Four and a half years after the initial raids, the jury has finally reached a verdict in the trial or the Urewera Four, finding them guilty of some of the firearms charges, but failing to reach a verdict on the core charge of “participation in a criminal group”. On the former, its worth noting that this crime has a reverse onus of proof; once its alleged, and possession is proven, the defendants have to prove themselves innocent. Clearly, they didn’t do that to the satisfaction of the jury in all cases, and its not hard to see why. “Bushcraft” is one thing, but training to use guns against people looks very dubious indeed, and something which is hard to see as “lawful or proper” under any circumstances in a peaceful society. Likewise, on at least one of the charges in question – possession of a Molotov cocktail – there seems to be very little scope for there to even be a “lawful and proper” purpose for having one. If you want to do that sort of thing, stick to paintball.
I agree there was no lawful purpose for what they were doing. Those taking part were not good people with good intentions. They are not martyrs. Many of them are gross hypocrites. Valerie Morse calls herself a peace activist and runs around the bush practicing how to shoot people and blow them up. People should remember this whenever any of them bleat on about peace again.
The defence line that they were training to be security guards in Iraq, was surely a bad joke.
Russell Brown points out:
But some of those involved – Whiri Kemara in particular – did amass weapons and military equipment (his records, under two accounts, at Trade Me are an eye-opener). Kemara even attempted to buy a grenade or flare launcher in Auckland.
So I am glad there are some convictions for illegal use of firearms. I do not like people with no licenses running around with guns, talking about killing people, and learning how to throw molotov cocktails.
No Right Turn has also said:
On the organised criminal group charge, its good to see that the government’s fantasies of armed rebellion were not believed by the jury.
There were fantasies of armed rebellion, but they were the fantasies of the people involved, rather than the Police. The Police did over-react and I will come to that. While there were a couple of dangerous people involved, the majority of those in the Urewera 17 were probably more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else, with their exercises.
Russell Brown nicely says:
These guys weren’t heroes and they weren’t terrorists. They were dickheads.
This is very true. One of my activist acquaintances who knows some of them commented that the majority of them were lusting after Morse, and were basically trying to impress her with their dedication to the cause. They were as Russell says, dickheads.
The reality is that they probably had no ability to go from playing wargames in the bush, to actually planning a real attack on someone or something. Hence for that reason I am not surprised the jury could not reach a verdict on being part of an organised criminal group. Their own incompetence probably saved them. Plus to be fair to them, there is a difference between talking about doing something, and actually planning to do it.
Another element of the defence case rings truer: that these people couldn’t possibly have been part of an organised criminal group because they were plainly such fools.
Now I do think it was right and proper for the Police to take some action. You do not want extremists stockpiling weapons, and training people on them, while discussing shooting people and armed revolution.
But treating as a terrorist threat, and sending in the STG and AOS to bust down doors was over-kill. They would have been better to simply arrest in the normal fashion those involved, and charge them with firearm offences only. They should also have told Iti they know what he and his group have been talking about, and that if they continue down that path, they will be in a whole world of trouble.
I do not believe there is any point of seeking a retrial on the criminal conspiracy charge. I think it is time to move on. However don’t expect sympathy from me for those arrested, let alone support for an apology. While the Police did over-react and their method of arrest and initial charges were over the top, those arrested were using illegal firearms while discussing how to kill people and blow things up. If you’r’e that stupid, you deserve to suffer some consequences.