THE COLLAPSE OF CAMP FREEDOM

The bitter end of the long occupation at New Zealand’s Parliament.

Content warning: This story contains extensive footage of clashes between police and protesters. There is some offensive language and violence.

The sound is muted on all videos by default.

Read with audio

MANA NEWS LIVE/FACEBOOK

At the iron gates, the worst of it happened.

In a haze of smoke and a flap of sweaty limbs, the enraged taunted police. They threw plates, tables, shelves and wooden furniture — as hard as they could into the line of police in front of them. They swore again and again, embittered. They gave the middle finger on each hand and let out cries of exhilaration.

TIKTOK

The police, deep into a day of work trying to clear an occupation of the Parliamentary precinct into its 23rd day, took the blows. In the space behind them, an injured officer was carried off to safety.

LUKE MALPASS/STUFF

These were the final, chaotic clashes of a day in which the police, finally, overcame an unprecedented protest-turned-occupation at the seat of New Zealand’s government.

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KATE GREEN/STUFF

KATE GREEN/STUFF

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ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

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ZEB JACKSON LIVE/FACEBOOK

ZEB JACKSON LIVE/FACEBOOK

ZEB JACKSON LIVE/FACEBOOK

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KATE GREEN/STUFF

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MANA NEWS LIVE/FACEBOOK

MANA NEWS LIVE/FACEBOOK

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

What happened on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, is still raw. There is no single, undisputed version of events. Police investigators are combing through hours of footage to figure out who to charge, and with what.

People who associate themselves with the protesters, meanwhile, are writing their own versions of events across different social media channels.

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

Things happened quickly that day, at many different places all around the Parliamentary precinct and beyond. But there were hundreds of cameras recording much of it. A lot of the footage was broadcast in different places on the internet right as it happened.

Combined with our own, in-person reporting, those hours of video enable us to piece together a first draft of events. This is what it showed.


The Morning

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

At 6am, police embark on their mission to reclaim Parliament, walking down Bowen St where they briefly stop, then running past the occupied university, the Wellington railway station, and into formation on Mulgrave St.

St Paul’s

Cathedral

Mulgrave St

National

Library

Hill St

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Police advance on

the intersection at

Molesworth St, at the

National Library, from

opposite directions

Parliament

House

Molesworth St

Police early morning route

Main

camp

Beehive

Bowen St

Lambton Quay

Occupied

by protesters

St Paul’s

Cathedral

National

Library

Mulgrave St

Hill St

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Police advance on

the intersection at

Molesworth St, at the

National Library, from

opposite directions

Kate Sheppard Pl

Parliament

House

Molesworth St

High

Court

Main

camp

Beehive

Police early morning route

Bowen St

Lambton Quay

Occupied

by protesters

St Paul’s

Cathedral

National

Library

Mulgrave St

Hill St

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Police advance on

the intersection at

Molesworth St, at the

National Library, from

opposite directions

Parliament

House

Kate Sheppard Pl

Molesworth St

High

Court

Main

camp

Police early morning route

Beehive

Bowen St

Wellington

Railway station

Occupied

by protesters

Lambton Quay

St Paul’s

Cathedral

National

Library

Mulgrave St

Hill St

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Police advance on

the intersection at

Molesworth St, at the

National Library, from

opposite directions

Parliament

House

Kate Sheppard Pl

Molesworth St

High

Court

Main

camp

Beehive

Police early morning route

Bowen St

Occupied

by protesters

Lambton Quay

Wellington

Railway station

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DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

A helicopter flies overhead, its relentless whir disorientating protesters who respond with a clamour of horns. On Lambton Quay, flags flicker in the darkness.

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

Police advance on the central intersection at Molesworth St, at the National Library, from opposite directions.

Here, only a hint of the rage at police that will follow is in the air, they’re accused of “fighting their own” and labelled “pigs”.

Police walk through Aitken Street easily, sweeping their hands and yelling louder, rhythmically, “move, move, move.” By 6.30am, they’ve taken back a street once crammed with tents and vehicles.

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

Police march to the Parliamentary library from Hill St and claim the forecourt by 6.30am. Others in riot gear are in place at the Cathedral and take down tents from the lawn.

ROB KITCHIN/STUFF

News of a developing police operation ripples through the camp. Hands pound against windscreens, megaphones sound the calls to wake, protesters hustle for feet on the ground.

“We need the numbers guys, we need the numbers, there’s no point down here, it makes sense, they’re going to try and push us out from the camp, that’s the whole point of it,” the livestreamer Lingo Lewi says.

@lingo_lewi/Instagram

The first revolt occurs at about 6.45am, as people hurl themselves against police shields. Shoulders, heads and backs are pushed into a contorted wedge, and a street sign shakes violently as the line rolls back and forth. A protester lets off a fire extinguisher against the police, a white mist bursts from the scrum. Police start using pepper spray and protesters step out, temporarily subdued.

BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

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@lingo_lewi/Instagram

A dreadlocked man sidles up to the police line against a truck, filming on his phone. “Watch the one in the dreadlocks,” someone yells, as he retreats back, handing an object to the bloke next to him, who clasps it tightly in his hand. Again, he moves up to the line, then an officer lunges, pulling him out with a swinging arm. A throng of police converge to grapple him down, bumping one in the line of the bright green port-a-loos onto a precarious angle.

@lingo_lewi/Instagram

Police thrust their shields forward and use them as barricades to move down Molesworth St. Some protesters push with their backs, others head first. At about 8am, protesters taunt an officer whose helmet and shield are splattered white with milk. “What a f…ing animal this c… is”, one says.

Conserve NZ/Facebook

Police hoist people out of the scrum and arrest them, adding reinforcements to the line. An officer is hit with something and steps out, clutching his eyes, soon aided by paramedics.

Protesters are repelled by pepper spray and grasp at their faces, shaking. They tip bottles of milk into their eyes, calming the hot, burning sensation. White streams of it run down the street.

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BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Around 8.30 am, police move down the left side of Molesworth St, ripping out tents. Some protesters retaliate by flinging objects. On the right-hand side, outside the Court of Appeal, police advance on a group of protesters wielding furniture poles, a tug of war breaks out over a makeshift shield while the song ‘Smooth Operator’ plays in the background. Crowds draw in at Molesworth, surrounding a beige caravan.

@lingo_lewi/Instagram

“Turn your backs to them, agitators out!” a hoarse voice instructs the crowd. “Turn your backs to them whānau, so you don’t get pepper-sprayed!” But others reject it, singling out the unshielded police. Another tug of war breaks out, this time over a protester, as police and protesters try to pull him to each side. The sudden scuffle threatens a riot as police move forward again. Another fire extinguisher sets off and police retreat under its cloud.

A deadlock sets in on Molesworth St until early afternoon. Cups of coffee, hot dogs and bottles of water are passed up the lines from the camp, feeding the protesters, many wearing swimming or scuba goggles. Police stop and don’t move for hours.

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Protesters take down their own kitchen, stockpiling equipment and closing Parliament’s gates by 9.30am. Behind the line, forklifts move in and the makeshift toilets are gone by 10.45am. Police tow cars, campervans and trucks from Hill and Aitken Streets, tossing furniture and fridges into a rubbish truck. Mounds of tent rubble build outside the Cathedral and Parliamentary library. Systematically, the fortress is being dismantled.

DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

DAVID UNWIN/STUFF

David Unwin/Stuff

David Unwin/Stuff

Police lines stretch back past the Cathedral on Molesworth St by 11.30 am. E hine e/ hoki mai ra/ka mate ahau/I te aroha e, an operatic version of the love song rings out against the cries of a man into his megaphone: “We have had enough, we don’t want any more of your nonsense.”

David Unwin/Stuff

David Unwin/Stuff

“No more Government!” a woman chimes in. Protesters watch the police on the street, or stand on Parliament’s stone walls. Some roll in metal crates for defence, others hold out their phones, waiting. Quietly, police file reinforcements to the Cathedral and Parliamentary library. There, they also wait.


The Afternoon and Evening

JERICHO ROCK-ARCHER/STUFF

JERICHO ROCK-ARCHER/STUFF

It’s around 2.30pm on Wednesday, and a raucous morning has been followed by an unsettling quiet, as police install themselves into lines at the top of Molesworth St. 

Iron gates

were closed

by protesters

Police line

Parliament

Library

Kate Sheppard Pl

Admin

tent area

Kitchen

tent area

Molesworth St

Camp

area

Beehive

Bowen St

Lambton Quay

Bunny St

Police line

Parliament

Library

Iron gates

were closed

by protesters

Court

of Appeal

Kate Sheppard Pl

Parliament

House

Kitchen

tent area

Admin

tent area

Molesworth St

Camp

area

Beehive

Bowen St

Lambton Quay

Bunny St

Iron gates

were closed

by protesters

National

Library

Police line

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Court of

Appeal

Kate Sheppard Pl

Parliament

House

Kitchen

tent area

Admin

tent area

Molesworth St

Bus station

Beehive

Camp

area

Bowen St

Lambton Quay

Bunny St

Wellington

Railway station

Iron gates

were closed

by protesters

National

Library

Police line

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Court of

Appeal

Kate Sheppard Pl

Parliament

House

Kitchen

tent area

Admin

tent area

Molesworth St

Bus station

Camp

area

Beehive

Bowen St

Bowen St

Lambton Quay

Bunny St

Wellington

Railway station

They’re about to do something, but no-one’s sure what — police with shields are sitting nonchalantly on the steps of the Parliamentary library, the westernmost building in the Parliamentary precinct.

Shortly before 2.40pm, it begins. Police move into the small group of protesters outside the library, pushing them down the hill toward the main grounds. The police rip down tents as they progress.

THE DAILY EXAMINER/FACEBOOK

The police line is long, spanning two fronts — the grounds proper, and Molesworth St.

By 2.50pm, the police had pushed into Parliament grounds, barging through the back of what the protesters had been using as an admin tent, using a food truck as cover.

At the bottom of the line, on Molesworth St, hundreds of protesters are attempting to block the police line and using their few remaining vehicles to slow progress.

In response, the police deploy pepper spray to brutal effect; protesters are forced from the line clutching their eyes, pleading for milk or water. Molesworth St runs white with milk.

ZEB JACKSON LIVE/FACEBOOK

ZEB JACKSON LIVE/FACEBOOK

GEORGE BLOCK/STUFF

GEORGE BLOCK/STUFF

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GEORGE BLOCK/STUFF

GEORGE BLOCK/STUFF

The chaos allows the police to move their line quickly, even as protesters try to block them with a makeshift barricade of wooden crates — the police move around 100m, reaching Kate Sheppard Pl and the Backbencher Pub around 3.10pm.

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

The events closer to Parliament are just as chaotic. Unlike Molesworth St, the space is more confined, leaving protesters and police to jostle in close quarters. Again, the protesters’ line fractures as police deploy pepper spray; some respond by throwing objects at the police and spraying them with fire extinguishers.

@lingo_lewi/Instagram

By now, it is clear the police have the upper hand. As the protesters lose members of the front line, either through arrest or pepper spray, the rigid line of riot police moves forward in bursts. Every charge by the police is marked with a unified grunt, followed by screams from protesters. Now near the centre of the camp, the police are systematically tearing down tents, throwing the debris into a ramp leading to an underground parking building near the library.

Police are also securing the boundary between Parliament grounds and Molesworth St. This essentially split the protest into two distinct groups; those on the road, and those on the grounds. Some protesters are screaming abuse at the police; a Hare Krishna is singing and playing guitar, a sound which floats melodically over the grounds amid the chaos.

It’s around 3.30pm, and the police have taken nearly half of the Parliamentary grounds, a process that took less than an hour. The protesters, scrambling, are no longer pushing against the police line; some are standing back throwing objects at the police, while others plead with them to remain peaceful.


Fire and Fury

ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

The first fire begins shortly before 3.40pm, in a blue tent in front of the Richard Seddon statue, which stands at the centre of Parliament’s grounds.

@lingo_lewi/Instagram

Who started the fire — the police, protesters, or outside agitators — would soon be hotly debated. 

Within minutes, rumours spread that police had started the fire by knocking over a generator in a tent. At least two popular livestreamers started spreading the information, which soon came to be taken as fact, both online and on the ground. A medic for the protesters who was on the scene even claimed to have seen it happen.

@lingo_lewi/Instagram

Stuff has examined the incident from four different angles, all captured by protesters, and all of which definitively show the police were nowhere near the fire.

The person responsible, according to Stuff’s analysis, appears to be a man wearing a black hoodie, a New Zealand flag face covering, and red pants. Multiple angles show him leaving the tent carrying a gas canister five seconds before the fire started. In the minutes afterwards, he lingered on the edge of the fire with a group of others, throwing objects into it — one of the others was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words “Free Tamaki”.

Panicked protesters grabbed a tent, apparently trying to smother the fire, but instead stoking it. Some began actively fuelling the fire with more tents and signs.

The fire proved to be the beginning of the end for the occupation, and the point at which the protest became a riot; the resistance against the police collapsed, and some protesters looked on horrified as others fed the fires and started new ones. 

Tent on fire

JERICHO ROCK-ARCHER/STUFF

JERICHO ROCK-ARCHER/STUFF

A few minutes after the first fire was started, sirens started shrieking from Parliament, a sound that would periodically burst through the air for much of the afternoon. The police maintained their line, as protesters moved backwards, likely to escape the fire.

Then, a second fire is lit, near what the protesters called their “kids’ safety area”. It happened to be beneath the recently installed children’s slide and a century-old Pōhutukawa.

@Farq_Doff/TWITTER

It is not clear who started this fire, but several angles show those stoking it with flammable material had been doing so at the first fire, too. Thick black smoke plumes towards the police; one person screams “F… the Parliament, f… Jacinda! F…ing pay us, bitch!”. Another yells “burn it all”. Another person can be seen attempting to start a fire in a tent, before throwing a gasoline canister onto the fire beneath the slide, which is now raging.

@Farq_Doff/TWITTER

What likely saved the slide, and stopped the fire from causing serious harm, was wind. A swift breeze was blowing towards Parliament, away from the slide and the retreating protesters.

By around 4pm, as the protesters retreat and the police move forward, extinguishing fires as they go, more fires - as many as a dozen — are lit. The pop of regular explosions prompts cheers, as gas bottles and other flammable materials explode. Around the fires, police continue to be physically and verbally harassed by protesters.

In one video, the livestreamer Chantelle Baker witnesses a smaller fire being started, and confronts the people she believes are responsible. Among them is the man who almost certainly started the first fire — flag face covering, red pants. He seems to justify his actions by saying the police were acting aggressively, before running off. Soon afterwards, Baker would repeat the claim that the police had started the first fire, apparently unaware she had already found the culprit. 

St Paul’s

Cathedral

National

Library

1st fire

at 3.40pm

Parliament

Library

Numerous

fires from

4pm

2nd fire

at 3.50pm

Parliament

House

Molesworth St

Beehive

Bowen St

Bunny St

Scuffles between

police and protesters

Lambton Quay

St Paul’s

Cathedral

National

Library

Hill St

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Court

of Appeal

1st fire

at 3.40

2nd fire

at 3.50

Numerous

fires from

4pm

Parliament

House

Molesworth St

Beehive

Bowen St

Bunny St

Scuffles between

police and protesters

Lambton Quay

St Paul’s

Cathedral

National

Library

Hill St

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Court of

Appeal

1st fire

at 3.40

Numerous

fires from

4pm

2nd fire

at 3.50

Parliament

House

Molesworth St

Bus station

Beehive

Scuffles between

police and protesters

Bowen St

Bunny St

Wellington

Railway station

Lambton Quay

St Paul’s

Cathedral

National

Library

Hill St

Aitken St

Parliament

Library

Court of

Appeal

1st fire

at 3.40

2nd fire

at 3.50

Numerous

fires from

4pm

Parliament

House

Molesworth St

Bus station

Beehive

Scuffles between

police and protesters

Bowen St

Bunny St

Wellington

Railway station

It remains unclear if the man was associated with the protest, or had come in to cause chaos. He can, however, be seen on Molesworth St around 40 minutes before the fire, pouring milk into the eyes of someone who’d been pepper-sprayed. 

Subsequent fires are undoubtedly being lit, and fuelled, by a core group of people — their affiliation with the protesters, if any, is unclear, however, some can be seen in imagery throughout the day, including on the front lines.


Chaos Reigns

BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

With protesters retreating and tents burning, the police make quick progress, facing little meaningful opposition either in the grounds or on the road as they extinguish fires with hoses and take more ground.

GEORGE BLOCK/STUFF

By around 4.15pm, police are moving down the hill at the eastern end of Parliament, facing Bowen St. In a tense moment, police closest to the Beehive were briefly caught unprotected; they did not have shields, and protesters started hurling objects at them. They are quickly replaced by police with shields.

Soon afterwards, for the first time in more than three weeks, Parliament’s grounds are secured. Protesters have been confined to the small area near the cenotaph, outside the grounds, with more barricaded at the bottom of Molesworth St. 

The police’s job is far from over. The remaining protesters are now concentrated in this area, where many of their belongings from the camp had been neatly stockpiled. 

KATE GREEN/STUFF

KATE GREEN/STUFF

Several brutal confrontations ensue; as police reach the iron gate to the grounds, numerous rioters throw large objects at them, including tables, shelves, and wooden furniture. A man emerges from the police line gleefully carrying a riot shield and poses with it in front of a livestreamer’s camera; both can be heard saying they’d been at the protest “since day one”. From behind the police line, an injured officer is seen being carried to safety.

MATTHEW TSO/STUFF

MATTHEW TSO/STUFF

Nearby, people are carving out bricks from the pavement to use as projectiles. The ground is sodden with water from the hoses, but yet another fire has been started at the base of a tree by the cenotaph; again, a large and diverse group of people are feeding the fire.

GEORGE BLOCK/STUFF

At this point, the protesters no longer have any semblance of a line. The call goes out for the remaining protesters to retreat toward the railway station, and many start leaving with their belongings; most end up on Lambton Quay in front of the Old Government Buildings, used by the Victoria University of Wellington, or on nearby Bunny St. Here, a fire is set in a rubbish skip, across the road from the largest wooden building in New Zealand.

The riot has largely settled, except for one combat site at the end of Lambton Quay, in front of the Supreme Court. Police, in a line, are facing off against protesters throwing bricks and other objects. One protester seizes control of a fire hose and sprays it at the police.

The police move forward up Lambton Quay, pushing the crowd further back. The police line on Molesworth St has nearly reached Lambton Quay — police lunge at a man walking in front of them and arrest him. 

INDEPENDENT VIEW/FACEBOOK

Around 5.55pm, a car reverses suddenly towards the police, causing some to jump out of the way. The car stops, and drives forward slowly, leaving the scene.

For all intents and purposes, it is over. Jacinda Ardern, inside Parliament, has angrily denounced the events of the afternoon, as some rioters continue to rain down paving bricks onto the police.

Around 7pm, the 200 or so remaining protesters have been pushed up Lambton Quay to Bunny St, then down to Featherston St, in front of the railway station, which has been closed due to the chaos. More police arrive down Thorndon Quay, further squeezing the remnants of the protest to the railway station.

KATE GREEN/STUFF

There, they remain, until the sun sets over the reclaimed Parliamentary precinct and the smouldering ruins of Camp Freedom.


Reporting: Charlie Mitchell, Ellen O’Dwyer, Matthew Tso, George Block and Thomas Manch
Visuals: Rob Kitchin, Jericho Rock-Archer, Monique Ford, Braden Fastier, Ross Giblin, David Unwin, George Block, Thomas Manch and Kate Green
Design and development: Alex Lim
Maps: Felippe Rodrigues
Editor: John Hartevelt
Additional support: John Harford

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