Histories of Hate: The Radical Right in Aotearoa New Zealand

Authors: Matthew Cunningham, Marinus La Rooij & Paul Spoonley
Publisher: Otago University Press, 2023.  444 pages.
Reviewer: Hayden Crosby | April 2024

Histories of Hate is a work that is heavily influenced by the Christchurch terrorist attack of March 15, 2019. Essentially, this edited book has been produced to compile and present what we know about the New Zealand radical right throughout the country’s history and, in some instances, challenge it by using the pen, or rather keyboard, as a sword. The book comprises fifteen chapters divided into five sections grouped into periods. The introduction section includes a helpful discussion on terminology and some of the ways in which leading researchers have described politics on the far right side of the political spectrum. Using the broader term “radical right” allows a more encompassing range of subject matter.

The book’s first part contains chapters that explain New Zealand’s early radical right in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Firstly, Leonie Pihama and Cherryl Smith discuss the colonization of the country’s indigenous Māori population and the structural racism that followed. It is fascinating to learn here of the darker side of Charles Darwin and his contribution to scientific racism and racial hierarchies. Equally intriguing is the discussion of the origin of New Zealand’s prominent Plunket Society, the country’s leading infant-health focus charity grounded in the ethically dubious eugenics movement of the twentieth century.

The following chapter, written by Stevan Eldred-Grigg and Zeng Dazheng, discusses the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment in the country’s early history, the government’s actions to restrict Asian immigration, and how attitudes later changed. Many people know about the historical policies of other Western countries to reduce or prohibit Chinese and other Asian immigration, such as Australia’s White Australia policy and the Chinese Exclusion Act of the United States. Less well-known is the similarly discriminatory Poll Tax of New Zealand, which the authors discuss in detail.

Next, Marinus La Rooij investigates the life of a little-known individual by the name of Lionel Terry, who murdered a Chinese man in 1905 to apparently “awaken New Zealanders to the peril of Asian immigration” (77). The chapter discusses Terry’s radicalization, including his adoption of a super conspiracy theory of powerful Jews to destroy the British empire, as well as his anti-Asian activism across his lifespan. It is particularly interesting to note that, in some ways, the life of Terry parallels that of the Christchurch Terrorist of 2019 and that the conspiracy theories he believed in are similar to those held by the contemporary radical right.

The fourth chapter, written by Mark Derby, investigates the author of the work Might is Right, which has long influenced white nationalists and other radicals across the world, including terrorists and spree shooters. Despite some uncertainty around the work’s authorship, Derby believes it was “almost certainly written by a former farm worker from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand,” who originally went by the name Arthur Desmond (97). Furthermore, Derby suggests that Desmond’s work was inspired by the controversial radical and guerrilla figure Te Kooti, a Māori Geronimo-like figure. It is fascinating to contemplate that such an influential work originates in New Zealand.

The book’s second part focuses on the interwar period in the early twentieth century. In Chapter Five, Elizabeth Ward examines the New Zealand Welfare League, the Protestant Political Association, and the Loyal Citizens League, which promoted racial anti-socialists and anti-catholic ideas during the early twentieth-century interwar period. It is interesting to learn of the international connections and influences of both these old anti-socialist groups and their socialist rivals here. These global connections parallel that of the contemporary radical right, just the technology and speed have improved.

Chapter six examines the rapid rise of two early twentieth-century conservative populist groups, the Protestant Political Association, also discussed in the previous chapter, and the New Zealand Legion. The former organization was a conspiratorial-minded organization that intended to unite protestants against threats it saw posed by Catholics and socialists. In contrast, the latter was an anti-party laissez-faire organization mainly comprised of middle-class conservatives largely concerned with the Great Depression. Although quite different from the contemporary radical right, examining these two organizations may provide readers with some insight into how populist political organizations could arise in New Zealand.

The seventh chapter, written by Marinus La Rooij, investigates how antisemitism and Jewish conspiracy theories in New Zealand increased in prevalence during the economic crisis of the Great Depression period. It is interesting to read here about the origin of these conspiracies and understand how they have continued to persist and influence the radical right over the decades until the present. Another interesting observation was that antisemitism also came from the left and that the Labour Party, at the time, played a role in normalizing it. In contemporary times, there seems to be antisemitism coming from the left driven by the Israel-Hamas war, which in some ways is similar.

The subjects in the book’s third section focus on the radical right after World War 2. Chapter eight, written by Steven Loveridge, summarizes Paul Spoonley’s Politics of Nostalgia (1987). It briefly covers several radical right trends and events in New Zealand during the 1950-70s, including the rise of neo-Nazi groups, support for white nationalist governments in Southern Africa, the emergence of the National Front, and the rise of some prominent local radical right figures. One interesting thing to note in this chapter is how Nazi symbols have been used in both protest actions and by local gangs, primarily to rebel and offend, without those involved necessarily adhering to neo-Nazi or radical right ideology.

In the book’s ninth chapter, Sebastian Potgieter and Tyler West build on Spoonley’s earlier work examining the New Zealand radical right’s support for Southern Africa’s white nationalist states in the mid to late 20th century. Here, the authors discuss the radical right organizations that were formed to aid and increase relations with the white-minority-run governments at the time and to support sporting ties with South Africa. During the time, there was significant polarization in New Zealand over the decision to allow the two countries’ rugby teams to play against each other, and there were major anti-apartheid protests as a result. What readers can take away from this chapter is some good examples of how the radical right has attempted to co-opt mainstream causes. And perhaps also here are examples of how the radical left, namely Communist groups, seem to have been trying to do the same thing.

Chapter ten, written by Jarrod Gilbert, explains the emergence of “white power” skinhead gangs in the 90s, which he attributes to high unemployment rates, tensions over Asian immigration, and the influence of media featuring skinheads. One problem with the chapter is that the author, as in his book Patched (2013), seems determined to restrict skinhead gangs to the 90s. In reality, some of the groups discussed in the chapter continued well into the 2000s, and many new skinhead groups have emerged and faded since then. One South Island skinhead prison gang that emerged in the late 2010s managed to recruit enough new members to grow to a similar size to the Fourth Reich in the ‘90s and is still active at the time of this review. Part of a perceived sudden decline of skinheads and skinhead gangs in the 2000s is partly due to the success that the National Front had in engulfing smaller skinhead groups and new recruits. But otherwise, it is a good summary of the skinheads and skinhead gangs in the 80s and 90s.

The fourth division of the book focuses on religious and cultural intolerance from the 70s onwards. It begins with Dolores Janiewski discussing the history of the Christian right in New Zealand and its evolution over time and attempts to exert its form of moral conservatism over the country in the areas of family, sexuality, gender, and human reproduction. One interesting point the author discusses here is that the Christian right has occasionally looked back on an idealized, nostalgic memory of the past that is often imagined and unrealistic. This seems true for many other radical right groups as well, including contemporary ones, whether that idealized memory concerns family, race, sexuality, culture, or anything else.

The book’s twelfth chapter, written by Peter Meihana, examines opposition to recognizing Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi and Māori grievance. For international readers, the founding document was an agreement signed between the British Crown and Māori in 1840 during the colonial period of New Zealand. The author discusses subjects such as the increasing profile of the Treaty since the 70s, race relations, conspiracy theories of a pre-Māori people, and various policy developments about Māori and the Treaty. What is discussed here is very relevant to the ongoing controversial ambitions in 2024 of the newly elected right-wing coalition government to review the Treaty and introduce a “Treaty Principles Bill” that would define the “principles” of the Treaty into law.

The fifth and final section of the book contains chapters on twenty-first-century developments. It begins with Mark Dunick examining the career of Kyle Chapman, a prominent New Zealand white nationalist activist. It is quite a good narrative of man’s life and success in reviving the National Front and later founding the Right Wing Resistance. The author reiterates Gilbert’s earlier assertion that skinheads had largely diminished by the end of the 90s and had difficulty recruiting young members. This is problematic as readers can see that most of the skinheads depicted in the embedded photos are young fresh recruits who appear too young to have been active in the 90s. As a researcher who specializes in this subject, I would actually argue that the white power skinhead subculture experienced a brief resurgence in the country in the early 2010s.

In Chapter 14, Paul Spoonley and Paul Morris examine Identitarianism, the alt-right, QAnon, and the local groups Dominion Movement and Action Zealandia. The chapter is sometimes tangled, but these subjects are challenging to understand. Some of the authors’ statements could have been better supported with references and examples, for example, where they claim that alt-right ideology is embedded in video games and music videos and that white supremacy and white nationalism have broad support among millions of church-going people in the USA. Otherwise, the chapter is a good starting point for understanding these subjects and how they have materialized in New Zealand.

The book’s final chapter, written by Michael Daubs, investigates how “white extremists” use internet communication technologies to network internationally. Also discussed here are the radicalization of the Christchurch terrorist, the failure of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies, and the challenge of the regulation of the internet. The chapter gives the impression that the use of the internet by the radical right is a 21st-century development; I would add here that white nationalists in New Zealand have been using the internet to organize both locally and internationally since at least the mid-90s.

Looking back on the history of the radical right can help us understand it in its contemporary form. This book demonstrates this as we can observe many parallels between the radical right of old and new across the various chapters. The book has two principal limitations; firstly, despite being heavily influenced by the Christchurch attack, there needs to be more discussion on it, which may leave some readers disappointed. Given its massive impact, there should be a chapter dedicated to the horrific atrocity. Secondly, there is little in the way of new knowledge that can not be found elsewhere, in contrast to new empirical knowledge. Approximately half the chapters are reworked versions of the respective authors’ early work or have been adapted from Spoonley’s The Politics of Nostalgia. However, what the book does, and it does very well, is collect most of the existing knowledge on the radical right in New Zealand and present it in a very accessible way. As such, Histories of Hate is an essential compendium for those seeking to research or understand the radical right in New Zealand.


Jarrod Gilbert, Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand (Auckland University Press, 2013)

Paul Spoonley, The Politics of Nostalgia: Racism and the Extreme Right in New Zealand (Dunmore Press, 1987)


Hayden Crosby is a PhD Candidate in Criminology at the University of Auckland

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