The curious thing about the Ben Rachinger posts up on Medium is that if you followed #dirtypolitics, it doesn’t seem all that remarkable that Cameron Slater and Company are continuing to try to drive the politics of Aotearoa (New Zealand) towards the kind of thing we see in the American Primaries. They tried it with the Len Brown smear campaign and they tried — with more success — in the 2014 General Election.
Which is to say that Rachinger’s allegations fit into a pre-existing narrative. This doesn’t make them automatically true; the thing about pre-existing narratives is that they are easy to copy (and not that hard to subvert). However, the amount of evidence Rachinger has amassed in support of his claims certainly lends credence to the claim there is something to his story. Either that or this is a very elaborate distraction some weeks or months in preparation.
Which is not to say we should accept everything Rachinger says uncritically. However, before we do that, we really should talk about what happened two days ago.
The Lauda Finem Attack
Depending on how closely you are following Rachinger’s Twitter feed you may or may not be aware of a quite incredible post about him over at the Lauda Finem blog. In short (and I’m not positing a link because I don’t think it would be ethical, for reasons which will become obvious), the “fine” people at Lauda Finem have produced what can only be described as a “character assassination” piece about Rachinger, claiming that the real conspiracy is not about Cam Slater and Company but, rather, the New Zealand Police Force using Rachinger to try and bring Lauda Finem down. Their evidence for this is a series of tweets from Rachinger, an inside and unnamed source and a lot of words, most of which signify nothing more than wind and fury.
The Lauda Finem blog is a curious beast. For a while now the rumour has been that they are a vassal blog of the Cameron Slater social media empire. Lauda Finem have denied this repeatedly, claiming that they are neither Left nor Right, and that their only agenda is exposing police and judicial corruption (along with revealing the pedosadists in power in our society). Yet, the attack piece on Rachinger is odd; if Lauda Finem really is independent of Slater and Company, the attack piece makes it look as if they are at least in talks with that set of ne’erdowells.
The piece is also an example of a dox; the “fine” people at Lauda Finem have revealed details of Rachinger’s schooling, the ages of his siblings (along with their names), what turns out to be a former address of his parents, and a number of other things of a personal nature. Some commentators might find this somewhat funny; after all, Rachinger has been accused of doxing others, so what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? We actually don’t need to take sides, however, because doxing is bad no matter the victim. Even if you think Rachinger doxes others, that does not justify the doxing of his family.
But that’s not all; the Lauda Finem post is long. Very long. That’s par for the course; most of their posts tend to be lengthy disquistitions. It’s quite possible that it was written in the matter of a few hours yesterday, like my post (if you don’t care about quality you can get a two thousand word post out in under an hour; call now to learn how!). However, the suspicious mind might look at it and ask “How long have they been sitting on that for?” Because it looks designer built to be a takedown of Rachinger, a failsafe blogpost deployed to nuke a discussion. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I couldn’t help but think “There’s more going on here than meets the eye.”
Indeed, if the Lauda Finem post was designed to either stop Rachinger (by virtue of scaring him off) or stop debate about his revelations (by making us think the real conspiracy is at the level of the New Zealand Police Force), then it has failed. Whilst certain elements of the Left and Right seem to cite Lauda Finem posts approvingly (as seen in the comments on posts at, say, the Standard and Public Address), a lot of the reaction online has been outrage towards the doxing, and the voicing of suspicions that an attack post like that means Rachinger must be on to something. Certainly, if it was an attempt to shutdown the discussion, it’s failed. If it was merely an attempt to draw attention to their own particular conspiracy theory, well, that seems to have failed too.
Which, I might add, seems strange. Not to detract from Rachinger’s narrative, but as said previously, the claims he is making do not seem all that big and bold once we take into account the publication and veracity of “Dirty Politics”; his story supplements the #dirtypolitics conspiracy theory rather than subverts or replaces it. As such, I really don’t see what the point of the Lauda Finem post was, unless they either really do believe their own conspiracy theory that Rachinger is working for the Police against them, or they are afraid Rachinger has information which will damage them, and so they want the story shutdown. I suppose they might just be troublemakers who don’t like the attention being elsewhere, but whatever the case, it’s a strange move.
Slater the Fantasist
Let me restate a hypothesis I discussed in my review of “Dirty Politics”: if Slater is a fantasist who inflates or even invents a large amount of his role and importance to politics in Aotearoa, then much of what Slater says about himself, his associates and his sources needs to be taken with a grain of salt. I accused Nicky Hager, in that review, of always taking literally whatever Slater claimed, when sometimes it seemed more likely that Slater – in his correspondence – was giving himself a starring role in the work of others. I think the same complaint can be laid at the feet of Rachinger; sometimes he takes Slater at his word when really, the right response would be the classic Kiwi “Yeah, right…”
Rachinger’s stance is understandable; it seemed for several years that the entirety of Aotearoa (New Zealand) took Slater to be very, very important. He was on TV, he was on the radio (I’m surprised he wasn’t a star in some local movie), despite the fact that many people questioned why we were treating a blogger with the deference of a spokesperson for the PM. Slater’s blog, despite a supposed huge audience share, was an echo chamber when it came to actual commenters; for many of us it seemed that the stories of Slater’s power were greater than his actual power.
One reading of “Dirty Politics” seemed to suggest that Slater was as powerful as he was made out to be. Another reading (admittedly my own, but shared by a few others) was that Slater and Company were bumbling fools, but fools with so many things on the go that sometimes they had what turned out to be remarkable successes. According to that reading, Slater used those scant successes to make himself look to be a big player in local politics, and because people thought he was a player, you got the spectacle of people like Stuart Nash and Chris Trotter (amongst many on the so-called “Left”) sometimes allying themselves with someone who was on the nasty end of the Nasty Right.
Which, I guess, is why I sometimes read some of the Rachinger material and go “That interpretation? Really?” Let me give you a choice example.
At the time “Dirty Politics” was released, Slater happened to be in Israel (some people claim that was a cover story, but let’s go with it for the sake of this example). Questions where asked, mostly along the lines of “Where you say?” and “Why? Rachinger asserts that Slater’s trip to Israel was “funded by Israel”. I assume he got that impression from Slater. Yet “Israelis” — the term being tossed abou here — is ambiguous. It could refer to the nationstate (or one of its arms), it could refer to a group operating in Israel of a non-governmental nature or it could simply refer to a set of Israelis (such as some friends of Slaters who happen to be based in Israel).
Now, the Israeli thing is not a major part of Rachinger’s story, so why am I focussing on it? Well, it’s because if Rachinger believes this because Slater told him it’s the case, then we need to think carefully about which of the three definitions of “Israelis” we should be operating with. It would be easy to think that “Israelis” means “State of Israel”, but that would not be the obvious inference to draw. After all, if Slater likes to inflate his role in proceedings (which I think is a fair inference to make given the revelations of “Dirty Politics”), then its not clear that Israelis must refer to the State of Israel (or some part of it). If we assume he really was in Israel (as he claims), then we have grounds to think he associates with Israelis. However, assuming that his security advice comes from the State of Israel seems forced, especially if we think Slater is a fantasist (as I do). At best you might think that Slater has met Israeli officials and asked them “How you do encrypt your communications?” and then spun that as some privileged communication between himself and his “good friends” in the Government of Israel.
Update 1: Slater’s friends are in the Israeli Embassy in Wellington and he was paid (technically by the State of Israel) to go to Israel. So “Israeli” here does seem to be mean at least “Israeli officials”. You can read about his trip here. (Thanks, @jofromgreylynn
Update 2: Here’s another article shedding light on Slater and the Israeli connection. This one goes a little more into the details of the funding of that trip last August; Slater claims he covered most of the costs. Frankly, this blurs things even further to some extent. Yes, Slater went to Israel by invitation of the Israeli Embassy (which is an invitation by the State of Israel), because, according to the Head of Mission, Slater is a “spiritual person” (insert sarcasm here) and thus it is not beyond the bounds of possibility he got security advice from Israeli officials whilst there. Then again, if you accept the fantasist argument, you can also imagine a scenario where Slater claims his security advice comes from the Israelis because it makes him look more powerful and connected (rather than, say, talking to someone locally, or simply doing a search for “secure communications cellphone”). However, the fact he was in Israel and has communication with the Israeli Embassy at the very least means its reasonable to assume that when he says “Israelis” he’s referring to people from Israeli with some official capacity.
As I said, this is really just a minor, passing remark in Rachinger’s narrative, but it’s the kind of thing you need to be aware of when appraising evidence. Being told that Slater’s use of Threema was due to a recommendation by the eponymous “Israelis” suggests at least three possibilities. This doesn’t speak against Rachinger’s narrative as so much as question how we interprets some of the evidence. Sometimes what looks to be clear evidence of something turns out not to be; the question is whether this is a systemic issue in the narrative? More on this in a subsequent post.
Next time: Matthew Hooton, the Young Nat connection and a question as to whether Ben Rachinger is the hero, or just another villain in his own story.