Nelson Council Candidates’ Links to Misinformation and Conspiracy
A Nelson City Council candidate has links to Voices for Freedom (VFF), a group that wants to make New Zealand ‘ungovernable’; while another is part of a movement that claims the law does not apply to them.
Zoe Byrne, backed by pressure group Nelson Citizens Alliance, distributed newsletters for VFF. She was also listed as a speaker at a VFF event alongside anti-vax activist Claire Deeks.
Linked to misinformation and violent rhetoric, VFF has campaigned to bring supporters into decision-making positions, telling candidates to hide their affiliations. The group has declared its goal of making New Zealand “ungovernable”.
VFF was the subject of the trick circuit documentary fire and fury. They played a leading role in the occupation of the Parliament grounds which ended in a riot on March 2.
According to the Alliance media file, Byrne is 31 and educated at Nelson College for Girls and the University of Otago.
She was listed as a speaker on VFF’s Festival of Resilience program at the A&P Showgrounds in Richmond on August 20.
“Zoe is a self-made community member who cares about privacy and mass surveillance and the digital prison forming around us,” a VFF news bulletin said. “She will share her findings on ways to keep our telephone and computer worlds private.”
The festival was canceled due to weather.
When a Things reporter visited her home on Thursday, Byrne did not answer questions, saying she was too busy to talk.
She then answered questions via email.
“I gave time [for VFF] in the past to help with sending out newsletters and this was disclosed to the Nelson Citizens Alliance during my interview to become an approved candidate.
“There are many things [VFF] represent. However, I disagree with some of their views, in the same way that I sometimes disagree with material published by the Nelson Mail.
“If someone comes to council with the aim of making New Zealand ‘ungovernable’ then they don’t deserve to be elected,” Byrne said.
The Nelson Citizens Alliance is a group of “concerned citizens of Nelson who are challenging the undemocratic decisions our council is making without consulting ratepayers,” according to its website.
Expressing its opposition to the Three Waters reform and Maori wards, the NCA is backing nine candidates in their bid for council seats and has endorsed councilor Tim Skinner for mayor.
In June, a VFF newsletter promoted the pressure group to its readers, providing contact details for NCA.
“Are you concerned about the perceived alignment of our councils with unelected agendas?” says the bulletin. “If you are in the Nelson City Council area, there is a group orchestrating change by soliciting candidates and supporting those candidates in their marketing strategies.”
NCA spokesman Peter Rait said Byrne’s connection to VFF was “hell of a shock”.
The group had a vetting process that included a written application, interview and signing a disclosure, Rait said.
“We hadn’t seen any signal [regarding Byrne’s links] in our meetings,” Rait said.
The NCA had not requested publicity from VFF, and Rait was shocked that they were mentioned in the newsletter, he said.
“I am really horrified. Shocked beyond belief. It’s incredible.”
NCA official Neville Male did not respond to questions about his prior knowledge of Byrne’s VFF links.
“You can rest assured that there is no way the alliance will endorse a candidate proposing such a ridiculous idea. [making New Zealand ‘ungovernable’]”Male said.
Also in the running is Dai Mitchell, who ran unsuccessfully in the last round of elections. Sound 2019 the bio contestant expressed concerns about 5Gand supported “public inquiries into the Masonic involvement of subverted public trusts.”
A judge last year found Mitchell guilty and found him guilty of assault and dangerous driving, related to a low-speed police chase during the 2020 lockdown.
During his trial, where he represented himself, Mitchell said he was appearing “under duress” and cited the Statute of Westminster 1275, the Petition of Right 1627 and the Bill of Rights Act 1688. The Judge told Mitchell that those references “just escape me.”
Mitchell’s rhetoric is a hallmark of the sovereign citizen movement, a group that believes it is not subject to New Zealand law. Mitchell has espoused these views in wordy online essays, which include the belief that a birth certificate is a contract with the government.
Since Things reported on VFF’s plans to infiltrate local politics, there has been much speculation on social media about the local candidates.
NCC councilor and mayoral candidate Tim Skinner had appeared on “a few lists” and was the subject of an accusatory message written by a fellow councillor.
Skinner was not a member of the VFF and had never protested with them, he said.
The charges, which included that he attended the Wellington protests, were “boring”.
“I’m quite thick-skinned, but it’s disappointing when I have fellow candidates using the situation to play politics.”
The claims stem from Skinner’s appearance at a “freedom rally,” where he listened to speeches ranging from abortion to farmers’ rights. Although some speeches resonated, Skinner did not agree with all of the views presented, he said.
As an elected representative, he strove to reach out to a range of people, Skinner said.
“I’m open to listening to a lot of bands, I try to go into them with an open mind. Maybe they’re crazy, but I’ll listen and if it confirms they’re crazy, then so be it.