NZ First leader and former deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was last night refusing to take down an inflammatory tweet claiming that he was never told that the Christchurch Mosque shooter had emailed his manifesto to the-then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office shortly before the 2019 mosque massacre.
The tweet attracted an avalanche of comments from conspiracy theorists and he repeated it on Facebook where he got the same reaction.
Last night, he was defiant in a further tweet, and despite being asked by the Prime Minister to take it down, he kept it up.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Chris Hipkins simply said Peters’ tweet was completely inaccurate and he should remove it and post a correction.
But the extraordinary nature of the tweet must raise questions about whether National would want him to be part of its government.
Earlier, POLITIK texted Peters, asking him whether he would withdraw the tweet.
He did not reply. Instead, his second tweet maintained that criticism of him was “media bias”.
His first tweet was obviously prompted by evidence given yesterday at the Christchurch Coronial Inquiry into the massacre.
The inquiry was told that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was one of 34 recipients of an email from the mosque shooter, Brendan Tarrant, which arrived eight minutes before the shooting.
Peters’ tweet claimed: “We waited until today to find out, for the first time, that the Prime Minister’s Office received information about the March 15 terrorist attack before the massacre took place.
“Jacinda Ardern should be called to the hearing and asked to explain this appalling lack of transparency to the New Zealand public – let alone to the Deputy Prime Minister and government coalition partner.
“This was a crisis event. To keep this basic information hidden is not only unacceptable, it is now clearly indicative of how that office worked.
“The next question is who else inside Cabinet knew and said nothing?”
Peters’ claim that “we waited until today” to find out about the email going to the DPMC is false.
The day after the massacre, Jacinda Ardern made public the fact that her office had received the manifesto.
What is also remarkable about Peters’ tweet is that on March 17, 2019, two days after the massacre, he was in Christchurch with the Prime Minister.
She held a press conference that day, setting out in some detail the receipt of the email in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
“It did not go directly to me,” she said.
“I did not directly receive it, and it went to over 30 emails, including media, including the Parliamentary tours desk.
“It went quite widely.
“But again, the fact that there was an ideological manifesto with extreme views attached to this attack of course is deeply disturbing.”
The next day, Peters’ diary shows that he spent an hour with the Prime Minister and other Ministers at a Christchurch Attack Response Meeting.
He held a joint press conference with her in the Beehive later that day.
By then, the fact that the manifesto had been sent to the Prime Minister’s office was international news.
Australia’s ABC, Britain’s “Guardian”, Qatar’s “Al Jazeera”, and the United States’ ABC and NBC news were among many that headlined the fact that her office had received the manifesto “minutes before the attack.”
The most complete summary would come the following year, 2020, in the report of the Royal Commission into the attack.
The Royal Commission report contained a panel which it said was the content of the email sent to the DPMC eight minutes before he commenced the attack.
It read: “Subject: On the attack in New Zealand today.
“I was the partisan that committed the assault. I have attached my writings to explain my actions and beliefs as well as provided links to webpages to download the documents below.”
The report said, “The individual’s 74-page manifesto was attached to the email, and the email also included links to the file-sharing websites that had copies of the manifesto.
“Although the email itself did not specify the targets of the terrorist attack, masjid in “Christchurch and Linwood” and Ashburton were identified as targets on page eight of the manifesto.”
In his second tweet, Peters subtly changed his stance. He appeared to concede that what he had earlier claimed had been kept from the public until yesterday had not been told to him personally by the Prime Minister on the day after the massacre.
This was an echo of the reason he has been giving for refusing to form a government with Labour; that they kept the He Puapua report secret from him.
“For those political apologists and feckless media, there is an existing transcript of a phone call made by the Prime Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister at the vital time of a crisis when a terrorist had just massacred innocent people, “the second tweet said.
“Not once were we transparently informed of this information – such as the phone call her office made to the police – despite the obvious expectation and clear opportunity.
“To excuse it because it was known at a ‘public press conference’ the next day, instead of information that should’ve been shared with the Deputy Prime Minister and coalition partner the day before, is as bizarre as it is biased.”
The tweet was immediately liked by Peters’ constant driver, bodyguard and self-described “dogsbody”, Darroch Ball.
Peters’s first tweet, sent at 6.55 p.m., had attracted over 400 comments by 11.00 p.m. last night.
Former NZ First and National MP Tau Henare said: “If this is correct, then we need to know all the details, #Inquiry.”
The Auckland socialite and fundraiser for NZ First Gilda Kirkpatrick: “Thank you for being our voice, you are our only hope in the government.”
On Facebook, Peters’ followers were outlining conspiracy theories coupled with vile attacks on Ardern.
A typical post was from “Brent Naish”: “In my opinion, after spending hundreds of hrs on this personally. I believe JA was heavily involved in these killings. I would go so far as to say, she used taxpayer money to pay for it. The circumstantial (sic)evidence certainly points to it, for me.”
“Kiri McKee”: “Yip, what else did they know about before it happened.? , Hmm, how about a virus.”
Peters’ failure to take the tweet down last night must raise questions about his intentions.
And it must raise questions within National about whether they would want him around their Cabinet table.
Perhaps the libertarian commentator Damien Grant summed their dilemma and evening up with a comment on a repost of Peters’ tweet: “This will be three long years.”