One of the rallying voices behind Parliament's protest is Kelvyn Alp and his conspiracy-loaded Counterspin outlet. His background includes an unsuccessful political career, a failed gold mining scheme and links to global 'fake news' network, writes David Fisher.
In the cacophonous protest on Parliament grounds this week, there were a few rallying calls louder than others.
One of them is the voice of Kelvyn Alp, long-time self-styled revolutionary and now the frontman for an online news show called Counterspin with links to a global media company that has worked to become a force in far-right politics.
Alp's Counterspin has been issuing a "Call To Action" with emails to subscribers: "Everyone needs to mobilise and get to Wellington now!", "Are you going to choose FREEDOM or Tyranny?", "This is the fight between good and evil, for the future of our beautiful country."
As tensions increased, it called for more "boots on the ground", labelling the Government as "crazed psychopaths". "We are winning this battle: There are a lot more of us than them. Millions of us against a few hundred of them."
And there appears to be an audience with viewer numbers on the right-leaning, conspiracy-courting Rumble video website where Counterspin videos were posted. Its video viewing numbers have gone from humble hundreds prior to last weekend's convoy to tens of thousands. One video has been viewed more than 50,000 times.
On the ground, Counterspin has provided a livestream broadcast from Parliament, hosted by Alp's partner Hannah Spierer. Alp himself is present although outside the perimeter in which the protesters have been contained, encouraging others to attend.
In one broadcast, he forecast an attempt to breach the police cordon. "At 3 o'clock, they are going to ascend the steps of Parliament and effect a citizens' arrest - let's hope so because that should be cordoned off as a crime scene. Everyone in there are criminals and they need to preserve the evidence and the record."
Alp refused to be interviewed but responded to social media messages from the Herald on Sunday. He said Counterspin had not encouraged anyone to breach police lines.
"We report fact and evidence, unlike you lot. You won't get anything from us, until you start and maintain truthful reporting. Get out of your bubble and into the real world where real people, whose lives have been destroyed, live!"
Counterspin has emerged before in the battle for truth about Covid-19. It was Counterspin correspondent Shane Chafin who heckled the Prime Minister in Kawakawa with conspiracy-based questions. Chafin, a pharmacist, is currently being investigated by the Pharmacy Council's professional standards body.
And Alp is no stranger to the revolutionary cause. Twenty years ago, he was the public face of the so-called New Zealand Armed Intervention Force which came under security service attention after it talked about overthrowing the government.
In an interview with Investigate Magazine, he claimed 1500 members and said the group had access to automatic weapons.
"The way we're doing it is perfect," he was quoted saying. "There should be zero casualties, but it'll be a Mexican standoff. We have multiple targets. We'll be taking out the enforcement arm of the settler Government down in Wellington."
He was also quoted claiming the group included former NZSAS members and he had warned off a senior police officer from confronting the organisation. "If you're on one side, and we're on the other, and we come head to head, we'll go through you like a dose of salts."
Alp went from wanting to overthrow the government to standing for Parliament in 2005 on a platform shared with white supremacists. He stood again in 2011 as a candidate in the Māori seat of Te Tai Tokerau. He recently said of the latter campaign: "I wanted to see how many intelligent Māori there were. Unfortunately there weren't many." Alp finished last with 72 votes.
It's a comment Alp told the Herald was "tongue-in-cheek with a smile". Asked if he still wanted to overthrow the government, he said: "Every election someone wants to overthrow the government."
Alp came to Counterspin from bankruptcy, courtesy of a failed gold mining scheme in the Solomon Islands that cost investors millions of dollars.
The scheme saw at least $2.2 million lost in a venture. About 30 investors, many of whom were elderly, lost their money after the company that fronted the scheme claimed possession of a mining licence with potential access to 42 million ounces of gold. A treasure trove of that scale would be worth $113 billion at today's prices.
It was a plan funded through a New Zealand-based company called Caratapa Group of Companies which was in receivership from 2012 through to December 2020.
In the final receivership report, insolvency practitioner Kevyn Botes said: "We did not successfully recover any funds or any assets for any of the creditors in this matter."
Tony Kagovai, in his role as Solomon Islands National Union of Workers general secretary, warned at the time about what, in his opinion, were Alp's "wild promises" of "unheard of wealth" when the mining licence was granted.
Now, Kagovai said to the best of his knowledge "there was no gold".
Alp told the Herald. "All company funds went towards mining activities." He said the money was "all accounted for" and if there was anything untoward there would be involvement of the Serious Fraud Office, the taxman etc. "There isn't, so you don't have a story."
The final receivership report in November 2020 saw Botes - the receiver - record police undertaking "an investigation into allegations of fraudulent activity in promotion and sale of shares in the company".
"It's unclear as to whether any economically viable mining ever took place," he said in the report. "It's also unclear whether the investors/shareholders understood the very high risks and complexity of investing in a mining operation … of this nature."
Police would not comment on any investigation for "privacy reasons". The Serious Fraud Office said it received a complaint in August 2012 and closed it two months later.
Receivership of the scheme - which ran between 2012 and 2020 - bridges the time during which Alp fronted as the leader of the "NZ Armed Intervention Force" and fronting the Counterspin outlet.
Documents obtained by the Herald show his involvement ran from 2007 to 2011 when he was trying to sell shares and cut ties with it. He signed company documentation with the title of "managing director" while the Companies Office listed him as director and shareholder.
Maureen Nicol, who invested with her husband Lewis through the Water Mint Trust Ltd, told the Herald on Sunday: "They were going to get onto this gold and make mega bucks."
Nicol, of Whakatane, said the retired couple bought into the plan after being introduced to it through close friends who had also invested. She said they put $100,000 into the scheme - about the same investment made by others spoken to by the Herald.
Dawn Nevill, 81, who now lives in Australia, said she and her late husband David invested $125,000. "That's a lot of money to me now."
She said she attended a company meeting after making the investment and was concerned to find it hosted at Alp's expansive home in palatial country surrounds near Karaka.
"The first meeting after my husband signed up, we looked around and thought, 'how the devil did he afford all this?'.
"That money we put in was meant to go into getting some gold."
She said that in her opinion, she believed he spent everything that anybody gave him.
Investors and media in the Solomon Islands were told the land over which Caratapa had mining rights had a "proven reserve" of 1.1 million ounces of gold, a "probable reserve" of 11 million ounces and a "possible reserve" of 43 million ounces, according to company documents obtained by the Herald and Solomon Island media reports at the time.
Also among the documents was a share offer from Alp to investors in which he put up 50,000 of his shares for $100 each - a potential $5 million payout. It is unknown exactly how much money was raised.
Herald inquiries found Inland Revenue tracked some of the Caratapa money to a bank account linked to Alp. A High Court judgment from 2014 detailed how the money was tracked by Inland Revenue into the ASB bank account of Alp's former partner Leanne Martinovich.
At the time of the money transfer in 2009, Martinovich was the "executive secretary" for the Caratapa Group of Companies Ltd.
Justice John Fogarty said the money had come from the sale of Caratapa shares.
"Proceeds from the sale of some shares, totalling approximately $2,252,360 were banked into the bank account of [Martinovich]."
Evidence in the case showed that the bank account had been in both Alp and Martinovich's names but his name had come off it in August 2008.
The judgment recorded Martinovich - a discharged bankrupt - had no recorded income other than from social welfare benefits. She also owed Inland Revenue money for child support and repayment of family support.
The court heard Martinovich had "not provided an explanation as to how the proceeds of the share sales came to be deposited in her bank account". There was no record with the Companies Office showing she ever held shares in Caratapa or "how funds have been transferred from Mr Alp to her".
Martinovich had gone to court after Inland Revenue assessed her as owing $867,000 in tax based on the money that went through her account. Lawyers representing Martinovich told the court "the fact that the money from the bank account was used for personal expenditure or transferred to unknown sources is not uncommon".
The tax bill was later dropped by Inland Revenue. Martinovich was reached by the Herald on Sunday but refused to be interviewed. She said: "Investors were communicated with in relation to everything as transparency was important."
Despite the possible $113b golden payday Alp found himself with "ongoing tax issues", according to the judgment in the tax case. Public records show Alp was bankrupt from 2013 to 2019.
He emerged from bankruptcy to set up Counterspin, which broadcasts on the GTV online video channel identified by social media analytics experts Graphika as a prime source of false information including anti-Chinese Government claims, QAnon conspiracies, pro-Trump disinformation and false Covid-19 claims. The Washington Post last year called it a "sprawling disinformation network".
GTV was one of three media companies set up by fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Kwok, who sought political asylum in the United States in 2014 after allegations in state media he sought to bribe a senior politician.
In 2018, Guo paid Donald Trump's former political strategist Steve Bannon US$1m to create media channels, leading to the launch of GTV in 2020.
In September last year, Guo agreed to repay investors NZ$810m in a deal with the US Securities and Exchange Commission after an FBI investigation into claims of unlawful stock offerings in his three companies.
Graphika found much of the information was generated on GTV then amplified through thousands of social media accounts across the world. It incorporated 30 corporate bodies and 35 media and local-action groups, Graphika found, including one such organisation in New Zealand.
That group - Himalaya NZ - is one of 23 similarly named organisations identified by Graphika as setting up in countries across the world. Its objective, according to an interview done by Guo, was to find supporters, "acquire local media", "take advantage of your social network" and "gather more wealth".
Alp spoke on a GTV show about meeting a representative of Himalaya NZ while at a protest in Auckland.
"They then communicated afterwards and as we got to know each other, we were offered a platform on which to do a show."
The Himalaya NZ website says: "We aim to counter false narratives forced through left-leaning mainstream media and compromised key NGOs within New Zealand."
It then provides links to debunked information about Covid-19 origins and treatments, along with other untrue materials.
It also published the name and address of a person it claimed was a Chinese spy living in New Zealand. Graphika's report highlighted a case of a related Guo organisation doing the same in the US, leading to an individual being assaulted.
Alp told the Herald on Sunday there was no financial connection between Counterspin and GTV. "Neither have we been involved in raising a single cent for GTV or any of its associates."
He said the connection was made through a "chance meeting" at a rally in Auckland against a "tyrannical government" that was attempting to "remove rights and freedoms secured by the blood of men and women in wars".
That "chance meeting" led to Counterspin being provided "use of a studio and broadcast on the GTV network" for which he was "extremely grateful" as it made the show "impervious to your type of cancel culture".
Alp also raised a QAnon-style debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory that high-ranking US politicians and pizza restaurants were involved in a child sex ring.
"What is your connection to that subject David?" he asked this reporter. "Shall we take a deep dive into your business? I think I'll now dig into your past."