1080 activism: Going down the conspiracy 'wormhole'

A pie graph of 1080 conspiracy theories.
A pie graph of 1080 conspiracy theories. Photo credit: Supplied / Tina Ngata

Is the Department of Conservation's (DoC) real motivation for using 1080 poison the extermination of the human race?

It's just one of many fringe theories being promoted by activists opposed to the poison, which - at least officially - is used for pest control.

Other claims about 1080 include that it's a eugenics project, a Government money-laundering scheme or an attempt to clear the land of people so it can be sold. Or possibly something to do with mermaids and/or the "inner-Earthers".

The wild claims have been made on a month-old Facebook group, Operation Ban 1080, that's already got nearly 50,000 members.

It began on Sunday night when Facebook user Shi Loh asked others what the "real, underlying agenda" for using 1080 is.

"I think killing 'pests' using 1080 is the least of DoC's/Government's concern," she wrote. "There's something sinister going on here."

But exactly what that is, few can agree on.

"I bet it's a moneylaundering scheme to process I'll gained money stolen from the PEOPLE! [sic]," wrote one person.

"If you kill off the natural and wild food resources, then people are forced to buy the synthetic fabrications for food that companies profits thrive from," said another.

"3D humans use by date expired, the awakened ones aligned with earth mother bringing the grand purifcation," said a third.

To save everyone time, environmental researcher Tina Ngata - who blogs under the name The Non-Plastic Māori - read through the almost-200 comments and grouped them into categories.

"I was completely unprepared for what followed," she wrote in a Facebook post that's been liked hundreds of times, "and the geek in me just had to piegraph it."

All-up, more than 40 percent of the replies indicated human extermination was the "ultimate goal". Broken down, Ms Ngata grouped the responses as follows:

  • 32 percent - "'Agenda 21' human extermination for the New World Order, usually involving the Illuminati"
  • 21 percent - "Control the world through food supply"
  • 9 percent - "Mine DoC land"
  • 6 percent - "Eugenics project to create a master human race"
  • 6 percent - "Killing all people to sell the land"
  • 5 percent - "Money-making scheme involving Govt/New World Order/Illuminati"
  • 4 percent - "Money-laundering scheme involving Govt"
  • 17 percent - "Other".

Ms Ngata told Newshub she was initially shocked by some of the responses, but then they began to make sense.

"If they genuinely believe that this is a matter of life and death for them, it kind of explains why they are reacting so extremely - which is not to justify the threats of violence, but certainly puts it in context."

Anti-1080 activists in recent years have been ramping up their efforts. One group loosened the wheel nuts on DoC workers' cars, while another threatened to shoot down helicopters distributing the poison. In 2016 a man was jailed after threatening to poison baby formula with 1080.

The jump from genuine - if misguided - concerns for the wildlife to conspiracy theories about human extermination doesn't surprise Ms Ngata.

"It kind of reminds me of the MAGA campaign, the Make America Great Again," she said. "It capitalises a lot on fear and suspicion and a strong distrust in authority. It's relative to the time that we're in because we've just come out of some very conservative Governments that have not engendered a lot of trust from the people."

She said while shocking, none of the theories are a better explanation than that given by DoC - that 1080 is cheap, effective and proven to help keep New Zealand's native species alive, even if there is a bit of collateral damage.

"I do not believe that the Earth is hollow and that this is linked to the assassination of John F Kennedy," said Ms Ngata. "There's mermaids in there and everything. It really is quite the wormhole."

Newshub was unable to reach the Ban 1080 Party for comment. Neither party leader Bill Wallace or the party's Facebook page responded to our queries, and the party's website now appears to be occupied by a women's clothing store.

The Ban 1080 website.
The Ban 1080 website. Photo credit: ban1080.co.nz

'It's about beliefs'

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague told Newshub he's was "not surprised to see this spectrum of completely wacky, evidence-free ideas".

"When all of the experts are saying one thing, how do you as a person who doesn't have expertise in those fields, how do you rationalise your opposition? We get little hints of these ideas - someone recently wrote to us saying we were completely wrong about kauri dieback, which is actually caused by 1080. Well, kauri dieback is a pathogen and 1080 is a chemical… And similarly someone saying M bovis is caused by 1080. There's some glorious leaps of logic."

Perhaps most surprising was that "literally nobody" gave DoC any benefit of the doubt whatsoever the poison was being used for pest control, despite the overwhelming consensus from the scientific community it works.

"It isn't really a rational process for them - it's about beliefs."

Kevin Hague.
Kevin Hague. Photo credit: Newshub.

While he believes only a small number of 1080 opponents actually believe there's something more sinister than pest control happening, convincing the rest isn't going to be easy either in a time when anyone can write almost anything and put it on the internet, whether it's true or not.

"They see those claims, they see scientific claims, and often are not in a position to evaluate the two so they get confused. What we have to try and do is target really high quality information in a way that's accessible to them."

Newshub.