Annual Waihopi spy base protest takes aim at Donald Trump

January 27, 2019

Tim O'Connell
Stuff, NZ

The numbers were smaller but the message remained loud and clear for a group of protesters at New Zealand's enigmatic Waihopai spy base shut it down. 

Around 30 people from around New Zealand converged on the Marlborough-based satellite interception station on Saturday.

Authorised for construction by the Lange government, the GCSB-run satellite communications monitoring facility has been operating since 1989 and has been the subject of ongoing protests and disputes in that time.

Much of the opposition has centred on its suggested involvement with the US-led Echelon network, operated by the 'Five Eyes' countries of New Zealand, the USA, Australia, Canada and the UK.

The Anti-Bases Campaign have had regular yearly protests at the base since the late 1980s, with up to several protests occurring each year at the organisation's peak.

The group gathered for another peaceful protest in 2019 at the base entrance for speeches and to once again call for its closure.

Organiser Murray Horton said it was important that the group kept coming to the site each year to raise public awareness of the site and what they believed it was being used for. 

"The purpose of going there is to literally keep flying the flag if we did not go there, you would not be asking me about this and it would completely fly under the radar."

"The powers that be will say it's a NZ base and they know everything that goes on in there our point of view, backed up by the likes of Nicky Hager, is that it's essentially an outpost of American intelligence operating in NZ, staffed by NZers and paid for by you and me."

Green Party co-leader, Marama Davidson, gives a speech, while Steffan Browning, former greens MP, holds an umbrella

Horton said the protest was making a point this year that "Waihopai works for Donald Trump", which made New Zealand "complicit in his volatile and downright unhinged behaviour."

"Trump would be a joke if he didn't have control of the world's biggest spying apparatus, biggest military and biggest nuclear arsenal."

Horton said a handful of protesters had already paid a visit to the base on Friday night, reaching the inner gate of the complex before being told to leave by staff.

"The voice on the other end of the intercom was rather abrupt," he said.  

It was understood to be the furthest any protest group had gone since one of the domes collapsed after the 2008 Ploughshares attack.

One of those who punctured the domes back then Adrian Leason was there on Saturday and spoke to those assembled. 

Ben Vidgen (centre) has a confrontation with a anti-bases protester.

He was joined by Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson and several current or former Green MPs, continuing a tradition of the party's involvement in the protest that stretched back to the mid-1990s.

While addressing the crowd, Davidson said more pressure was needed on the government to ensure NZ's spy activity remained in the best interests of the country.  

"Are we using this resource, this money and this espionage to spy on the activities of the people causing and making the biggest contribution to the biggest crisis of climate change and wealth inequality? No that is not what we are spending vital taxpayer resources on doing."

Also in attendance was political activist Ben Vidgen who expressed his own views on national security, interrupting the speeches of Davidson and Horton on several occasions.

While he supported the protesters' rationale, Vidgen said a wider focus was needed to expose the extent of US military expansion in NZ.

"I definitely support anything that raises awareness of the fact that our sovereignty and national security has been undermined by these facilities  they're not acting in our interests we pay for them but we have no control over them."

"Basically, we wanted to highlight that Waihopai isn't the be all and end all of what's happening in our country ... there's actually a lot of facilities that have popped up in NZ over the last decade that are equally tied up with the US-military expansion." 

A police spokeswoman said officers had a presence at the location but reported no significant issues or incidents.

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