False Profit

A Stuff Circuit Investigation

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OPINION: Billy Te Kahika Jnr may be new to politics, but in a remarkably short time his party has amassed a phenomenal following - and hordes of cash. But is he who he says he is, a man of Christian values and integrity? Are his acolytes backing who they think they are?

It’s a fine Saturday afternoon at Auckland’s Aotea Square, for decades the gathering point for protesters wanting their voices heard. But we’ve never seen a protest quite like this one - it’s alarming.

At its core it’s a rally against the government’s use of lockdowns, and other perceived infringements of New Zealanders’ freedoms. 

The placards are plain. 

“NO TO LOCKDOWN”

Also plain is how unwelcome we are, as media. 

“MEDIA LIES”

We’re asked repeatedly if we’re using facial recognition cameras. We’re told over and over, “media is the virus”. And “use your mask to wipe your arse”. 

It’s Level 2.5 in Auckland and we are indeed wearing masks - surgical grade - which we find only vaguely reassuring in the face of a crowd of 2000 where not a single mask is worn. 

Lots of people have brought their kids - they’re not wearing masks either. It’s a Covid petri-dish and nobody cares because they don’t believe Covid is a thing. As we’re filming one woman she points at our faces and says, “These masks do nothing. I think you’re wasting your time. I think you need fresh air, you need to build your immune system, vitamin C, ozone….”.

The holder of a placard reading “End the Panic-Demic” tells us she’s a nurse, and that the health claims about coronavirus don’t make sense to her. 

Another woman speaks of “the so-called Covid virus, that we don’t believe in”. 

“End the mask-erade”, another placard reads.

The organisers tell the protesters they’ve been working with the police and that the rally will only be allowed to continue if everyone practises the social distancing rules of Level 2.5. 

“So stay in your bubbles.” But the crowd, packed shoulder-to-shoulder, just laughs, as behind the stage, Billy Te Kahika Jnr has a hongi, kiss, cuddle, or selfie with every fan who comes his way - and there are many. 

This is the man the people gathered here are taking their cues from.

The aspiring politician whose ascension has been stellar: already, within a few short months, leader of his own movement, the New Zealand Public Party (NZPP); co-leader with Jami-Lee Ross of Advance NZ. 

“Billy Te Kahika is the only candidate that is truly fighting for our freedom,” one person tells us.

He’s their new messiah, drawing not just the impressive crowd at the rally, but epic numbers on social media.

‘’You are not conspiracy theorists, you are truth seekers!”, shouts the crowd warm-up speaker, Claire Deeks, who’s third on the Advance NZ party list. 

She tells them she has degrees in French, history and law.  

“I know how to read, I know how to research. I know how to find fact from fiction.”

And then she says this: “I want you to question the mask wearing, question the social distancing, question the lockdown. We are taking unprecedented steps with enormous and ongoing consequences to our country without clear evidence to support them.’’ 

She gets a few muted rounds of applause but she’s not who the people really want to see.

We want to see Billy Te Kahika in action too, because we have information which suggests this new messiah is not who people believe him to be; that their new prophet of freedom and sovereignty is renowned for not paying people, for bullying, and for inappropriate sexual behaviour towards women. And, as you’ll see in our documentary False Profit, a whole lot more.

When Te Kahika takes the stage, it’s a very well-choreographed performance, complete with a posse of big men, sentries flanking him. It’s difficult to know who they’re protecting him from: perhaps the “international assassin” he claims has been targeting him. Or perhaps our commmunist or socialist government, or perhaps the state-run media or the corrupt UN. Or the people laying the 1080, or those poisoning us through 5G, or someone carrying out full-term abortions. There are so many enemies identified here it’s difficult to keep up. But being flanked by security, whether it’s needed or not, is smart because it sends the subliminal message that anyone with that much protection must be important enough to need such protection.

The rally is alarming because when we embarked on this investigation we wondered whether showing people evidence that their leader is flawed and widely distrusted might prompt them to question the serious and wrong claims he makes. Perhaps if we set out a reasoned and logical account of what he says about himself and show how it is completely at odds with what others say about him, it might follow that everything else he says should be questioned too. 

But looking at these signs, we wonder if there’s any chance of cutting through his words.

We want to see Billy Te Kahika in action too, because we have information which suggests this new messiah is not who people believe him to be; that their new prophet of freedom and sovereignty is renowned for not paying people, for bullying, and for inappropriate sexual behaviour towards women. And, as you’ll see in our documentary False Profit, a whole lot more.

When Te Kahika takes the stage, it’s a very well-choreographed performance, complete with a posse of big men, sentries flanking him. It’s difficult to know who they’re protecting him from: perhaps the “international assassin” he claims has been targeting him. Or perhaps our communist or socialist government, or perhaps the state-run media or the corrupt UN. Or the people laying the 1080, or those poisoning us through 5G, or someone carrying out full-term abortions. There are so many enemies identified here it’s difficult to keep up. But being flanked by security, whether it’s needed or not, is smart because it sends the subliminal message that anyone with that much protection must be important enough to need such protection.

The rally is alarming because when we embarked on this investigation we wondered whether showing people evidence that their leader is flawed and widely distrusted might prompt them to question the serious and wrong claims he makes. Perhaps if we set out a reasoned and logical account of what he says about himself and show how it is completely at odds with what others say about him, it might follow that everything else he says should be questioned too.

But looking at these signs, we wonder if there’s any chance of cutting through his words.

Almost everyone we spoke to for the documentary told us Te Kahika is intelligent and well-read. The problem is, though, as journalist David Farrier shows, he’s reading and watching all the wrong things, but doesn’t realise it. 

One person falling fast down a rabbit hole, aided by YouTube algorithms and the adrenaline of live social media posts, is one thing. But when the reaction they receive through sharing those posts is so intoxicating they decide to enter politics, it’s something far more worrying. 

Because the language he uses incites those who are themselves falling down the rabbit holes. 

Here’s a taste of what some of the party fans were saying on Facebook after the gathering in Aotea Square.

And that’s when we really started to worry - because we recognised that language from when we researched the message board site 8chan, home to those the Christchurch mass-murderer calls his “cobbers”. 

We were monitoring the site for our documentary Infinite Evil, in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. It’s a vile site awash with misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and much more hideousness, including violent attacks on anyone they decide to go after, as happened with gamergate

Billy Te Kahika’s followers use exactly the same words and tactics. But it’s worse, because they’re not doing it anonymously on the dark web, like 8chan users do. They’re spewing their hate-filled bile in the broad daylight of a site as ubiquitous as Facebook - using their real names - and teaching their children to hate like they do. As we leave the rally a small child is repeatedly kicking a poster of Jacinda Ardern, as his parents laugh.

If they’re emboldened enough to do these things in public, what are they capable of?

There is context. 

Back during the Level 4 lockdown, when Billy Te Kahika was starting to fall down his rabbit hole, we asked philosopher Dr M R X.Dentith from Waikato University about the proliferation of 5G conspiracy theories on social media.

These theories started spilling over into reality with more than a dozen cell towers being set alight in Auckland. A video put online by the perpetrators of one arson gave away their motive: “F*** 5G, F*** you Government, F*** you New World Order.”

An expert in conspiracy history, Dentith explained back then what we can now assume has happened to many of Te Kahika’s followers: stuck at home with social media for company, people would start to form their own theories.

Part of the problem as Dentith sees it is a substantial loss of trust in authority, dating back to half way through the last century; that anyone who is politically literate or historically aware could point to cases of dishonesty - from weapons of mass destruction and the invasion of Iraq, to The Unfortunate Experiment closer to home.

“Some of the issues we’re facing now are due to the fact the public does have a reason to be slightly suspicious about what the academic elites like myself or political elites like the Prime Minister are doing, because sometimes we have been shown to mislead people.’’ 

It’s fertile ground for Billy Te Kahika and he knows it. 

And people believing what he says makes Te Kahika dangerous whether or not he gets into parliament. As False Profit shows, those who know him say politics isn’t his end game. He has far bigger aspirations than an office in the Beehive. 

There is a ray of hope we can offer, though.

Also in the process of researching Infinite Evil, we met Caleb Cain, a former white supremacist who went public about his own alt-right radicalisation by YouTube. 

The hopeful part is that he managed to “deradicalise” himself. 

So we went back to him, described the Billy Te Kahika phenomenon, and asked if he had any advice. 

Like Dentith, he says first acknowledge there’s a reason people are looking for answers.

“They can't justify why the economy is f***ed up the way it is. They can't justify why a virus is ravaging the world. They have no control and no authority over the narrative.

“People used to have a message that came from their government or their king or their religion, their priest or whatever cultural institutions of power it was that they followed. And people don't have that anymore.”

So when they find a new leader, like Te Kahika, Cain believes it’s important to show them that leader might not be who they think he is. 

“Clearly show the flaws, show people that they're being deceived, show people that their energies are in the right place, their concerns are in the right place.They are good people, but they are being deceived.” 

And then, he says, show people a different way to direct those energies. 

“Most people do not want to be involved in this bulls***. Most people just want to go home to their families and go about their day.”


Right now, though, Billy Te Kahika’s followers seem to only be hearing what he says. They trust him. One puts it to us like this: “What he’s saying sounds more true.” 

Given they believe the media is evil, they probably won’t watch False Profit.

But maybe they’re in your family or someone you know. 

Maybe let them know what you’ve seen about their leader.

You can contact Stuff Circuit at stuffcircuit@stuff.co.nz.

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Made with the support of NZ On Air

Reporter
Paula Penfold

Producer
Louisa Cleave 

Cinematographer
Phil Johnson

Director/Editor
Toby Longbottom

Interactive designer
Suyeon Son

Art/Graphics
Toby Longbottom and Phil Johnson

Associate Producer
James Baker 

Executive producer
Terence Taylor

Commissioning editor
Patrick Crewdson, Mark Stevens

Production manager
Sky Austin-Martin

Finance
Declan Kilborn

Legals
Robert Stewart

Marketing
Zachary White

Communications
Mel Dobson, Candice Robertson

Music
Audio Network