t been interested either: there’s not a single mention of right-wing extremism in ten years of public documents.

Our history is full of overt racism, particularly towards the Māori and Chinese, but those stories have been papered over with a proud myth of egalitarianism. That has changed. We are different now.  

A vigil in Wellington on 17 March 2019 for the Christchurch attacks

Whilst directly targeting Muslims in New Zealand, the Christchurch attack was distinctly international – the killer attempted to garner an international audience, was inspired by far-right ideas from around the globe, and was in contact with the international far right. How do you think groups across the world fighting back against hate can work better to beat this far-right internationalisation?

Isn’t it ironic that they are acting as globalists? I think the answer to your question is data. Large amounts of data. Data drawn from antifa organisations and NGOs and amassed to the point where it becomes information. Then more, and better, to the point where it becomes insight and action.

Why has nobody come forward with a project to network all the databases that community organisations have built up over the years? The Christchurch murders might never have happened if we’d had access to information from Australia, France or Austria. And just as importantly, a publicly accessible global database would be a huge disincentive to lone wolves and shitposters. 

The Paparoa site says “Given the current climate in Aotearoa/NZ, most racist groups have disbanded. This means there are a lot of lone wolves out there”. Assuming this is reference to the fallout from Christchurch, could you explain for people unfamiliar with the New Zealand far right how this disbandment occurred?

There’s not a single white supremacist group still operating in public. They’ve either dissolved, disbanded, or gone totally underground. Websites and social media sites are gone, thousands of shitposts have been deleted, and members are being monitored and publicly exposed (we’re proud to be helping in every way we can). Their guns have been taken off them and many are losing their jobs.

Every time one of them pokes their head up now, the media and police are all over them. We’re not naive – we know this season is just an anomaly – but when they finally re-emerge under new names there will be a whole new infrastructure in place to deal with them. 

How can people help Paparoa to build this infrastructure?

Data! If anybody knows of any links between a New Zealander and an international far-right organisation, we need to know about it. Links, references, leads, audio, video, stories, screenshots, photos… we want anything and everything that helps identify these people. You can get info and files to us here:

In closing, we want to acknowledge all the researchers and activists out there who have worked so hard in this area with so little reward. Respect! Ka kitea he mahi tino pakeke rawa te mahi nei, te whaikōrero, ehara i te mahi kai parāoa, he mahi mā te tangata mātau.

Visit the Paparoa site here to find out more about their work and how you can help:


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