We recently received a Facebook message: "You guys need to investigate the case of Kiri Campbell. It is vital to Socialist Aotearoa for the future. Please take note of this."
So we did. These are the facts:
Kiri Campbell is a young woman from the southern Taranaki town of Hawera who attempted to pay $65,000 in fraudulent cheques to five local businesses as a protest against the banking system.
Kiri was then arrested and charged with various offences for fraud to which she plead guilty. But not before 80 or so of her supporters had shut down the Hawera District Court during her appearance and a Facebook support group of over 1600 members had sprung up in her defence.
Kiri and her supporters are part of a growing milieu of people who consider themselves "Freeman on the land". According to the Freeman Society: "Kiri Campbell of Hawera NZ has been detained by the NZ Police and NZ Courts for exercising her rights. She is the only Maori Woman in the world to make a stand against the alleged foreclosed banks and corporations by using THEIR OWN FRAUDULENT INSTRUMENTS to bring the system to its knees for ‘The One People’ of Aotearoa and the World."
The Freemen movement mixes anti-corporate rhetoric with various banking conspiracies and many of their supporters took part in the Occupy movements of 2011-2012. At these protests their adherents were spouting the sort of arguments that can end up being pretty dangerous. As the UK Guardian noted,
If you visit a few "freeman" websites, you'll see it's a sort of cod legalism some people in America and here claim can be used to get out of paying debts and taxes. "Freemen" like to think you can opt out of modern legislation by sending an affidavit to the Queen. They make nostalgic appeals to a particular notion of the common law, and see officialdom as having no lawful power – at least unless some oath or form of words is sworn so as to establish jurisdiction. They purport to resist the rule of law using parodies of legal documentation, or by insisting that the actions of others are lawful only if blessed by particular forms of words.The website of the US- based Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups holds a detailed account of the growth of the movement known in the US as the sovereign citizens movement,
The strange subculture of the sovereign citizens movement, whose adherents hold truly bizarre, complex antigovernment beliefs, has been growing at a fast pace since the late 2000s. Sovereigns believe that they — not judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials — get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and they don't think they should have to pay taxes. Sovereigns are clogging up the courts with indecipherable filings and when cornered, many of them lash out in rage, frustration and, in the most extreme cases, acts of deadly violence, usually directed against government officials. In May 2010, for example, a father-son team of sovereigns murdered two police officers with an assault rifle when they were pulled over on the interstate while traveling through West Memphis, Ark.The strategy of the Freemen movement, in contrast to Occupy, workers' unions and socialist groups, is not to confront capitalists, including banks and politicians with mass actions like strikes, protests and civil disobedience but instead to use documents like the fraudulent cheques that Kiri used in Taranaki to 'expose' the system.
But the media coverage Kiri garnered barely even mentioned the banking conspiracies she adheres to and one young woman now has four fraud convictions. Hardly a victory for their embryonic movement.
In an interview with a conspiracy site Kiri spoke of her path to becoming a banking protester as originating in an interest in alternative medicines. From there she got into the conspiracy milieu.
But the information these small but vocal conspiracy movements disseminate is based on various misinterpretations of the way capitalism works. More importantly it misunderstands how power works and why things change.
Fighting for a world without capitalism is important but this system is based in the end on the real world of commodity production - the factory and farm based creation of things like laptops and milk products. It is in this world that the capitalists get their power - by controlling the means of producing commodities and thus all wealth in society.
These capitalists, or the 1% as Occupy described them, won't give up their power without a fight. In order to overturn their power we need a socialist revolution and this occurs because millions of people take collective action in their workplaces and communities. The ruling class won't surrender and the working class won't be inspired by the issuing of false cheques.
The Freemen movement and its related conspiracies are a dangerous distraction. If people want to fight the system they should be getting organised, protesting and fighting around concrete demands such as the Mana Party's Feed the Kids Bill and agitating for a financial transactions tax. It's these sorts of movements that have the power to change society.
-Robert H. SA