Tame Iti the Terrorist
I have observed Tame iti from a distance and met him once. Tame iti scares the hell out of many New Zealanders, his full face moko, his bum baring, spitting and his shooting of the flag understandably cause discomfort. He is a passionate advocate for Tuhoe and knows that if you want to get media attention for your cause, but do not have heaps of cash, then theatre and outrageous behaviour gets you noticed. It is easy for many to label him a dangerous terrorist but he is also a 55 year old, caring family man and a diabetic.
I have no doubt that the New Zealand police had intercepted some worrying communications and that it could easily be construed that "terrorist" training was happening in the Urewera bush. I also believe that his training camps were poorly thought through, fantasist and probably a bit silly, especially when he knew he has been a closely watched man for many years and it wouldn't be likely that any of his activity would go unnoticed. In the US playing with guns is imbedded in their culture but in New Zealand any gun activity that doesn't involve hunting or organised sport would be cause for concern.
The big question is not so much Tame iti's behaviour but the police management of the situation. Tame iti is a media personality who has connections and relationships with a broad cross-section of society and has even had Gerry Brownlee open one of his art exhibitions. As Tame iti said on Q&A this morning, his phone number is in the book.
New Zealand is not a large nation and our whole country often operates as one community, we do have disagreements but most can be solved if a low level approach is taken and there is open dialogue. The wide ranging, expensive and over the top police response looked more like an exercise for frustrated squads who have few opportunities to put their training into practice. Those who were targeted were often loosely connected to Tame iti and many were environmental activists. That innocent children and families were confronted with such organised violence by the police was unethical and abhorrent. A cynic could construe that there was a deliberate intention to rough up and frighten as many annoying activists as possible and the anti-terrorist legislation provided a useful opportunity.
If the police had picked up the phone or visited Tame iti early on and expressed their concerns about his activities I'm am quite sure they could have achieved a quick resolution. It could have been that simple.
It is over five months since I wrote this post and since then I have read "The Day The Raids Came", edited by Valerie Morse and records the personal accounts of those raided. I have also read many of the leaked transcripts and watched the video clips of the supposed terrorist training. I still see no reason to change what I wrote, a quiet chat or a phone call would have sorted it.
Now it is post trial and the four accused have only been charged with a few firearms offenses. The jury could not decide if the intent of the group posed any real threat to the public. What a monumental waste of time and money!