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McAnulty’s string of death threats

Kieran McAnulty: Death threats have steadily increased. PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

GRACE PRIOR
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As conspiracy theories spiral out of control online, Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty has been fronting death threats and harassment, preventing him from travelling around the region.

McAnulty said as recently as a fortnight ago he had been harassed while entering his workplace – Parliament.

He said the issue began late last year when he was verbally harassed at Wairarapa Farmer’s Market. Since, he’s ceased the use of his mobile office and has received increasingly more threats to himself and parliament staff.

He said the incident at the farmer’s market was a snapshot of what was to follow.

He said much of the harassment wasn’t just from the people that were “having a go” in person, but those online that believed the “nonsense” that those who showed up in person were saying.

“They were saying things like that we were deliberately trying to kill children and that we were part of some worldwide conspiracy.

“They then decided to send death threats.”

McAnulty said he had dismissed the threats, but when he sent it to parliamentary security for them to assess, he was told that the threats were legitimate.

“They said, ‘we deem these to be credible, we’re aware of these people, they’re on our watch list, and we’re concerned’.”

He said from that point on he had to take the threats more seriously.

Initially his concern had extended to himself, his partner, and his electorate staff.

The protest in Wellington has sometimes become confrontational.

However, as protesters set up camp at the doorstep of Parliament, he had to worry about the safety of all members of caucus and staff as well as chief whip.

McAnulty said he wasn’t overly concerned to leave his home, but he was concerned for how others were being treated too.

“Progressively, over the last few months, I’ve had to put a lot of time into the safety and well-being of members of caucus, the people that work with us, and members families as well.

“When the protest kicked off, that’s when it really started to get out of control.”

He said he knew of parliamentarians across the political spectrum receiving threats and harassment.

McAnulty said the security of his Masterton home and Wellington flat had to be increased.

“People have sent me photos of my home to threaten me with the fact that they know where I live.

“Abuse and harassment, that’s one thing, but death threats are a completely different category.”

He said the photographs of his home had been “quite confronting”.

He said he wasn’t going to allow the threats to deter him from doing his job.

McAnulty said New Zealanders used to look to countries such as the United States and United Kingdom with their divisions in society and violence in their political dialogue and think it would never happen here.

“On the whole it’s not, but it’s starting to creep in. We all have a responsibility to call it out.”

He said the behaviour of a few was stopping a cherished part of New Zealand’s democracy – access to political representatives.

McAnulty said the ability for him to access communities with his mobile office, something even those who opposed the government praised him for, was gone.

“I can’t do the job the way I really want to do it and be an accessible, active, and visible MP because of the behaviour and threats of certain individuals that are like some of those down in Wellington.”

He said he had been told by parliamentary security that the mobile office was unsafe and, after the protest, so was showing up unannounced on a town’s main street.

He said a point could come in New Zealand where politicians could no longer be out in public without security and all their communication was through the media and online.

“We all have to fight and push back to persevere [in person access], because it’s something we hold dear in New Zealand that holds us apart from other countries.”

McAnulty didn’t think it was a lost cause, but it couldn’t be ignored.

“New Zealanders are instinctively polite, and we will just ignore or dismiss the characters in our groups who say these things and we just laugh it off and ignore it.

“I’m not sure we can with this, they need to be called out.”

He said he wasn’t signalling that people should begin challenging people they didn’t know.

“But those who we have close relationships with we need to say calmly, ‘you know that’s not true, there’s no evidence to back that up’.”

McAnulty said we needed to try and stop conspiracy theories and threating behaviour slip into New Zealand’s dialogue.

He said the number of people behaving in a threatening way and spreading dangerous misinformation was low, but it had potential to grow.

He said it was concerning for the nation’s democracy.

“It’s very tricky to reign because freedom of speech is something we hold very dear and must always preserve, but I do think that there should be some accountability on how factual things are.”

McAnulty said he didn’t have a solution to the overall problem, but said it did need to be discussed.

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