‘Kindness is not a prediction of the future. It’s just one direction that New Zealand could be heading.’ So ends the preface of David Iles’ self-published 2020 novel. Iles’ vision of Aotearoa in the mid 2030s is one in which every paranoiac far-right prediction has come true. It’s a future where service workers wearing hijabs call you ‘comrade’ before reminding you to use the covid tracer app, celebrating ANZAC day has been banned and all pizzas are halal.
The protagonist is John Carey, a salt-of-the-Earth Kiwi farmer from north Canterbury whose father fought communism in Vietnam. John is losing the family farm due to environmental regulations. His narration tells of farmers clashing with environmentalists and Antifa (‘Well known for their violence toward those that supported conservative views’) first at a rally in Wellington, and again at a rally in Christchurch where police shoot dead twenty-three protestors. The event is ignored by the mainstream media, complicit with the tyrannical socialist government led by a woman who is heavily implied to be Jacinda Ardern (she is never referred to by name, characters call her ‘supreme leader’ or in one instance ‘that horrid woman with the smile and big teeth’). We follow John as he travels from his rural farm to Christchurch, which in this story has been renamed Ammantown. ‘Christ and Church were just too much to handle for the new citizens,’ John reflects. ‘Perhaps it all started with those famous hugs and headscarves after that terrible day in 2019.’ He sees that the Catholic Cathedral College has been renamed to just Cathedral College. ‘There were Indians, Chinese and some African. Some of the girls wore head scarves.’ He is shocked to hear the adhan coming from the Ballantynes department store, which has been converted into a mosque.
Kindness is New Zealand’s latest contribution to the long and sordid tradition of far-right speculative fiction. The best-known titles in the genre are Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints—in which ‘hordes’ of non-white migrants overrun Western Europe—and The Turner Diaries written by the then-head of the neo-Nazi National Alliance William Pierce, and first published under a pseudonym in 1978. Its protagonist, Earl Turner, joins a terrorist group known as ‘The Order’ whose spate of attacks are designed to start a race war. Writing in The New York Times, Ian Allen describes The Turner Diaries as ‘a hybrid of fantasy and how-to’ noting that the book has inspired hundreds of terror attacks in Europe and north Amercia, including the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. That attack, which in which 168 people were killed, was a copycat of one outlined in the book ‘right down to the time of day and type of explosives used.’
A stockpile of conservative fears
In addition to the heavy-handed commentary on Islam and New Zealand’s economic relationship with China, Kindness finds a way to incorporate just about every moral panic and conspiracy theory popular on the fringes of New Zealand’s right. Covid contact tracing has become a form of mass surveillance, and the protagonist muses that that virus itself may be a hoax perpetrated by the socialist government. The acceptance of gender minorities is another source of moral panic. Carey’s sycophantic farm employee Sandeep, who speaks in broken English despite having lived in Aotearoa for twenty-three years, tells him: ‘I don’t like somethings they teach my kids in school. Like Boss, they teach my eight-year old kid that she can be a boy if she wants. I don’t like that Boss.’
Carey frequently comments about high-rise apartments and public transport hubs, which the book attributes to United Nations Agenda 2030—a set of largely unremarkable sustainable development goals that loom large in the anxieties of many conservatives. Iles struggles to portray this future of walkable neighbourhoods and accessible mass transit as a dystopia, and resorts to describing the apartment buildings as grey and dreary, the trains and stations as dirty and poorly maintained. His protagonist comments on a sign describing one of the suburban transit hubs as ‘a China Belt and Road initiative’, referring to the Chinese global infrastructure development strategy, linking in the mind of the reader urbanism in Aotearoa to Chinese economic power.
The protagonist is estranged from his daughter, who was indoctrinated into communism at university and has gone on to become a teacher. ‘He thought she would have fitted in well. Most teachers were leftists. Indoctrinating young minds with ideas of ‘Inclusivity,’ ‘Sustainability,’ ‘Fairness,’ all with Communism just under the surface.’ Anxieties about the values instilled in children and young people through the education system return when John visits a school library and comments on the books:
‘Sally has two mummies’ and ‘I’m not a boy or a girl.’ The titles were self-explanatory, and they sickened him. There was also a book, ‘They stole our land.’ The cover showed a Māori boy standing on a cliff overlooking a bay on which was an English sailing vessel. Fake rewritten history, he thought.
In the end, John and his romantic partner Jennifer attempt to flee the country with the help of a South African mercenary (‘Paul had been a member of the Canadian Joint Task Force 2, an elite special operations unit. He had moved to New Zealand when in his early 30’s and had hoped to have joined the New Zealand Military. It never happened. Too many affirmative action policies in recruitment, and being a white South African, he had no chance’.) He himself is not going to undertake this escape unarmed. His weapon of choice: the rifle buried on a neighbouring farm of friend sixteen years before the events of the novel:
He remembered Steve’s reaction after the mosque shooting in 2019. ‘If they come for my guns, I will bury them,’ he said. Licensed firearms owners were enraged when within fourteen days of the shooting, most semi-automatic rifles were banned … Some claimed the firearms ban was all part of the Socialist agenda.
When the Chinese soldiers who patrol the coast spot the group boarding a small boat, John fires the rifle to ward them off. He dies in the ensuing firefight but the others, including Jennifer, make it to Australia, where she becomes friends with John’s estranged daughter, who has now renounced communism.
‘This book could well be prophetic’ read the title of a now deleted YouTube video by Lee Williams. Williams became New Zealand’s most subscribed far-right YouTuber after a video he made about being visited by police following the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting went viral. The police visit was likely prompted by earlier videos on his channel, such as footage of him speaking at a rally against the UN Migration Compact alongside notorious white supremacist Phillip Arps, where he shouted ‘The people of Europe are being replaced!’. Arps, who has most recently tried to join the ostensibly ‘anti-mandate’ occupation of the parliament grounds in Wellington but was detained along the way, was the first person charged with sharing the shooter’s livestream video, which was quickly deemed an objectionable publication. The conspiracy theory that the UN Global Compact on Safe and Orderly Migration would lead to the replacement of white Europeans appears to have been an inspiration for the shooter, who wrote the words ‘Here’s your Migration Compact!’ on one of his guns.
‘The only way we can actually stop this, in reality I’m talking about now’ says Williams in his video review of Iles’ book, ‘is by getting together and reading this kind of stuff because this is the future it really is, and we’ve got to get together and we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to stop this from happening.’
Kindness is not the terrorism how-to manual The Tuner Diaries was, though it’s heavy handed in its pro-gun themes. Iles includes an eight-point checklist on ‘How to create a socialist society’ at the end of the book, and in the preface asks readers to ‘consider how many of the eight have already been ticked in New Zealand’ noting that ‘the firearms buyback and subsequent list of additional banned firearms certainly ticks one box’. He clearly sees firearms restrictions as a key step in ushering in this supposed dystopia.
Williams was given his copy of the book by Ian Froggatt, another YouTube personality (albeit with considerably less reach) and author of the self published Six Politically Incorrect Essays: on Feminism, Islam, Multiculturalism, Jacinda Ardern, a vote for Tommy Robinson, the EU, and more… Froggatt had reviewed Kindness on the right-wing blog The BFD:
There will be those people saying, ‘Oh, this is simply fiction, that sort of thing could never happen in sleepy old New Zealand.’ To those people, I say there may well have been many Venezuelans or Hong Kongers that once thought the same thing. I also say to them that since the New Zealand Prime Minister changed to someone who was once President of the International Union of Socialist Youth, the direction of political travel has only been one way. It has not been in a direction that leads to more freedom.
The website where Kindness could be purchased is now offline, but no doubt the copies from Iles’ two print runs are circulating, being passed around the attendees of the anti-government rallies that have become a regular occurrence since the start of the pandemic. It’s unlikely anyone would pick up Kindness and be persuaded to adopt the author’s worldview. But for someone who already harbours the many conservative anxieties the book extrapolates to ludicrous conclusions, it will serve to reinforce them.
Image: a detail from the cover of Kindness. The design, by an anonymous artist based in Indonesia, was purchased off the Freelancer website, the page with the original brief is still up, along with the designs of the other bidders, and frankly it’s worth a look.