Paparoa’s security and anonymity procedures

FAQ: Why is Paparoa anonymous?

Paparoa was set up to honour those killed in the 2019 Christchurch attack. To the best of our ability, we want to ensure nothing of that kind ever happens again. To help in this goal we have built up a team that monitors the most extreme elements of the far right. It is a loose network of independent researchers with strong links to the community who come together as a group to share information and provide a conduit from the community to the media, academics and, in some cases, the police. We share certain tools and ID names and anonymised email addresses for this work but in general, most of the work is decentralised.
The Christchurch killer goes on trial today. It seems like an appropriate time to pause and reflect on our work. Would we do things differently if we were starting up today? Is all this 'cloak-and-dagger' stuff really necessary? This is the question we are asked most often:
1) Why remain anonymous?
According to the extreme right, people like Paparoa are the lowest of the low: 'race traitors'. In the Christchurch killer's words: "Traitors deserve a traitors death. No matter if it takes 3 years or 30 years, these people must pay...". You will find the hard right's social media pages littered with "anti-antifa" memes that are just too violent and too gross to share. Unfortunately, some of these people are known to be psychotic and their threats are credible. Anonymity protects the researchers and their families from becoming targets. There are those on the far right that don't seem to get this. Their go-to word is "coward", like schoolkids in the playground making chicken noises. They don't seem willing to acknowledge that there are extremely disturbed individuals among them.
2) Why do you think the far right ignores this element in its ranks?
I think sometimes it's willful ignorance, such as when people tried to portray the Christchurch killer as a leftist. Sometimes it's naivety, especially with new recruits, and sometimes I think it's just lack of information. We've come across all three. There is also a fourth group: the narcissists. These are the ones that believe Paparoa are in hiding from them and them alone.
3) What about Paparoa's supporters? Are their identities protected as well?
Definitely. We don't keep any kind of list or database with supporters' names and addresses. An alias is assigned to each person and from that moment on we only know them by that name. Moreover, we encourage them to change aliases whenever they like. You could hack our systems wide open and you'd be none the wiser. At times people have really depended upon us for this protection. We have been contacted by the family and friends of people on the extreme right, people who are concerned about things they have seen or heard, but who are worried what might happen if it was known they were reaching out. These people are desparate for a safe way to share their concerns, but for one reason or another they don't trust the police. The systems we use have protected a lot of people, not just ourselves.
4) So how does it all work, technically?
We had advice on IT privacy and security right from the start. There are lots of requirements and procedures that people must agree to if they want to become involved. I won't go into details for obvious reasons but it's a mix of dark web, specialist software, agreed procedures and kiwi ingenuity. In the past there have been some rather more open levels of communication, such as closed forums for supporters and anonymised chat sessions, but things like that always attract far right trolls who are only there to identify people. In the end we decided it wasn't safe enough; our colleagues and supporters might inadvertently put themselves at risk.
5) Why don't you just leave this work to the police and security services?
There are a lot of people who don't want to deal with the police. Some of them have had bad experiences, others have tried and met a blank wall, and others are worried that their information will not be treated in confidence. People can contact us using services like ProtonMail and Yandex and know that we'll listen. They can say what they feel needs to be said and then leave it for us to follow up. We'll usually discuss things with them over time, but sometimes it's just an anonymous tip off. And of course, there are false leads and red herrings, though you'd be surprised how useful these can turn out to be!
6) Have there actually been any attacks on people connected to Paparoa?
No. Unfortunately the guy who did our initial website was harrassed a bit though. The agreement we had was that we'd pay him out of donations and so he did some social media promotion when the site launched, trying to kick things off. Some people saw this and jumped to conclusions. Then there was another guy who did some trolling using our name. Cunning and stupidity seem to co-exist fairly happily in the far right mind. But in terms of people in the Paparoa network, no, nobody has ever been identified.
7) Isn't it inevitable that someone will work out who you are though, sooner or later?
In situations like this what's important is that nothing stands still for too long. That's why we regularly swap aliases and login names, and rotate roles. Paparoa in August 2020 is a very different network from the Paparoa of March 2019. Who knows, we may regroup and rebrand altogether at some stage. But even though people come and go, the commitment to the network's goals stays the same:
• To act in the public interest by relaying information on the white supremacist movement, neo nazis, islamophobes and the far right from the community to key figures in mainstream media and research communities;
• To share as much data as possible with others in the Paparoa network, insofar as the law allows;
• To build cooperative relationships with any Islamic body, non-governmental organisation, academic, researcher, journalist, or representative of the faith community that is working in the same area.
It's a mouthful. Perhaps the easiest way to remember it is just: "Never again".
Please note: It is our intention to keep this document updated if and when things change.