There is a co-ordinated campaign under way to attack public faith in our Covid-19 strategy through nationwide delivery of 60,000 copies of a magazine containing pandemic conspiracy theories, produced by a publisher who once championed footage of a faked alien corpse.
Advance NZ has told members through social media it received "just under five cubic metres" of The Real News "for distribution around the country" by "300 volunteers from Advance NZ and Voices for Freedom", a Covid-19 denial group.
Copies of the magazine have turned up in letterboxes nationwide over the past few weeks as the delivery campaign swung into gear.
The advent of The Real News has drawn together Advance NZ and Voices for Freedom with the publisher of the magazine, Auckland's Jonathan Eisen and his wife Katherine Smith.
Smith is a director and shareholder of Full Court Press, of which Eisen is a former director. She is director of another magazine produced by the company, The New Zealand Journal of Natural Medicine, while Eisen is listed as editor of Uncensored magazine.
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Aucklanders urged to be cautious of new anti-vax magazine
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Government social media moderators set to pounce on vaccine misinformation
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Health services warn against swab misinformation spreading online
• Q&A: Do we need a minister for misinformation?
• Coronavirus Covid-19: Why 'that' Facebook post spread like wildfire
All three magazines have a background in publishing articles outside mainstream views and, in many cases, reproducing demonstrably false claims.
In an interview with the Herald, Eisen and Smith disputed questions over the accuracy of their content, saying articles contained links to research that supports their assertions.
Among articles that have raised questions was Eisen's publication in 2015 of footage that purported to show an alien on a stretcher. In an article published with the photograph, Eisen wrote that the image of the "dead alien" was from the 1940s and probably from an incident at Roswell in the United States.
However, it emerged the image was taken from a 2006 film called Alien Autopsy starring British celebrity duo Declan Donnelly and Anthony McPartlin, better known as Ant and Dec. Despite evidence of the hoax, Eisen stood by his article.
Recent copies of Uncensored include debunked theories about billionaire tech philanthropist Bill Gates, false claims about Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and an investigation into the Black Lives Matter movement that claimed it was part of "an occult prophetic plan to introduce dictatorial global government under leadership of their political savior, the Antichrist".
The convergence of long-time conspiracy theorists Eisen and Smith with Advance NZ and Voices for Freedom is part of a coalescing of groups opposed to government positions on issues, including anti-5G and anti-1080 groups.
The common link between Advance NZ and Voices for Freedom is Auckland lawyer and food blogger Claire Deeks. She was third on the political party's list and is one of the founders of Voices for Freedom.
Deeks was at brunch when contacted today and unable to be interviewed. She asked for a list of questions to be emailed and has yet to respond.
Voices for Freedom has built a substantial Facebook following since launching, pushing "free speech" and "choice" as its signal issues while focusing almost entirely on Covid-19 questioning and denial. It has a strong focus on branding and sells merchandise with slogans aimed to build support.
It's website says: "We are a non-political organisation focused on protecting New Zealanders' fundamental human rights with a particular focus on freedom of speech, health/medical freedom and all freedoms under attack from an overzealous and oppressive Covid-19 response."
The emergence of Advance NZ as one distributor of the magazine would add reach to Voices for Freedom. An amalgam of four minor parties (New Zealand Public Party, New Zealand People's Party, Reset NZ and Direct Democracy New Zealand), it developed a strong network of volunteers who erected signage across New Zealand.
Despite this, it won only 28,434 votes in the election. In the months following, its high-profile figures, Te Kahika and former MP Jami-Lee Ross, stepped away from politics.
Eisen and Smith defended the magazines they produce. Eisen, who said he had been a journalist for 55 years, said the term "conspiracy theorist" was "an ad hominem argument from people who don't want to have an argument".
He said the CIA "coined the term" in 1967 "to disparage people questioning the Kennedy assassination". This, too, is a conspiracy theory as it's a term that has been in use since the 1800s.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said government advisers were working with international counterparts to learn from approaches to misinformation overseas.
"Our main focus is on providing clear, consistent access to trusted and transparent information – rather than addressing misinformation directly."
The spokesman said people should rely on only "trusted sources" and be careful what information is passed on.
"Social media platforms also have a key role in stopping the spread of harmful misinformation."
The ministry's social media strategy included "frequent monitoring of social media" by a dedicated team with a focus on "early warnings of emerging issues".