Land of the Long White Lie: The New Zealand Terror Raids

By Valerie Morse
February 19, 2008

On October 15 2007, the New Zealand police carried out unprecedented nation-wide raids arresting 17 indigenous rights activists and anarchists and raiding some 60 different locations. The arrests were based on surveillance and interception warrants obtained under the Terrorism Suppression Act. This was the first time that the police used this Act, a law passed immediately after 9/11 and a direct result of it.

The raids were staged on a Monday morning starting at approximately 5am. At 5:45 am, the Police knocked on my door. Then they nearly broke it down. When I opened it, 15 officers swarmed in, waving an 80-page search warrant in my face. When I said, 'this isn't signed,' the detective responded 'here, here's the signed copy.' Then they ransacked my room, pulling my plants out of their containers, removing the back of my refrigerator and collecting a raft of documents, photographs, electronic gear and clothing. Finally, they arrested me and told me that I was going to be charged with participating in a terrorist group.

The raids came as a huge shock to me, to most of the country and to the world that follow such events. New Zealand, also known as Aotearoa-the 'land of the long white cloud' in the indigenous language of the M_ori people-has a reputation for amicable race relations, a progressive government and an enviable settlement process for indigenous claims against breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding treaty between Maori and the British Crown, signed in 1840 by some 500 chiefs.

What is actually happening in Aotearoa beneath the government's clever 'clean, green, 100 per cent pure' marketing campaign is not at all what they would lead you to believe.

On day one of the raids, there was a media frenzy as the police carefully leaked tantalizing nuggets of evidence including reports of napalm bombs, assassination plots against Prime Minister Helen Clark and President George W Bush, and an 'IRA-style war plan.' The 17 arrestees were brought before District Court judges in four different cities to respond to the charges. One was dealt with immediately by the courts and dismissed, the remaining 16 all went to prison that night, remanded in custody as bail was vigorously opposed by the Crown prosecution.

We were deemed a threat to 'national security.' In the cloud of terrorism hysteria and secret evidence, our lawyers would not even attempt an application for bail.

The New Zealand Government has signed up for all of Bush's post-9/11 terrorism requirements. At the same time, it imported the US Government's brutal tactics of repression, surveillance technologies and police hyper-paranoia about political activity, particularly when it comes from indigenous activists who dare to speak of aspirations of sovereignty.

Of the 17 arrested on 15 October, 12 were Maori, many from the Tuhoe iwi (tribe). Tuhoe is known for its long history of resistance to colonization. They never signed the Treaty of Waitangi. There is a story that the Crown agent was advised that he would be eaten if he attempted to come into Tuhoe land in order to get the Treaty signed. Today, Tuhoe have the one of the highest ratios of native speakers of the Maori language (called 'te reo') among tribal groups and have a strong cultural identity that is intimately linked to the land in an area that they call 'Te Urewera,' land of the mist. There are about 20,000 people who claim Tuhoe ancestry, many of whom are still living in relatively isolated communities within Te Urewera.

The raids and arrests were the culmination of an $8 million dollar, two-year long operation dubbed 'Operation Eight'. On the day of the raids, some 300 police were involved. Most had little knowledge of the investigation or the suspects; none it seems had any knowledge of the history of the Crown's scorched earth policy, murder, and land theft which prompted fierce resistance by Tuhoe more than 100 years ago.

The forces of the state have a convenient way of forgetting things that don't suit the current narrative. Such was the case on October 15. In a spectacular display of force, armed, balaclava-clad police known as the 'armed offenders squad' quite literally invaded the small Tuhoe town of Ruatoki and blockaded the entire community. On an elaborate quest for terrorists and evidence, they stopped all vehicles coming in or out of the community and photographed the drivers and occupants. In the process of conducting house raids, they severely traumatized many people, including locking a woman and five children in a shed for six hours while the man of the family was questioned, taking a woman's underwear as evidence, and boarding a local school bus.

In one South Auckland raid, the police held an entire family, including a 12 year old girl, on their knees with hands behind their heads for some 5 hours, asking the young woman if she was a terrorist. This was the pattern for raids in the Maori communities.

For the non-indigenous arrestees (referred to herein as 'pakeha' a word that means white New Zealander), the situation was starkly different. In my case, I was not even handcuffed as I was walked to the car. No white neighborhoods were blockaded, nor were white bystanders stopped and photographed as they went about their daily business that cool Monday morning in October. It was only Maori.

The institutional racism of the police and justice system came as no surprise to Maori people and particularly to Tuhoe who have been subject to its arbitrary acts for some 160 years. For pakeha throughout the country, it was a wake-up call. Unfortunately, it was less a wake-up call about racism than it was about the growing power of the state against political dissidents. I say it was unfortunate because it is clear from the nearly 10,000 pages of evidence I have now seen, that it is Maori sovereignty that they fear. It is the political force of unified indigeneity that scares the ruling class of New Zealand.

For Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand, the 'war on terrorism' and these raids are part of a long history of colonization in Aotearoa New Zealand, and they have not been forgotten.

In the 1860s, the Suppression of Rebellion Act was passed with strikingly similar language to the Terrorism Suppression Act of 2002. This earlier Act was used by the fledgling New Zealand State to launch a series of vicious attacks on Maori communities in order to appropriate their land for settlement. People and whole tribes were defined as 'in rebellion' in order that the State could then exercise a range of repressive and exploitative measures against them.

I was arrested, I believe, to provide a cloak for the racist nature of the operation.

By arresting some pakeha activists, the government could deflect criticism that this was an operation against Maori. I was also arrested because I am associates with the Maori accused in the case, and because as an anarchist I have caused enough problems and embarrassments for the state that they would like to put me out of their misery. In June of last year, I published a book detailing the New Zealand government's involvement in the 'war on terrorism.' In it, I suggested that both dissidents and Maori were targets of the war, along with refugees and migrants. It was not without a sense of bizarre irony and a certain grim satisfaction that I sat in my prison cell and congratulated myself on being right.

Needless to say, in a country of 4 million people, there are not six degrees of separation, but usually only one or two. There most certainly is a connection between anarchists, environmentalists, anti-war and indigenous rights activists: most of them know each other and work together regularly. One would have to exist in a state of utter delusion not to make the connections between these issues, particularly in New Zealand where the effects of the self-imposed neo-liberal structural adjustment of the 1980s is being felt more acutely everyday.

The New Zealand Parliament is Westminster-style with mixed-member proportional representation. At present, the governing Labor party maintains power through a delicate balance of negotiated agreements, some formal, some informal, with other smaller parties that give support on vital confidence and supply votes.

As with the British Labor Party, the New Zealand Labor party long ago shed any resemblance to a working-class based party and has wholeheartedly embraced neo-liberal economics. This has had major implications for Maori who in the main reject its ubiquitous commodification, particularly with regard to flora, fauna, land and intellectual property. Nevertheless, up until very recently Maori had continued to support Labor generally, and all of the Maori electorate seats in Parliament were held by the Labour Party.

In 2004, the Government passed the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which had the effect of extinguishing Maori rights to claim customary ownership of the land between the high tide and low tide marks, and to the seabed. In contravention of international law and despite condemnation by the UN, the Government pressed ahead with the law, with near unanimous support in parliament. The following year the Treasury began to include a line-item in the annual financial accounts for these newly acquired Crown assets. This grotesque confiscation was considered a declaration of war by some Maori. It ruptured the Labor Party and brought about the formation of the Maori Party. This now presents a significant threat to Labor's hold on the Maori vote, and more importantly, to their hold on power.

Politically, this is one of the primary factors behind the raids. In the lead up to the 2008 election, it is crucial that Labour cast radical Maori as a dangerous threat to the stability of New Zealand. This was a gamble by Prime Minister Helen Clark and her cabal to secure a third term through a tactic of divide and conquer. In the media Clark repeatedly stated that the raids were 'an operational matter for the police,' but behind the scenes in Wellington, every politico knows that nothing of consequence happens without her direct and explicit nod.

Another significant political factor prompting the raids is the government's relationship with the US and its other close defense partners. As a member of the exclusive five-nation UKUSA intelligence network (along with the US, UK, Canada and Australia), New Zealand's security and police are intimately tied to a distinctive post-War relationship with the US. This relationship, and the resultant organizational links, has played a significant role in New Zealand's response to US terrorism hysteria. Further, the New Zealand government has separate, internal reasons for adopting much of the new terrorism legislation.

Prior to 9/11, the Terrorism Suppression Bill was before the Select Committee and was simply intended to ratify two existing UN conventions against terrorism. After 9/11, the law was radically re-written, kept secret from the public, while the Government and the opposition rushed to appear resolute in support of the US.

Fortunately, the changes were leaked and there was significant public opposition that eventually mitigated the worst aspects of the Act. Unfortunately, there were many more Acts that followed. These Acts mirror changes to US law and include the Border Security Act, the Maritime Security Act, the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act, the Identity (Citizenship and Passports) Act, the Security Intelligence Act and amendments to both the Immigration Act and the Crimes Act.

Along with these legislative changes, the state's security and surveillance services received massive funding injections and personnel increases ­ all in the name of fighting terrorism. Given this environment with all their new toys, eventually, the police and spooks had to find a terrorist. They tried desperately to pin that label on exiled Algerian politician Ahmed Zaoui who came to New Zealand at the end of 2001 on a false passport. When that failed, as it did in 2006 when the security risk certificate against him was revoked, they set to work finding others to fill the 'terrorist' role. The culture of these agencies is such that they view ex-parliamentary political activity as dangerous; they view Maori politically activity as particularly dangerous.

So the stage was set and the roles cast when some 300 police mounted the first ever 'terror raids' late last year.

The Terrorism Suppression Act was the tool to obtain extensive interception warrants for bugging cell phones and cars, but the people who were arrested were initially charged only for join possession of firearms and restricted weapons under the Arms Act. In order for the Terrorism charges to be laid, the police first had to get the approval of the Attorney General.

In the first week following the raids, I sat in solitary confinement with no access to news or information. I was in shock. I have been arrested several times in the past for political activity, but have never been to prison. I was scared. I was also lucky because one of my dearest friends had been arrested that morning and was there with me. We had adjoining cells and could communicate by yelling over a 25 foot concrete wall in the yard outside between our cells. After the third day, I got a book to read: Kurt Vonnegut's Jailbird. It made me laugh so hard I had tears in my eyes.

When they finally moved us to the general population at the end of the first week, it felt like a glorious place - which just goes to demonstrate how quickly and easily solitary confinement breaks down your resistance and your tether on reality. It was beautiful to hear voices, to hear music, to go outside and to be able to see the hills and sky.

By the end of that first week, our lawyers managed to put forward an application for bail. We arrived at the Wellington District Court to a mass of supporters and media. Within minutes of the start of the hearing, everyone except the media was excluded from the courtroom. It was an ominous beginning to one of the most disturbing and difficult days of my life.

In the hours that followed, the Crown prosecutor painted a picture of us as a group of people who had been training to commit terrorist acts. We were accused of attending camps in the Urewera area where we used guns, Molotov cocktails and napalm. The fact that my three immediate co-accused had no convictions of any kind, and I had very minor ones, was used to prove our ill intention to get out of prison and carry out that which we had been planning. Once the terror label was used, no judge in the country, or indeed the world, would bail us. We went back to prison that Friday evening and I felt very, very dark.

On Monday 29 October, the police finally put their evidence to the Solicitor General in order that the charge of 'participating in a terrorist group' could be brought against us. That night, I was interned in my new cell with no one to talk to or to question about what might happen next. I had been moved 500 miles north to the Auckland women's correctional facility in a secretive mission worthy of bin Laden or at least his best mate.

By Wednesday, Prime Minister Helen Clark could no longer hold her tongue and waded into the debate. She arrogantly breached the sub judice standard ­ the term used for the right to a fair trial ­ commenting that those arrested 'at the very least had been training with firearms and napalm'. The media circus continued.

Throughout the country, protests, rallies, fundraising and awareness raising gigs were organized and what remains of the political left in New Zealand rallied around the arrestees. The political analysis ranged from debate about indigenous sovereignty to civil rights and surveillance. The mainstream media continued its tradition of sensationalist reporting, ill-informed conclusions and downright fabrications. The media concentration in Aotearoa New Zealand is one of the highest in the world, with nearly all the major dailies owned by two multinational corporations. Everyone was singing from the same song sheet, so to speak.

The day before I was due to have another bail hearing, after now nearly a month in jail, I had a long conversation with my lawyer. We discussed his strategy going into the hearing and the possible Crown arguments. At the end of that conversation, he said, 'Oh, there was something else I was meaning to tell youoh, that's right, the Solicitor-General is about to announce his decision. Valerie, they are going to lay the terrorism charges against you.'

I hung up the phone and I found Emily, my co-accused and dear friend. I told her that, 'we must prepare ourselves for this because it is going to happen'. I was manic, frantic, deeply disturbed and shaken. We sat for a little while before I went to my cell and tuned in National Radio. The four o'clock news immediately went to a live broadcast of the Solicitor-General's press conference. I sat on my bed rigid with fear. He announced, 'I cannot authorize the laying of charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act.' I ran out of my cell, screaming and running around the prison wing, 'they're not going to do it; they're not going to do it.' I yelled up to Emily who had retreated to her cell. I could hardly get the words out.

Her immediate response, 'for all of us?' and I thought, 'oh no, I don't know.' In my excitement I hadn't listened to his whole speech. I ran back to my cell where she joined me.

We tuned back in to hear him say that there was 'insufficient evidence' that none of us would be charged, and that the terrorism law was 'complex, incoherent and unworkable'. I was ecstatic. Moments later I got a call from the lawyer saying that the Crown was no longer opposing our bail. We would be out tomorrow.

It was surreal. I have never in my life felt the kind of joyous relief that I felt that night. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't concentrate. I just sat there in wonder at the events of the previous month.

On Friday, November 9, we were bailed from the High Court in Auckland. We are not free, however. Sixteen of us still face charges under the Arms Act. We continue to have onerous bail conditions including curfews, reporting conditions and non-association orders. They are the State's tactics for control and punishment.

As I have suggested, the evidence indicates that the raids were politically motivated by the long-standing fear of indigenous assertions of power. In this election year, it suits the Labor Government to find 'bad Maori' in order to fulfill the old colonial divide and rule strategy. They will assimilate those they can through propaganda and persuasion; those that resist will be brutalized and criminalized as they have been for more than a century. Maori political activists are under State surveillance because they are Maori.

It comes as little surprise that the United Nations has now accepted a complaint from indigenous lawyers and will investigate the New Zealand Government's conduct over the raids, although it is the first time that a complaint by a group against a state (rather than vice versa) has been investigated. While this is unlikely to have any substantive effect either on the situation for Maori or on the arrestees, it is another blow to the idealized utopia of the South Seas.

In the coming months, the case of the 'Urewera 16' will be heard in the District Court in Auckland. My great hope for this trial and for the future of Aotearoa New Zealand is that the raids will contribute to disrupting the false peace of this colonial state and radicalize people to struggle for justice and freedom.

*For more information about the Crown's invasion of Tuhoe lands, please see:

Tuhoe: A history of resistance at
http://october15thsolidarity.info/node/221

Other sources for information about the raids:

Back in the mists of fear: A Primer On The Allegations Of Terrorism Made During The Week 15-19 October, 2007. By Moana
Jackson.
http://www.arena.org.nz/terprimr.htm

'Full Coverage: the Terrorists camps on the East Cape.' Scoop.
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0710/S00262.htm

Other sources of information about tino rangatiratanga and Maori
struggle:
Aotearoa Café
http://www.aotearoa.maori.nz/v2/index.php

Conscious collaborations
http://www.conscious.maori.nz/front.php

Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe
http://tuhoe.net

Valerie Morse is a Wellington-based anarchist and writer. She spent most of her 36 years in and around Tucson Arizona and Washington DC but left the US during the Clinton era in disgust. She is currently facing three charges under the Arms Act for possession of guns, restricted weapons (molotov cocktails) and ammunition resulting from the October 15, 2007 raids. As a result of her life as a so-called 'terrorist', her passports have been confiscated and her life as an anarcho-tourist rather severely curtailed. She is a member of Rebel Press, an anarchist publishing collective. Her book, 'Against Freedom: the war on terrorism in everyday_New Zealand life' and prison 'zine 'Can't hear me scream', are available for free download on www.rebelpress.org.nz