Violent threats targeting New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have increased nearly three times in the last three years, owing to a spike in far-right conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination sentiment. Police logged 18 threats in 2019, according to fresh statistics supplied to Newshub under the Official Information Act. The number of threats surrounding the prime minister climbed to 32 in 2020, and 50 in 2021.
Throughout the weeks-long anti-mandate rallies in February of this year, Ardern emerged as a magnetic point for criticism, distrust, and intimidation from right-wing extremist anti-vaccination organizations. Dozens of security officials were attacked, and fires were ignited across parliament premises as the takeover of the parliament and the nearby roads devolved into violent unrest. A handful of demonstrators called for Ardern as well as other important lawmakers, public employees, and virologists to be tried in front of the country and executed, claiming that their support for vaccination constituted “crimes against humanity.”
While authorities were unable to pinpoint the motivations for each threat, the records have revealed that anti-vaccination rhetoric was a motivating force behind a majority of them, as did resistance to laws regulating weapons in the aftermath of the March 15 Christchurch deadly shooting. At least two individuals have been detained in 2022 for threatening to murder Ardern, both of whom were enraged by the nation’s COVID vaccination campaign.
As per The Guardian, experts from the Te Pūnaha Matatini disinformation project, which tracks disinformation and digital radicalization, discovered that the extent of violent discourse directed at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has soared rapidly over the past few years, coinciding with an increase in engagement in online clusters that spread false propaganda, conspiracy theories, and extremist rhetoric in New Zealand.
Threats targeting Ardern mirror a general upsurge in intimidation towards New Zealand lawmakers. Threats against MPs hit a three-year peak in one month in 2021, as per law enforcement statistics supplied to 1News under the Official Information Act in January. Following accusations from MPs that they were being harassed by extremist anti-vaxxers, parliament increased their protection in late 2021.