The Covid-19 testing centre at White Cross St Lukes in Auckland (Photo: Matthew McAuley)
The Covid-19 testing centre at White Cross St Lukes in Auckland (Photo: Matthew McAuley)

Covid-19February 12, 2021

Senior teacher emails Covid-19 conspiracy theories to principals across Waikato region

The Covid-19 testing centre at White Cross St Lukes in Auckland (Photo: Matthew McAuley)
The Covid-19 testing centre at White Cross St Lukes in Auckland (Photo: Matthew McAuley)

‘We do not agree with the opinions expressed,’ said the Ministry of Education of the Te Kūiti High School acting assistant principal, who wanted to spark debate with an email attachment that included false claims around the ‘controlavirus’ and Bill Gates.

The acting assistant principal at Te Kūiti High School shared conspiracy material that dismissed Covid-19 as a “controlavirus” in an email with his fellow principals across Waikato on Thursday night. He now says he regrets sending the message.

Freedom of speech is under attack and opinions that don’t correspond with “the things we have all been told” about Covid-19 are being suppressed on social media, Greg Londt said in the email Thursday.

The email, which was shared with The Spinoff by one of the region’s principals who received it, asked them to read a 237 page document from an American author linked to misinformation. The document makes a number of claims about Covid-19 and the global health response, concluding that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is using the pandemic as an excuse to control humanity.

Speaking with The Spinoff, Londt stressed that he had not shared the document with any students or parents at the school. He said he didn’t agree with everything in the document, but wanted to start “a debate” with his fellow professionals about the meaning of information.

“If I was using my position to indoctrinate students to misinformation that would be a serious charge, but that is not my intention. I just wanted to bring other professionals into a debate really,” he said today.

“My goal is not to undermine anything that keeps people safe. Not at all. I think, it was in retrospect, I believe it was stupid to share such a controversial document with those principals and I’m regretting that decision,” he continued.

The Ministry of Education said in a statement that the email is not acceptable. 

“We contacted the school board chair as soon as we became aware of this email. We do not agree with the opinions expressed in the email,” said Katrina Casey, the ministry’s deputy secretary for sector enablement and support.

“We have been clear with school leaders about where to find authorised information about Covid,” she added.

The document shared by Londt is making the rounds in New Zealand, said Kate Hannah, who is leading a Covid-19 disinformation research project at Te Pūnaha Matatini. It had been written to appeal to people who are middle-aged and with an academic background, she said.

This is a text that is quite obviously steeped in conspiracy theory and uses some of the tropes of undermining of what we know is truthful about Covid-19,” Hannah told The Spinoff.

The document has numerous footnotes and most of the people quoted in it are presented with impressive credentials. However, the content is largely disinformation, she said. There are also a number of links to YouTube and Facebook posts.

The supposed scientific rigour of the document seemed to appeal to Londt, who wrote to the principals that it was written from an academic viewpoint.

“The author has repackaged a lot of information from the internet in what resembles a well-articulated scientific argument with credentials. It’s packaged for people who consider themselves well educated but are susceptible to the idea that what they’ve been told isn’t necessarily true,” said Hannah.

The document quotes a New Zealand doctor with a YouTube channel who claims that social distancing doesn’t work. There are numerous studies that show how effective social distancing is. The document quotes a professor who says there’s no scientific evidence that masks limit the spread of Covid-19. The US Centers for Disease Control just concluded that worn correctly, two masks block 92.5% of particles.

The document also quotes from the Kremlin-controlled disinformation network RT that vaccines are unnecessary and Bill Gates is using them as a way of reducing the world’s population or to put microchips in people to create a global surveillance state. The latter two claims are presented as quotes from sources, one of whom is a retired tennis player.

The Pfizer vaccine just approved for use in New Zealand was rigorously screened by the independent agency Medsafe for months and has now been given to millions of people around the world. There’s no evidence that it is being used with martial law to curtail global freedom, as the document’s author contends.

According to Hannah, it’s important to approach these cases with compassion. It’s possible that someone who has concerns about the vaccines or Covid-19 lockdowns reads the lengthy document and comes to believe what is written. Hopefully, they then go and consult more sources and come to understand that they were reading misinformation, she said.

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox