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Bob Jones, October 23, 1985. (Photo: Peter Rae/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Bob Jones, October 23, 1985. (Photo: Peter Rae/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

OPINIONĀteaFebruary 14, 2020

Bob Jones is not just a racist. He’s also a coward

Bob Jones, October 23, 1985. (Photo: Peter Rae/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Bob Jones, October 23, 1985. (Photo: Peter Rae/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

This week I watched a man shoot himself in the foot so many times I was amazed he could walk out of the courtroom. Here’s my honestly held opinion.

Leonie Hayden was at Wellington High Court thanks to the support of Spinoff Members. To support independent, homegrown journalism, join today

The high-profile case of Robert E Jones suing Renae Maihi for defamation after she called a column he wrote racist came to an end this morning, when lawyers acting for Jones announced the case would be withdrawn.

Having witnessed the cross-examination of Jones, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised that his legal team might be looking for an exit.

What I heard was a man who loves the sounds of his own voice. A man who says he reads a lot but evidently knows fuck all about Māori culture and history. At one point he said he reads for six hours a day, including eight newspapers, and owns 600 books on Māori history. Any amateur New Zealand history enthusiast would assume that includes the usual suspects: Ranginui Walker, Claudia Orange, Moana Jackson, Dick Scott, Anne Salmond, Judith Binney, Michael King et al but for some reason the only works Jones cited were vague studies done by authors in the 1800s, and Paul Moon, a non-te reo Māori-speaking man who once wrote a book on te reo Māori.

Jones also asserted that te reo Māori had been saved from extinction only because it was recorded in writing by early settlers. He seemed unaware that it has been spoken, often against the odds, continuously for many hundreds of years. Moriori from Rēkohu, who are gathering to sign their Treaty settlement today, might also be surprised to discover that, according to history buff Jones, they no longer exist.

Amazing that these easy-to-Google facts somehow escaped all 600 of his history books.

A self-professed libertarian, Jones advocates for all people having the capacity to lift themselves out of poverty. Those that cannot, he categorises as lazy.

In a video clip played by Maihi’s lawyer, Davey Salmon, of a TV appearance by Jones on a show called Te Kupenga from 1986, he states:

“We have a general consensus with [the show’s host] Hone’s basic proposition, that Māoris fall heavily into the poverty category. I’m going to say to you tonight that it’s their fault and the solution lies simply with them. They’ve had every opportunity to do something about it.”

“I stand by everything there,” he told the court on Wednesday.

The reason, it seems, Jones believes that anyone can pull themselves out of poverty is because he himself was born into poverty but can now afford the luxury of lengthy court battles.

“I hate having to talk about myself,” he told the court, for the first of many times that day. “I got my first ever Christmas present at 10 years of age. I tasted meat at 17, which is why I’m not much of a meat eater. I lay dying literally in hospital at 20, the first ever case of recorded starvation in this country, or so they told me. Well, no one was going to help me. So I helped myself. There’s no reason why anyone can do that [sic]. People assume I must have a great intellect. I don’t! But I make the effort.”

You’ll be as amazed as I was to find Jones does not possess a great intellect, or that the first ever recorded case of starvation in New Zealand was in 1959 and not say, during the Great Depression. I was further amazed when he said “I’m the last person in the world that could be described as racist” before describing the haka as “infantile” and only performed by “overweight, spear waving males” and characterising Māori oratory tradition as “bullshit”.

“We’ve all seen it. The chap prancing around on and on, and everyone lying around looking extremely bored.”

Yes. The horror of listening to a man go on and on. One can only imagine. Jones in fact went on so many baffling tangents that he was repeatedly asked by both the defence’s lawyer and the judge, using increasingly basic language as one might to a child, to “stay on task”.

To lighten the mood, and as an example of how all people love it when he “takes the mickey” using outdated racial stereotypes, Jones relayed a joke he’d made in the direction of High Court security staff after an expensive card holder had briefly gone missing when going through the x-ray scanner. “Bloody Māoris!” he’d joked to the “two Māori chaps”, he told the court. All security staff at the Wellington High Court that day were Sāmoan.

To me it was one of the more baffling aspects of the plaintiff’s case, that his writing is meant to be humorous. Jones’s first witness, NZ First chief of staff Jon Johansson (whose paper Orewa and the Rhetoric of Illusion, a 2004 criticism of Don Brash’s Orewa speech, I enjoyed very much), read a couple of these missives out loud as an example of Jones’s notorious wit, including this cracking yarn about anti-whaling activists being “sizest” against krill. I didn’t see a single person smile let alone laugh, including Jones’s own supporters in the gallery. It feels like Jones has told so many people he’s funny, no one has bothered to find out if it’s true.

Johansson argued passionately that someone’s words could only be deemed racist if you also knew the full intention of the person saying them. Taking text on its own was not enough to determine if someone was racist. He admitted that the NBR column contained “negative racial connotations” when referring to the fact that there are no “full blooded Maoris” but that Jones didn’t have those “negative connotations” in his mind when he wrote them. “I think he thinks it’s just a matter of pure logic.”

These were the last words Johansson said to Maihi’s lawyer: “All I know is if all one did was concentrate on, at the exclusion of the man himself, just his words, I think we’d all want to hang him.”

With friends like these… It’s enough to make you want to drop a court case early.

The most infuriating hypocrisy of all became apparent as the defence tried to establish that Jones knew his opinions were seen by many as offensive. Jones often stated an opinion on Māori history or tradition as fact (the destruction of Moriori, the survival of te reo, that whaikōrero is “bullshit”), and then claimed that everyone he knows, Māori included, agreed with him. But when asked if he knew people thought his opinions were shitty or provocative, he would simply reply, “I can’t possibly know what other people think.”

There were times when his delusions of intellectual gigantism started to blur into plain old whoppers. There’s a famous photo of Jones exiting a car in what appears to be a velvet tux, and giving the fingers to a group protesting the 1981 Spingbok tour.

Photo by Kapil Arn.

Neither Salmon nor the judge was able to get a coherent answer from Jones about whether or not he fully supported the tour, but he admitted that “in many ways” he did. In court Jones claimed that he only gave the rude gesture captured in the black and white photo after being “roundly abused” by the crowd. He was, he said, simply there to host a fun, apolitical event and the protestors, who were there to protest Robert Muldoon, booed him as soon as he got out of the car.

Jones also claimed he “went for them and they ran away”. Salmon let Jones repeat the assertion that “they all ran away” a number of times before revealing they had a video clip of the incident. In one continuous shot Jones can be clearly seen exiting a car, the protestors mid-song, and immediately pulling the fingers at them. Looking pleased with himself, he quickly walks inside the building. At no point does he “go for them” nor do any of them run away.

Even though we had all clearly witnessed one continuous shot on the screen, Jones argued it was edited to make him look bad.

Over the course of the day I heard and saw things that variously made my hands clench into fists, made me laugh at his ridiculousness, and flush with embarrassment for those valiantly trying to prove in a court of law that up was down. But somehow the thing that made me feel the worst was that he left after his cross-examination and never came back. He wasn’t there to listen to his own witnesses: Johansson, Dame Margaret Clarke, author Alan Duff and personal trainer Ryan Wall. I don’t claim to understand why you’d defend such a man, but I felt bad for them that abandonment was his repayment for their loyalty. It struck me that this wasn’t what a brave or loyal person would do.

And worst of all, he wasn’t there to hear Renae Maihi give her statement. By the time she gave her statement on Thursday afternoon, she had sat patiently through four days of the trial and had greeted many of Jones’s witnesses and supporters warmly.

Let me acknowledge here that I believe it is Maihi, not Jones, who deserves these 1500 words. They are dedicated to her mana and perseverance. She should be extraordinarily proud. But she didn’t ask for any of this and has said that she doesn’t enjoy the attention it has brought her. It was Jones, a man who loves to rail against those who take offence, who revealed his skin to be so thin he would launch costly legal action against someone who called him out. It was Jones who asked to stand before a judge and have the contents of his character judged. And then, presumably when he realised his case was doomed, he walked away.

The fighter and the underdog. The man of the people. The doesn’t-back-down, rags-to-riches, tells-it-like-it-is Kiwi hero. When the time came he wouldn’t stand by his own friends and he wouldn’t accord Maihi the decency of hearing how she felt about a multi-millionaire dragging her through the courts to soothe his over-inflated ego.

Not only is Bob Jones a racist, he is also a bully, a quitter and a coward. That is my honestly held opinion.

Leonie Hayden was at Wellington High Court thanks to the support of Spinoff Members. To support independent, homegrown journalism, join today

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