COMMENT: For a charismatic sociopath on the make, the fields of religion and politics, sometimes in combination, have long offered rich pickings.
Both offer the chance of notoriety, adulation and easy money, and find ready audiences among the gullible, confused, disenfranchised and angry. Both provide ideal platforms from which to propagate narratives that cast blame for the world's shortcomings on some terrifying other - Satan, Catholics, Jews, Bill Gates, gays, the United Nations, immigrants - while absolving the true believer from any responsibility for the state of their lives.
Early Christians were said by pagans to be incestuous cannibals; by the time the Roman Empire embraced the Church in the fourth century, it was Jews under attack. Two millennia of anti-Semitism ensued, culminating in the Holocaust.
History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes.
These days, the more media-savvy anti-Semite says "George Soros" or "international banks" or "World Government", but we know what they mean.
And, wouldn't you know it, QAnon, today's hottest conspiracy, even reprises the ancient blood libel - with a twist. In the latest iteration, Hillary Clinton leads a cabal of Democrats and celebrities who abuse and murder children so they can use their blood as a youthful elixir.
It might have started in the US, but tens of thousands of Kiwis believe this stuff, including within my own whānau. It's pointless arguing with them because denying the conspiracy simply means you're part of it. "Who told you that?" they'll say, "Bill Gates?". These are rabbit holes without exits.
The question in this election campaign is whether we allow this form of politics to take hold here in Aotearoa, or consign it to the fringes - outside of what we consider acceptable political discourse in 2020. In my view, by allowing the Advance Party to take part in the minor party debate, TVNZ has kicked open a door we may have trouble shutting.
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I attended the Advance Party rally in Auckland over the weekend. By the standard of the many rallies I attended as a union organiser and activist, it was a fairly modest turnout. But there was no mistaking the fervour in the crowd.
I haven't spent any time with cults, but I'm guessing it's a similar vibe. These people appear to me to truly believe that they, and they alone, have stumbled on the hidden Truth of Everything, and only that Truth can save us from the untold horrors orchestrated by global elites. These are modern-day Apocalypticists.
Facebook is the nuclear-powered engine that propels these conspiracies and offers believers an endless stream of fact-free content to buttress their views. It's a meth-lab for crazy.
Zuckerberg and co will face a reckoning sooner or later - Europe and Australia are leading an overdue push to force some accountability - but, in the meantime, we shouldn't normalise or tolerate this toxic form of politics. I'm all for robust political debate - we need more of it if anything - but baseless claims have no place in our democracy. TVNZ should withdraw its invitation before we allow the contagion to spread any further.
Kei runga te pahu, kei raro ko te ringa kaha.
Actions speak louder than words.
* Shane Te Pou is a former Labour Party activist.