On Saturday afternoon, Billy Te Kahika Jr was the star attraction at an Aotea Square rally replete with Covid-19 conspiracy theorists. How did a blues musician end up New Zealand’s premier peddler of conspiracy nonsense? David Farrier went searching on the most powerful disinformation network of them all: Facebook.
Read more from David Farrier on his Webworm newsletter.
What’s shocking to me is not just the conspiratorial beliefs people hold, but the speed in which these outrageous new beliefs are being embraced.
I’m sure you can all think of people on your Facebook feed who seemed perfectly rational a month ago, but are now speaking about nothing else except kids trapped in underground tunnels, adrenochrome, and a shadowy cabal of global elites.
On Saturday I accidentally happened upon hundreds of these people, gathered in the centre of Auckland to protest the government’s response to Covid-19.
There was talk of a new world order, Bill Gates, 5G and the fact that Covid was a manufactured crisis.
The man with the microphone — QAnon sign floating near his head — is Billy TK Jr.
Billy heads New Zealand’s QAnon adjacent conspiracy party, Advance NZ, along with disgraced MP Jami-Lee Ross.
Looking at Billy, I thought to myself: how did this man go from being a blues musician to New Zealand’s premier peddler of conspiracy nonsense?
Well, thanks to Facebook — we can watch his journey unfold in real time.
I scoured his entire Facebook feed, examining how and why he embraced this new system of belief.
This is one man’s descent down the rabbit hole.
And it happened alarmingly quickly.
Let’s ease into this. In mid-February, we get the Billy TK Jr most New Zealanders know: the blues musician.
Billy shares a post that a lot of people shared — a “viral” clip of a woman filming her bullied son, in an effort to show the damage bullies can do.
Like we all experience, Covid-19 enters our discourse. Billy urges his friends and family to “take care & be vigilant and careful about this corona virus”.
Uh oh. Billy starts watching YouTube videos. The video has since been flagged by Facebook as “false information”, noting that Harry Kissinger did not urge mass vaccination in a 2009 speech.
While Billy’s started on his YouTube journey, he’s only a few days in. He urges the government to move to level four restrictions.
Billy’s reading a lot of news.
He’s still worried Jacinda Ardern isn’t moving fast enough to take New Zealand to level four restrictions, posting a link to a news story supporting his opinion.
New Zealand moves into level four lockdown.
I assume Billy now has more time on his hands. And the internet.
What could go wrong?
It’s been just over a week since Billy posted his first link with provably false conspiracy content, about a speech that never happened. Today, he posts a piece from known conspiracy theorist Dr Rashid Buttar.
Buttar has been reprimanded by the North Carolina Board of Medical Examiners for unprofessional conduct, and cited by the FDA for illegal marketing of unapproved and adulterated drugs.
Billy receives positive feedback for the link he’s posted.
Billy’s daily post count is going up. There’s a lot on his Facebook feed by this point, with multiple posts a day. They are now all conspiratorial in nature.
He receives positive feedback from James Reid, frontman of New Zealand band The Feelers.
Billy really likes Rashid Buttar, posting another of his unhinged YouTube videos called “Covid-19 CONSPIRACY? DECEPTIVE AGENDA”.
It’s been just over a week since level four lockdown was declared. Billy’s had eight days indoors with not much else to do but do his own research.
The posts are piling up way too fast to note them all. I am not going to bother. But there’s a lot of the usual QAnon adjacent stuff: Bill Gates is evil, 5G will kill you, and Covid-19 isn’t real.
Billy mentions that he is “researching topics” and “proof sourcing”. I only mention this as it’s pretty common language as people descend into fucking bonkers territory.
Another particular “Junior” makes an appearance in the form of Robert F Kennedy Jr. Yep. All normal, nothing to be worried about.
The rest of April
It flies by, and Billy posts a lot.
Certain people in the New Zealand media decide to give Billy a platform. He appears on Sean Plunket’s radio show.
Good morning dear all: I spoke on national radio yesterday with Sean Plunket …
Billy gets excited about the idea of protesting.
It’s been 50 days since he was advocating for a rush to level four to stop the spread of Covid-19.
He now thinks the crisis is about “mandatory vaccinations and control”, noting that “if you don’t vaccinate you will lose your freedom”.
This is not true.
Billy starts deleting critics from his Facebook.
Please whanau take careful note that anyone that abuses anyone for their views on my page will be deleted & blocked.
Spurred on by all the YouTube lectures he’s been enjoying, and the positive engagement he’s been getting from his posts (more than what he got in his former life as a blues musician) Billy decides to do a Facebook Live, posting this:
Good morning dear friends. At 3pm today I am going to do a ‘Live’ presentation on my page and I would like to invite you to come by.
After getting a “huge” response to his Facebook Live, Billy returns for more:
Kia ora dear friends – My next presentation “The Big Plan behind the Crisis” Pt 2 is this Sunday at 3pm. The topic is “Peeling the Onion.”
Over the coming days, Billy continues to do Facebook Lives, his audience growing.
Billy is excited to be given a platform on Māori TV.
Hi Everyone: I am on Māori Television on ‘Te Ao Māori News’ at 6:30 pm. Im sorry for the late notice, there is a reason. I am going to do a live FB broadcast at 7:30 pm for a quick important announcement. Take care dear all and thank you to everyone for your support & care xx
Later that evening, Billy follows this up with another Facebook live, thanking Dean Nathan who’d interviewed him: “A dear thanks to Deano.”
Billy claims 60,000 people have tuned into his live broadcasts so far. He is clearly stoked.
He then talks about there being “demonic” plans behind Covid-19, saying it is his job “leading people to know God”.
He follows this up by claiming he had to keep the Māori TV interview a secret in case the government got hold of it.
He notes he hasn’t seen the story yet.
He then talks about how a good friend has been saying: “We’ve been talking, and she said it would be a great idea if I looked at getting into politics.”
It’s been just over two months (70 days) since Billy first enthusiastically urged the government to move to level four restrictions.
A time when Billy never used to post about conspiracy theories. A time when he’d share the occasional YouTube video he liked. A time before things turned to utter fucking nonsense.
It’s sort of depressing watching someone go down the rabbit hole.
Why does it happen so fast?
I think Billy got scared of what was going on around him. I think Billy was locked indoors with a lot of time on this hands. I think Billy had a bunch of algorithms serving him new YouTube videos. I think Billy got more engagement on Facebook posting outrageous conspiracy theories than he did posting blues music. I think Billy enjoyed the stage given to him doing Facebook Lives. I think Billy was further encouraged when given a platform by various media outlets. I think Billy found a purpose. I think Billy saw he could get more famous. I think Billy understood that maybe, maybe he could make some money out of all this.
I think Billy represents someone we all know.
I think he represents a problem we all have to figure out how to solve.
I’m hoping that by examining Billy’s origin story, we might find some clues about where to start.
This post originally appeared on David Farrier’s Webworm Substack and is republished with permission.
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