Two parents had a disagreement with surgeons at a children’s hospital. A fortnight later, their public advocate likened their child to Jesus Christ in an interview with the world’s most famous conspiracy theorist. How did a debate around a blood transfusion in New Zealand become a cause célèbre in online conspiracy circles? One figure looms large. Charlie Mitchell investigates.
This story was first published on Stuff.
American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was appalled. “Mad scientists” on the other side of the world, he said, were conducting Nazi-style experiments on a baby.
“Let’s bring Liz Gunn in here,” Jones growled.
“Give us your expert view on this.”
The case of Baby W*, whose heart surgery was delayed because his parents demanded vaccine-free blood, has featured prominently in New Zealand’s mainstream media, but the first to report the case – and the person who became the parents’ most unrelenting, vociferous advocate – was Liz Gunn.
Gunn is a journalist best known for quitting her job on TV1’s Breakfast show live on air in 2001.
She disappeared from public view before reemerging in 2021 with a video stating her opposition to Covid-19 vaccine mandates, which she likened to rape. She has since become a prominent figure in New Zealand’s online conspiracy theory community.
The Baby W situation has been reported globally in mainstream media outlets, from the Daily Mail to Fox News. But it has taken on a particular urgency in the informal network of conspiracy-theory-driven news shows, of which Jones and Infowars are the apex predator.
During the interview with Jones, Gunn made clear her view that this was not just a private dispute between two parents and a hospital.
“Many, many Kiwis – thousands, I’d say millions – are waking up in horror, even those who have been asleep and going along with the lies of this prime minister,” she said, a day after the High Court ruled in favour of the hospital.
“This beautiful little boy – remember there was one other baby, Alex, who was born at Christmas-time and changed the world – is this another one of those?”
How did the case spread so far, so quickly? And would this situation have occurred without Gunn’s aggressive advocacy?
A review of many hours of footage – much of which was generated by Gunn herself – shows how a private dispute became a public circus in online conspiracy groups, and ended with two parents, claiming to be prisoners in a children’s hospital, having their child taken from them in the night.
In late November, Liz Gunn was told by a friend about an unfolding situation at Starship Hospital.
Steve Oliver runs an MMA gym that drew repeated fines for violating Covid-19 restrictions. He is friends with Baby W’s father, and reached out to Gunn on his behalf to draw attention to the family’s predicament.
The story was perfectly suited to Gunn. Unlike the low-fi Counterspin Media, Gunn specialises in well-produced, longer-form interviews that heavily feature Gunn herself. Think of Oprah Winfrey, reaching across a table to comfort an emotional guest.
She regularly reports on issues involving children and vaccines, and – coincidentally – has previously recounted her own near-death experience during heart surgery.
In the first of what would be many interviews about Baby W, Gunn is in the hospital room with the family, cradling the baby’s twin brother (who has no medical issues).
The parents are frustrated, but don’t appear to be angry; they portray it as an unfortunate impasse, not an ideological battle with life-or-death stakes. The baby’s mother, at one point, says: “I still have high regard for those doctors. They are brilliant at what they do,” to which the father agrees.
During the interview, it is revealed that Gunn – who had only just met the family – had already attended a private meeting between the family and hospital staff, where she acted as their advocate.
In her recounting of the meeting, Gunn was “firm and clear”: she told an “arrogant and disinterested” hospital staff about the dangers of vaccination and insisted hospital staff would be personally liable if something went wrong.
This was not how the hospital staff saw it.
One surgeon in the meeting later said it was “hijacked by the parents’ support person who proceeded to pressurise the specialists with her theory about conspiracies in New Zealand and even said that deaths in infants getting transfusions were occurring in Starship Hospital,” according to the High Court judgement.
This behaviour caused the medical staff to leave the meeting after several minutes, the judgement said.
Later in the interview, Gunn said her strategy was to “go nuclear” on the story, imploring viewers to contact mainstream media outlets to report on the case.
“Please, New Zealand, take pity on our family here… They [the hospital] will crumple if we get it on mainstream and there is horror at what this government is doing, I promise you,” Gunn said.
She continued, through tears: “I promise you I just want to help this family. Please help me help them. Please, I beg you.”
The video was recorded on a Friday, but the parents asked for its publication to be delayed so they could continue talking with medical staff.
Those discussions did not happen. Gunn, however, stayed in regular contact with the family. On the following Monday, she spoke to the baby’s mother on the phone, telling her the hospital was “playing a mind game”, Gunn recalled in one interview.
That evening, the hospital told the parents it would be pursuing legal action to take medical custody of the baby. Such action is rare, but has occurred in response to parents with a religious objection to blood transfusion.
After the meeting, the parents spoke to Gunn once again, and the interview was published later that evening.
It quickly prompted mainstream media coverage of the case. Despite Gunn having actively solicited such coverage during the interview, two days after its release, she was condemning it.
“Mainstream media… I’m trying to protect [the baby’s mother] from it as much as I can”, Gunn said on Counterspin Media on November 30.
“She just needs peace and quiet to have her baby protected.”
In fact, Gunn was actively shielding the baby’s parents from mainstream coverage. When a Stuff reporter contacted the baby’s mother directly, she told Gunn.
The response to the reporter by text insisted they ask questions to prime minister Jacinda Ardern and the head of the New Zealand Blood Service before any interview took place, to demonstrate the reporter was “genuine”. When an NZ Herald reporter asked Gunn to be put in contact with the baby’s mother, Gunn responded with a similar requirement.
By her own account, Gunn was telling the mother not to read “the mainstream media hit-pieces”.
“We’re pretty much shielding the horrific, cannibalising mainstream media from this beautiful family,” Gunn said on December 2.
The parents were, however, giving frequent interviews to one person: Liz Gunn.
Those interviews show an escalation in the family’s frustrations with the hospital. In an interview with the baby’s father, he invoked medical experiments during the Nazi regime, and describes his disbelief that doctors at Starship were not looking at the same information he was.
“I can look on my phone and find something in three minutes… every medical computer in the world is hooked up to the internet, and I wonder why, if they’re not using it,” he said.
A strong conviction
The parents both had strong anti-vaccination views that predated their encounter with Liz Gunn. The baby’s father attended the occupation at parliament earlier this year, and the baby’s mother was mandated out of her job as a midwife.
In court, it was noted they had approved blood from the general supply for a previous surgery. The parents believed the use of blood was unlikely; when a small amount was used, they reiterated their views to the doctors, and made it clear they would not consent again. Their views, by all accounts, were consistent and well known.
What is less clear is if whether Gunn’s aggressive advocacy influenced the way the process played out.
In public statements and interviews, Gunn repeatedly said – both to the baby’s parents, and to their supporters – that she believed the court case would succeed, and that New Zealanders would rise up en masse in support of the parents’ wishes.
During her second interview with the family in their hospital room, Gunn – who was again cradling Baby W’s twin – suggested people donate to the family for future legal expenses.
‘I don’t believe it will come to that… I believe so many Kiwis are rising up on this case, that you will have the support of this country and beyond, in the world, for your cause,” Gunn said.
“I think this is the hill many of us are willing to fight absolutely to our last breath on. That will scare this government, and it should, because New Zealanders are angry now.”
A few days later, during a candlelight vigil outside Starship Hospital, Gunn told the crowd she refused to consider what would happen if the court ruled against them.
“We will keep this going until we win, and the world will support this win,” she said.
“There is no other option. If they think they can try to outlast us, they will find a country that rises up.”
During the hearing, Baby W was brought to court against the medical advice of doctors at the hospital.
Gunn claimed that nurses had deliberately sabotaged the baby’s feeding rate in order to prevent him from being taken away, and that security guards were tailing the baby’s mother.
It tied into existing rhetoric about the hospital and its staff, which had already been fuelled by Gunn.
In an interview with Counterspin Media, she described receiving a phone call from an unidentified man who speculated something “so dystopian that I’m going to call it out ahead”, Gunn said.
“His theory was that they could be wanting this beautiful little baby to die, so they can turn that narrative back so brutally on the parents and say ‘it’s your fault, it’s your fault,” Gunn said.
“I can tell you Jacinda Ardern, if that is your dark plan – and I can’t even imagine a human being with such a dark plan, so I’m hoping that man is wrong – but if it were, do you know whose feet his death would be put at?” She listed various figures including Ardern, the government, the blood service, and the mainstream media.
At the end of the hearing, Gunn left the court to address supporters and media outside. She broke down in tears, saying she was exhausted and hadn’t slept. She had been advocating for the parents for nearly two weeks.
The court ruled in favour of health authorities . The surgery would go ahead, using blood from the general pool.
The family, Gunn, and Grey, appeared resigned to the decision. They did not appeal.
The alternative media campaign, nevertheless, continued apace.
The parents and Gunn were invited to appear on Infowars, and were interviewed by Alex Jones. His show is enormously popular in the online conspiracy movement; just a week earlier, the rapper Ye had appeared on the show and publicly praised Adolf Hitler, drawing tens of millions of viewers.
During their interview, the parents claimed to be prisoners in the hospital.
Among those who saw the clip were two surgeons from the US. They got in touch with the parents and – after a Zoom consultation, and a review of the baby’s medical files – concluded the baby did not require immediate surgery.
One of the surgeons, Gunn recalled the next day, had offered a lifeline.
“He said we could get you to America, operate on [Baby W] in the new year… the relief in our family,” Gunn said, seemingly referring to the parents and the baby.
By now, the relationship between the parents and the hospital had broken down irrevocably. The parents were refusing pre-surgery tests for Baby W, and appeared to object to the surgery taking place at all (they had previously only objected to the blood transfusion).
This prompted the hospital to file another court action, seeking clarification that police could use reasonable force to remove the parents to ensure Baby W could receive surgery. The parents’ lawyer, Sue Grey, cited the US doctors’ evidence in response, requesting to stop the surgery. It was rejected.
Gunn had been trespassed from the hospital, but she was keeping in regular contact with the family. That included having a friend of hers stay with them in their hospital room.
Late on Thursday night, several police officers entered the hospital room, picking up the baby and taking him away for pre-surgery tests. His distraught mother screamed, begging for her baby to be returned, as his father shouted at the police officers, calling them criminals.
The harrowing moment was captured by a camera operator in the room. He was filming content for Liz Gunn. The only other person with the family was Gunn’s friend, who could be seen holding the baby’s twin throughout the ordeal, and speaking to both police and hospital staff.
The campaign continues
The footage was later posted on Gunn’s channel, as was a late-night conversation between Gunn and both parents shortly after the baby was taken.
It was part interview, part strategy meeting.
Gunn, once again, invoked her belief that Baby W represented something much greater than himself.
“My darling, this baby is surrounded by white light, every bit of our energy,” she told Baby W’s mother.
“He is surrounded by angels – he is operating on another level, your baby. He is in the world, but he is not of the world. There is a soul energy keeping him safe.”
The baby’s mother, who is clearly upset, said she must consent to several conditions before the baby would be returned to her – that she would be alone, it would not be recorded, and that a police officer would be present.
“I just need to be with my baby,” she said. “What am I meant to do? I’m not going to say no.”
Gunn, from her home, weighed in with advice. “Every mother on Earth would understand… we will be weeping with you.
“As much as you register this is fully in coercion, it will never hold up in court as an agreement. These people are criminal doing this.”
The conversation continues, with the baby’s father objecting to the conditions and saying he wants one of the doctors to face imprisonment. Gunn gives further advice, and advanced a conspiracy theory that the doctors were secretly soliciting unvaccinated blood to use in the surgery.
“This has been the most horrific thing ever,” the baby’s mother concluded.
“I never want anyone to experience this.”
After a long night, Baby W was due to undergo surgery on Friday morning. Gunn continued her media campaign.
She appeared for a second time on Infowars, speaking to a different host, Owen Shroyer.
During the lengthy interview, Gunn and Shroyer broke down the video of the baby being taken by police, which is shown at length. Gunn, at times, appeared to be in disbelief, as she rattled through numerous conspiracy theories she presented without evidence.
The High Court judge who ruled on the case was corrupt and had been involved in rolling out “climate change tyranny”, she claimed. She floated a political bid, and speculated that Ardern might try to murder her, announcing that she “was not suicidal” and regularly checked her car, so it would not be involved in a suspicious crash.
She had been told – but could not verify – that “Tedros from the UN” (an apparent reference to the World Health Organisation’s director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus) had been in Wellington that week in response to the Baby W situation.
“Has a tiny four-month-old baby threatened this evil structure with his purity and his love so much that they sent the head of the UN [sic] to tell our prime minister what to do?” Gunn said.
She finished with a now familiar line. This baby, who’d she’d first met around two weeks earlier, and became entranced by his soulful blue eyes, could change the world.
“Can you imagine the effect of this pure little baby… and here we are at Christmastime, when another pure baby came into the world and changed the world.”
(The baby has automatic and permanent name suppression, but has been widely named online. The parents also have name suppression to protect the identity of the child, which has also been breached.)
Gunn and the parents respond
Gunn issued a statement on Saturday evening in response to Stuff’s query and asked that it be published in full.
She said the parents of [Baby W], feel they are being gravely misrepresented in the mainstream media of New Zealand since the operation on their 4-month-old baby
[They] have requested that the imbalance in reportage of subjective Truth be redressed, by printing their own words, as follows :[Baby W] is recovering, and [his mother] was finally able to hold him in her arms today.
“Her relief was overwhelming. [His parents] know that the sudden and rushed and forced removal of their baby boy by the NZ Police and Starship Hospital, remains an agonising memory of trauma, but both of them have the mental and physical resilience and strength to put that aside, while they focus fully on getting their treasured baby well. As always, their deep faith in God’s love and protection carries them through and beyond all evils.”
In her statement, Gunn requested that Stuff use the baby’s given name and said there was no legal requirement to withhold it.
“The family wish at all times to remind Kiwis that this is a valuable human being at the centre of the story. He is a person, and his name allows other people to relate to him as that, rather than a disembodied letter of the alphabet. “
Stuff is unable to use the name because of a suppression order, however. The statement also named both parents and Stuff has redacted those references also because of the suppression order.