Tuesday, May 21

Chris Trotter: Disinformation from the Left

DISINFORMATION has been part and parcel of the political process since, well, forever. It was only in the Nineteenth Century, however, that the need to create narratives advantageous to one’s own cause, and disadvantageous to one’s opponents, gained access to technologies enabling disinformation to be communicated at great speed and on a massive scale. With the dawning of the Twentieth Century, however, even more startling technological innovations upped the effectiveness of disinformation by several orders of magnitude. The old adage: “A lie will be halfway around the world before Truth has pulled his boots on”; became a straightforward description of reality. By the Twenty-First Century, however, technology had advanced to the point where the separation of truth from falsehood required the adjudication of experts – and the ability to distinguish fake expertise from the real thing.

When people talk about disinformation today, it is almost always from within a left-wing narrative framework. The villains behind the disinformation tsunami allegedly inundating the civilised world are identified as white supremacists, misogynists, transphobes, anti-vaccination zealots, and fundamentalist Christians.

In normal circumstances, the pet hates of leftists don’t carry very much weight. Tragically, however, the life of the world stopped being normal in January 2020, as it became clear that a novel coronavirus – Covid-19 – was about to ignite a global pandemic. Fearful that the small but very vocal clusters of anti-vaccination zealots, located in just about all Western nations, would undermine the public health and immunological measures vital to fighting the virus, public servants began establishing anti-disinformation units to identify and counter the lies being spread about Covid-19, and, more importantly, the vaccines developed in record time to bring it under control.

In those countries with centre-left national and/or state governments, most particularly the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, politicians and activists moved swiftly to extend the brief of these disinformation units to encompass just about all of the Left’s pet hates. The situation was not improved by the intervention of national security agencies alarmed at the volume of Russian and Chinese disinformation pouring onto Western social media platforms.

From the perspective of the Left, this conflation of Far-Right disinformation with the disinformation emanating from authoritarian nation states would prove to be enormously helpful. A pro-censorship position, which at least some of the mainstream media might have challenged, could now be presented as a matter of national security. In New Zealand, willingness to buy into this aspect of the anti-disinformation project was aided by the still raw memories of the Christchurch Mosque Massacres. Far-Right lies could produce deadly consequences, argued the Left. Free speech should not be considered an unqualified good, not when it empowers “bad actors”.

What the New Zealand Left – notoriously ignorant of its own, and the international movement’s history – finds it almost impossible to accept is that disinformation (or, as it was once, more honestly, known: “propaganda”) was, and is, every bit as rampant on the revolutionary left, as it was, and is, on the reactionary right. Indeed, modern disinformation/propaganda was more-or-less invented by Willi Münzenberg, a German political impresario, commissioned by the Communist International to spread the Bolshevik’s revolutionary creed across the West. Tactics we take for granted today: front organisations, activist celebrities, newspapers, magazines, plays, movies, and phonograph records – all with an easily digestible political sub-text, were Münzenberg’s inventions. In the early 1920s, the Right had nothing to match “Willi’s Wurlitzer”.

Not that the state-subsidised Disinformation Project would ever acknowledge the fact, but the effectiveness of New Zealand’s right-wing disinformers is well below that of their left-wing rivals. Better educated, more articulate, technically more proficient, and – most importantly – working with, not against, the grain of New Zealand’s official “progressive” ideology, New Zealand’s left-wing activists’ political and cultural production throws that of the Right into the shade. Their output can be found on Facebook, Instagram, X and Tik-Tok – global platforms often denied to the Right by Silicon Valley’s “progressive” billionaires. Freed from the need to hawk their ideological wares in the murky swamps of Telegram, the Left’s disinformers/propagandists have no need for false identities. Operating freely, under their own names, they have ready access to the hearts and minds of millions.

Not that very many New Zealanders know or care what the Left is saying. Indeed, political speech only becomes important in moments of national and international crisis. In the middle of a global pandemic, disinformation is important. When Russia invades Ukraine, disinformation is important. When Hamas unleashes terror in Southern Israel, and the State of Israel unleashes hell in retaliation, disinformation is important. Which is why, by way of example, the Instagram message released a day ago by Pere Huriwai-Seger on behalf of the Aotearoa Liberation League (a front organisation comprised of Pere and his wife Sarah) is important.

With film-star good looks and a compelling verbal style, Pere commands the viewers’ attention from the moment he authoritatively disabuses them of any notion that what is currently unfolding in Gaza is not their fight. New Zealand, he informs them “has troops involved”. An alarming “fact” if one’s knowledge of New Zealand’s role in the Middle East is poor – i.e. most of the New Zealand population. That Pere flashes up a media release explaining that New Zealand has eight military personnel serving in the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in no way excuses his claim that the country has troops involved. In the minds of his viewers, his words will have conjured up images of Kiwi soldiers rubbing shoulders with members of the Israeli Defence Force. It’s misinformation shading into disinformation.

Pere’s pace is brisk, and just seconds later he is informing his viewers that New Zealand has “long supported the colonisation of Palestine”. This is historical nonsense – and malicious nonsense at that. He states as a fact that New Zealand “invaded” Palestine and “seized it for Britain” in 1917. Curiously, he neglects to inform his viewers that the New Zealand Mounted Rifles was merely one unit in the British Expeditionary Force waging war against the Ottoman Empire, of which Palestine was a mere province. According to Pere, the province was handed over to “Zionist terrorists”. Curiouser and curiouser, since Ottoman Palestine was actually handed over to the British by the League of Nations as a “mandated territory”, and remained in British hands until 1948.

But Pere is just getting warmed up. While they were busy making Palestine safe for Zionism, argues Pere, the Kiwis treated the Palestinian people “horribly”. He cites the Surafend massacre of 1918 as proof.

What happened at Surafend wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t happen out of the blue. Troopers of the NZ Mounted Rifles and the Australian Light Horse went to the village of Surafend to secure the surrender of the Palestinian Arab who had shot dead Trooper Leslie Lowry after stealing his kit bag. Their demand refused, the Anzacs attacked the men of the village (having evacuated the women and children to a place of safety) killing as many as 200, and setting their houses on fire. The Anzac perpetrators received a tongue-lashing from the British commander, Allenby, but none of them were ever punished.

Had Pere homed in on the Surafend massacre right from the start of his video, he could have presented a picture of New Zealand’s complicity in British, and later American, imperialism that was not only persuasive by truthful. Instead, by surrounding the Surafend massacre with a string of disinformative statements, the whole four-minute video becomes an exercise in the most blatant propaganda. And not just any propaganda, Pere’s falsehoods are the falsehoods of Hamas and their Iranian backers – whose cause Pere equates with the cause of Māori nationalism in Aotearoa. Presumably, what Hamas terrorists did to the Jewish inhabitants of Southern Israel is what decolonisation looks like.

Imagine the reaction of the Disinformation Project if they had found a video presentation promoting right-wing disinformation and hate on such a scale. A video dripping with Islamophobic hate in the same way Pere’s drips with annihilationist hatred of Israel. Such a video would have been presented to the mainstream media as evidence of the danger posed by radical political extremism; of the need to take decisive action against such horrific hate speech.

And they would have lapped it up.

This article was first released on (https://democracyproject.nz) on October 23 2023