The following was written for Street Life, the Princes Street Labour magazine, which is really jolly good.
When the Editor of this esteemed journal asked me to contribute an item about the recent arrests of alleged terrorists, I should have listened to my conscience, which was telling me "don't touch this; pretend you have lost the ability to type; tell him you are on holiday; do anything but accept this brief."
Unfortunately, I did not listen and the inevitable has happened: I have spent a week trying to write half a page. Agreeing to write on a story of this kind is like contracting writer's block by email. The trouble is, there is no story: all we know is that some people have been arrested on firearms charges. We won't know anything more until the arrested people are tried in court. A lot has been said in the media but most of that is speculation.
So, to fill the rest of this column, here are the facts in a little more detail: several people have been arrested, on firearms charges, in three locations: Auckland, Wellington and beyond the Black Stump. The Aucklanders were based at an anarchist den in Symonds Street; the Wellingtonians were hanging out at the headquarters of the Save Happy Valley campaign, a group previously known only for its concern for the welfare of ginormous snails. The last group, supposedly the centre of the operation, were in Tuhoe country; this is somewhere inland of the Bay of Plenty, in a part of the country which is very pretty but otherwise of no interest.
Here is the speculation, or at least some of it: these people were said to be plotting together to commit acts of terrorism, including the assassinations of Helen Clerk, John Key and George Bush (for the President of the United States to be killed by people from a country he probably could not locate on a map would be an ironic, if fitting, end to his career). At the centre of it is all, we are told, is Tame Iti, who has been training an army of his Tuhoe people deep in the bush. Some say that he intended to carry out a campaign of murders to drive outsiders from the region and make it his own; this would seem superfluous, since nobody ever goes there. Supporters claim he was doing nothing of the kind; he was merely training young men in defensive techniques so they could take jobs as bodyguards.
The question we should be asking is "can we take any of this seriously?" After all, the leader of this alleged conspiracy allegedly is Tame Iti, allegedly New Zealand's most ridiculous man. Mr Iti is known to us all for his calculated acts of bombast and self-regard. He blows his nose at the feet of Government Ministers; he rides horses bareback and bare-chested, perhaps trying to imitate the Burger King girls; he struts about in a kilt and a pill-box hat, again bare-chested, obviously unaware of passing of the 19th Century. He is no stranger to controversy but obviously a stranger to Jenny Craig. He fires a gun into the air as an act of defiance, just like all those blowhards in Palestine and points east. He demands, he struts, he proclaims, he makes Brian Tamaki look modest and self-effacing. And he fancies himself as an artist, having exhibited his paintings in a Parnell gallery. Trust me on this, I'm an Art Historian: these pompous, self-important gits always think they are artists.
And what of his army? As the old saying goes, I have seen the enemy and they are idiots. Apparently they bought weapons: on TradeMe. Now, don't get me wrong; TradeMe is an excellent market for the things you need at low, low prices. But is a very public market. After you have bought a few semi-automatic rifles with your trading account, people start to notice a pattern. It's much the same with the balaclavas; apparently they made a bulk order for balaclava helmets, the kind with just holes for mouth and eyes, the kind favoured for comfort and anonymity by international terrorists in the movies. It is this kind of purchasing decision that makes people suspicious.
No doubt we will hear a lot more when the case comes to trial. No doubt what we will hear will be as much farce as tragedy. Until then, members of the protesting class will while away the time by marching, holding vigils, making demands and being outraged. The rest of us will have to content ourselves with rumours and speculation.