The anti-mandate protests in New Zealand’s capital Wellington and around the country have also contained a strong anti-media sentiment with reporters abused and threatened.
But one far-right activist has gone a step further and as part of a targeted attack on the media has published a graphic image of public executions of Nazi war criminals.
The disturbing image shows a dozen Nazi war criminals being hanged following World War II.
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It has become a popular meme with the online far-right ecosphere, where it is often accompanied by a caption: “Photograph of Hangings at Nuremberg, Germany. Members of the Media, who lied and misled the German People were executed, right along with Medical Doctors and Nurses who participated in medical experiments using living people as guinea pigs”.
Disinformation Project lead Dr Kate Hannah said the poster’s intention was clear.
“It’s incredibly unsubtle. Even if all they do is march outside… it is still incredibly disturbing, it is still incredibly upsetting to have their work [media and health workers] targeted in such a manner.”
But in a twist of irony — considering the fake news such far-right groups claimed to despise — only one member of the media was actually executed following the war; high-ranking Nazi politician Julius Streicher, publisher of the far-right Der Stürmer tabloid.
And the photo in question was not even taken in Nuremberg — instead it shows executions in Kiev.
‘Hideous media language’
But, errors aside, Dr Hannah said the far-right’s seizing of ill-feeling against the media was cause for concern.
“There has been a concerted effort in these spaces over the last 18 months to frame mainstream media as agents of the state, as the ‘lying press’ which is obviously from lügenpresse which is Nazi terminology for left-wing press,” she said.
“There’s been some hideous language used around journalists — the use of the [word] ‘presstitute’ to describe female journalists.
“So this is very much an attempt to shift the place where people get their information from, from being say the mainstream media to fringe media outlets.”
The ultimate goal of far-right activists was destabilising democracy, Dr Hannah said.
Media commentator Dr Gavin Ellis said there had been a concerted effort to target the foundations of democracy — including freedom of the press.
It was an orchestrated rather than an organised movement, Dr Ellis said, with some of those pulling the strings doing so from a distance.
“Some of these people won’t even be at the protest – their orchestration is behind the scenes. But they are intent on undermining the institutions of democratic government,” he said.
Most protesters not violent
Most protesters were not violent and were simply frustrated with the ongoing effects of the pandemic on their lives.
But they were being harnessed by far more nefarious actors, and their anger at the media was a case of shooting the messenger, he said.
“That’s a large part of it — that reality flies in the face of what they stand for. So they forge their own alternate reality and anything that doesn’t match that worldview that they might have is seen as not only wrong, but inherently malevolent — that the truth is something that must not be tolerated,” Dr Ellis said.
While the anger directed at the media was unprecedented in New Zealand, he did not believe it was based on any genuine criticism of the current health or quality of the industry.
However, he feared such tactics could have a chilling effect on the media and journalists, and reporters must continue to do their work in the face of such intimidation.
The other aspect of using such imagery was how offensive it was to victims of Nazi persecution.
Disgusted by poster
Holocaust Centre of New Zealand chair Deborah Hart said she was disgusted by the poster.
There was no comparison of the rollout of a potentially life-saving vaccine by the New Zealand government to the industrial murder of six millions Jews and millions of others by the Nazis, Hart said.
“The Nuremberg trials where military tribunals after World War II for senior Nazis who participated in the Holocaust. To compare that to the vaccine mandates is ridiculous,” she said.
“The intention of these two things was different; the scale was different; the policies were different; and the outcomes were profoundly different.”
It is also worth noting that where possible Hitler withheld vaccines from populations the Nazis persecuted.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.