Last night a protest fleet was halted by police at the Mercer checkpoint on the road to Auckland. What is this self-described ‘hīkoi’ all about? For IRL, Dylan Reeve explains.
What is the “Sovereign Hīkoi of Truth”?
At its most basic it’s a protest road trip from Rotorua to Waitangi, which would be less remarkable were it not for the fact that the route took them through parts of Waikato that are in level three and up to the Mercer checkpoint on the Auckland boundary.
According to the police, most of the dozens of vehicles that rolled up last night agreed to move off the road, but drivers of two vehicles, including a bus, refused to budge, blocking the northern lanes. At around 2.30am a group of protesters “surged forward on foot”, said police, blocking the southern lane.
What’s the “truth” of this cause?
That’s not specifically addressed by the protesters in any of their communications, but a quick look at their Facebook group suggests the “truth” encompasses just about any conspiracy theory connected to Covid-19. Countless words, images and videos are devoted to claims about one world government, vaccine dangers, Covid origins, satanic rituals, Bill Gates, communism, authoritarianism, paedophile cults, government mind control, geoengineering and suppressed cancer cures.
“Truth” in this instance seems to be a very big tent.
And the “sovereign” bit?
This is a bit byzantine, but in short it is mostly in relation to sovereign citizen ideas – that’s a big rabbit hole I’ll dip into in a moment.
An SBS article from Australia talks about the sovereign movement across the Tasman, which is quite similar to the local one. Proponents are generally taking ideas from US and UK sovereign citizen groups and adapting them for New Zealand. Here, those ideas are sometimes bound up in ideas of tino rangatiratanga. Both tino rangatiratanga and United Tribes flags were being flown by Hīkoi of Truth participants.
At its core, the sovereign citizen idea is that we, living people, are not naturally subject to the laws of the country we’re living in. The specifics vary depending on who is “teaching” but usually the claim is that governments aren’t actually governments, but “corporations”. When we’re born the birth certificate issued by this government isn’t a birth certificate but is instead a legal document that contracts us to the government and assigns our wealth to them.
Sovereign promoters will declare that by various methods we can stop contracting with these corporate governments. In some cases it’s a matter of sending in a certain declaration, but in other cases simply writing your name in a certain way (not using capital letters, or even just using a red pen), they claim, is enough to free you from the government’s power.
Along with these ideas comes a lot of legalese jargon. There’s a very strong belief that specific terms can impart certain legal powers under common law (or, some say, “common lore”) that operate as some sort of “get out of jail free” card.
What happened with the hīkoi?
About 40 cars set off from Rotorua about 8pm last night with the stated goal of travelling to Waitangi. They seem to have passed from level two into Waikato’s level three untroubled. Coming into Tāmaki Makaurau from the south the fleet had grown to about 65 cars, but their progress was halted just after midnight by police at Mercer.
Some eventually turned back. Many remain there now. And others are elsewhere.
Elsewhere? Where exactly?
Groups that had planned to join the hīkoi as it passed on the way north have started to gather at various points along the way, including just inside Auckland’s border at Bombay, north of Auckland at Dairy Flat, and on either side of the northern border at Te Hana and Kaiwaka. Hundreds have also gathered at Waitangi in anticipation of the hīkoi’s arrival.
If they started in a level two area and are travelling to a level two area, can’t they just carry on?
Unless you meet strict criteria, travel through level three is not permitted under current settings. However, on one live stream viewed by The Spinoff this morning, an officer told hīkoi organisers that allowing a managed transit through Tāmaki Makaurau is being considered.
So it’s a road trip for internet conspiracists?
That’s a characterisation they’d completely reject, but a glance at the online activity and streams from the protest suggest it’s pretty accurate. The various sovereign ideas have become very popular in many Covid-denial and anti-vax online communities, it seems, because they offer a way that people can opt out of a system they disagree with.
People who may have joined Facebook groups because of a concern about vaccine safety are now bombarded with ideas about the Magna Carta and common law powers. Some are even paying money for documents or training material that it’s claimed will get them out of mandates or other legal obligations.
How many people are part of this?
It’s hard to say. In online posts and some videos from those travelling with the hīkoi there are claims of 2,000 or more. But given there were no more than about 70 cars coming into Auckland last night, that seems to be an exceptionally optimistic estimate at this stage. However, more were planning to join the hīkoi en route, so who knows how many could potentially arrive.
But there are many more people who are supportive of the hīkoi without taking part. Their journey has become the main talking point in most anti-vax and Covid-denial Facebook and Telegram groups this morning. The official Facebook group has swelled to over 20,000 members, and there were more than a thousand people watching a 1am live stream from Auckland’s southern border last night.
Members of these communities like to claim they represent a “majority” of New Zealanders and imagine a time when the whole population stands up against the government. That is clearly far from the truth, but their numbers are also probably greater than many people would like to assume.