Crime, when justified, is just fine (do you agree?)

Karl du Fresne reports on a movie called The 5th Eye about the Waihopai spy base vandals

The Waihopai Three were convinced that innocent people were dying – in Iraq, especially – as a result of Waihopai’s inclusion in an international network of Western spy bases operating under an alliance known as Five Eyes.

The saboteurs used this as justification for slashing an inflatable plastic dome with a sickle. According to the government, the repair bill came to $1.2 million

Using the Waihopai saboteurs as its anchor point, The 5th Eye built an elaborate case implicating New Zealand in a sinister international conspiracy to spy on people and to use the information obtained to kill and wage unjust war – all in the political and economic interests of America.

It’s a skilfully crafted propaganda film that owes a lot to the techniques of the left-wing American documentary maker Michael Moore.

I suspect I was a minority of one in the audience. While most of the people around me obviously saw the Waihopai Three as heroes, I regarded the men as zealots, so convinced of the righteousness of their cause that they considered themselves above the law.

But here’s an admission: I came away with a more charitable view of the saboteurs. I had always accepted that they were sincerely motivated. What I wasn’t prepared for was that they were such a likeable bunch of bumblers. There was something almost endearing in the amateurish way they went about their act of vandalism.

I’ve no doubt that their religious motivation, their implacable belief that they were doing God’s work and their disarming candour helped persuade a jury to acquit them of burglary and wilful damage charges.

At the time, the verdict made no sense. The satellite dish had been vandalised and they admitted they were responsible. How could they possibly get off? They admitted they expected to go to jail. Around the court it became known as the “No-hopai” case.

But the dynamics of the court room can produce strange outcomes. The quiet conviction of the men’s testimony and the passionate advocacy of their defence counsel resulted in the jury accepting the novel argument that because the men believed the satellite dish was the cause of human suffering, their action was lawful.

Similarly, the fact that my work is the source of so much political mayhem, the fact that they stole and published my emails is all just fine.   The public good justifies the crime, so they say.

Not surprisingly, I wasn’t happy with the court’s Waihopai decision at the time.  They should have gone with Guilty and a suspended sentence perhaps.

But we continue to see that the law and in fact what is right and wrong is totally flexible depending on the observer.

A hungry man can steal food.  Apparently.

Whereas a hungry man that works to get money to buy food gets absolutely no credit whatsoever.

Should you be Not Guilty for killing your wife’s rapist?  Or should you be guilty, but have a sentence that reflects the circumstances.

I don’t like the idea of the law not applying.  The lenience lies in the sentencing.

The fact they expected to go to jail shows they knew they would cross a line.    It has always been remarkable to me that the law did not apply once you invoke True belief in your cause.  On that basis, I have a defence for everything I do.


– Karl du Fresne, First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, September 21


  • Wheninrome

    NO I do not agree that crime is fine when justified. If the “crime” is “justified” then move to change the law so that it is no longer a crime. If we all go about committing crime on the basis that it is “justified” from our lone point of view we will have mayhem. If enough people agree that something should not be a crime then the law can be changed.

  • Green Gecko

    Muslims have the ultimate justification for killing disbelievers, it’s in the Quran.

  • sandalwood789

    I believe that there *are* “crimes” that have good justification.
    The Waihopai stuff isn’t one of them but I can give examples.

    1 – Fighting Islam by burning mosques and Islamic schools. I see this as defending your country from a cowardly, timid or treasonous government. When your government brings in Muslims by the millions and ignores your concerns and protests, the only other way is direct action.
    Voting for an anti-Islam party is too slow and leaves things too late.

    2 – Overthrowing a government that has betrayed the people (see 1). Again, using the electoral process is too slow and leaves things too late.

    On the topic of Muslim invasion, this is a topic on which the *populace* (us) is better-informed than the *government* (as we all know).

    • Sally

      Sorry I don’t agree with the idea that burning mosques and Islamic schools is justified. That is going too far. Society decried what happened in Germany back in the 1940s with the Jews with the burning of churches and books.
      We are better than that.

      • sandalwood789

        I have no problem with anyone who disagrees with my view.

        I do agree with the many articles that have been posted here saying that the West is in a war with Islam. A war that Islam itself started 1400 years ago.
        In my view, wars can’t be fought by being nice.

        Muslims *know* that we want to be nice, and they take advantage of this by setting up talkfests and “dialog sessions” – sessions that anyone with an in-depth knowledge of Islam will know are meaningless.

        • Jonat

          I think if a Muslim tried to kill you, but you defended yourself and killed him first, then you would be completely justified. But burning mosques and schools, no way.

          • Andy

            Judging by the current sentiment a NZ jury might actually find you guilty. Not sure if I would trust it.

        • biscuit barrel

          The pictures of books burning in the courtyard was actually from the Berlin Sex Library
          Institut für Sexualwissenschaft

          Im not really sure nazis even burnt books other than those they considered ‘depraved’

      • Larry

        I dont agree with Sandlewood either but the point is that SW believes it is justified.

    • Nige.

      Bloody hell mate, theres a heck of a lot of process that can be gone through before we get to that point.

      I take you point that it is a hypothetical tactic comparable to the article.

      • sandalwood789

        Yes, it’s hypothetical.

    • Seriously?

      If you honestly believe those actions are justified by the reasons you give, I think you need to seek mental health help.

      If a democratically elected government is doing such things, there comes a point at which you might have to accept your views are not shared by the majority of those in the country in which you live, and you should select another place to live.

      Please assure us you were using hyperbole to try and make a point?

  • Old Man, Torbay.

    On 911 a bunch of terrorists thought that they were justified.
    Justification may invoke sympathy but it is no excuse.

  • Isherman

    Genuine sincerity of belief?, fine, but accepting that it can be a powerful motivator, it’s a mitigating factor at best. We have laws for the express purpose of holding everyone to the same standard, blindly supposedly.
    As to the argument about the base itself, by their own logic of the bases involvement it could be strongly suggested that if it were rendered in-operable, it may have just as easily cost innocent lives, but that’s by the by. The only service these three did was demonstrate how easy it was as a touch target, and that the security probably wants to be improved a bit.

  • peterwn

    I remembered couple of Kiwis broke into a USAF base and tried to damage a B52 with hammers. No cushy Club Fed prison for them. The feds have contracts with local sheriffs to house federal prisoners in some county jails. So the Kiwis were sent to a crappy county jail which was remote from public transport.

  • Tony

    I am aware of the defence, however it seems to be taken to the extreme. As I understand it, it was the final protection of individual against the enormity of the State and was normally for doing something which the individual needed in order to survive.

    As to the Waihopi example, to me they were protesting. Protest should be protected as a right – however the ‘cost’ of protest is that you pay for damage incurred or laws broken. That is the real measure so that we understand how sincere the protester is; that they go to prison for their beliefs.

  • JohnO

    I think a bit of suffering and a huge fine would have ennobled the Waihopai 3 even more than they are now . After all there is nothing like a bit of selfless self-sacrifice to earn the kudos of the general population. The court should have given them 10 years in prison each and fined them $1.2million and by doing so made them cult heroes at the same time. It is a win win situation…they get the merit and honour they crave and the rest of us get the satisfaction of of seeing a well deserved punishment meted out by the courts to uphold justice.

  • GCMC

    Sam Land, of the Waihopai 3, had previous form with vandalism…
    He & his derro brother dug up roads in Omapere in 2004, as a protest about tourists coming to the Hokianga.
    I can’t recall the outcome of the trial [I think it was quietly dropped], but, certainly, no reparations were ever made, given the brothers’ lack of finances.

  • Damon Mudgway

    This is why you should always elect trial by morons. Your peers are just way too stupid to ever make the right call in law. A brilliant system for offenders.

  • cows4me

    It’s a slippery slope. If the crime can be justified in the wrongdoers minds because they believed human lives were in danger why can’t the state justify very harsh punishment of these same people because they could also say, and probably quite rightly, that the lives of their citizens were endangered because of their actions? The argument can work two ways, is my belief greater than yours, does my belief hold greater weight than yours ?

    • MaryLou

      It IS a slippery slope. ISIS believes they are doing Gods work – and nothing could be higher than that.

  • As Du Fresne points out in his original blog, there is a massive element of hypocrisy in this verdict. Should an anti-abortionist burn down a clinic, you can (correctly) expect a conviction and a suitable sentencing despite the fact that they meet EXACTLY the same criteria as the Waihopai 3 – they believe they have been ordered by God to do this and they believe innocent lives are in imminent danger (with arguably better cause than the Waihopai 3)

    On this basis you might also argue that a Muslim terrorist is engaging in violence because he believes his god tells him to and he believes that innocent Muslim children will be perverted by evil infidels and lose their soul – surely a worse outcome than mere death. Therefore we should let him go without conviction…

    Yeah, right

    One of the more troubling problems in New Zealand is the tendency of the judiciary to reinterpret the law to suit themselves, regardless of the long-term consequences and ramifications. It undermines the intentions of the government and undermines the police who work hard to make their case, only to have some judge make a mockery of their work. It send a clear message to crims that there is no real downside to crime. Smile nicely at the judge and plead some sort of extenuating circumstances, no matter how spurious, and you are likely to either get away scot free or with the traditional wet bus ticket slap.

    • Damon Mudgway

      This was a result of a decision by a jury of peers, nothing to do with the judiciary in this case. Cool aye?

      • Not entirely accurate. While the jury were certainly the ones returning the inappropriate “not guilty” verdict, the judge had ample opportunity to instruct the jury to disregard the “belief” defense as irrelevant (except with regard to sentencing). He also could have allowed a mistrial, if he thought the verdict wildly out of keeping with the facts.

    • Seriously?

      If they really believed they were ordered by God to do this (or anything really) and therefore must do so regardless, then at the very least they ought to be locked up for compulsory mental treatment.

      • This might be reasonable if they thought that God had directly told them (in a vision of shining angels and trump blasts) to wreck the dome at Waihopai. However, this is not what they mean. What they mean by “instructed by God” in this instance is, almost certainly, that they became so completely confused by left wing rhetoric that they thought they had a moral duty to do something to “stop the killing”. Pretty certain that God was only involved peripherally as a convenient excuse.

        • Seriously?

          I think you’re right about the excuse bit. I may have taken you comment too literally.

          But there is a find line between voices in the head and being willing to suspend moral judgement on the basis of what is said to have been a god’s edicts. Take ISIS. As well a criminals, I think many of those people are likely to have mental health issues – indeed may be psychopaths.

          I’d expect a person to reach a point where they would think, for example and there are sadly many, well even if god has said to stone this woman because she was raped I’ll not be doing it.

  • sandalwood789

    The point I was trying to make is that sometimes a country faces extreme circumstances and faces an enemy that the government is too ignorant (or cowardly) to fight.

    Germany is facing those circumstances now. So is Sweden.
    We are not. Yet. We won’t be for some time.

    If a government refuses to fight an enemy that the populace can see is obvious (and a great danger) and if the government has ignored years of pleas for action and protests…… not many other courses of action, are there?
    Talking with Muslims is pointless and talking with useless governments is too. That’s where I was coming from.

    I’m fine with everyone disagreeing with me though….. :)

  • jimknowsall

    The law should be upheld by the police without fear or favour. It is then up to the courts to decide what happens next. Juries have the option of “jury nullification”, which is effectively what they did in the Waihopai case. The judge also has options for leniency. But jury nullification is an important part of the judicial system that overrides bad or harsh laws. It has a fascinating history going back to the 16th century if you care to look it up on wiki.

  • Seriously?

    Perhaps some crimes are “justified”, but may still require sanction.

    There is an interesting cognitive development test that is used on children to determine an aspect brain development – looking for the point as which they stop seeing the world in black and white and begin to see there are gray areas.

    Fact scenario: A man’s wife is dying and has a week to live. They have three kids who are about to lose their mum. Her illness can be cured by a single dose of a particular drug, but cannot be treated in any other way. The drug is very expensive, and there is absolutely no way that man can get that amount of money even if he had more time. He breaks into a Pharmacy. He takes only one dose of that drug. He gives it to his wife, and saves her life.

    Did he do the right thing?

    Most young kids say yes or no. They both have valid reasons, but whichever way they go they tend to be sure about it.

    Later on (I think around the age of 8 or something like that) they start to see that was wrong, and yet right at the same time. They might still come down on one side or the other, but they start to see that it’s not so cut and dry,

    • Here is where the jury got confused. Did the man (or the Waihopai 3) commit a crime? Yes – obviously.
      Did he (or they) do what is right? Arguably.
      They confused legal with right. Sometimes we are forced to disobey laws (because they are unjust or they are inappropriate in the circumstances) When we do this, we face the consequences because we broke the law. It is up to the judge to determine an appropriate penalty.
      The jury clearly bought the “this is right” story but confused that with “this is legal” and returned a silly verdict. The upshot is that the law is undermined and becomes less distinct.

  • Graham Sharpe

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if a group of people burnt down an abortion clinic on the grounds they sincerely believed they were fighting against a form of human suffering.

    • Seriously?

      According to Wiki we have already been there, and not so long ago…

      “New Zealand
      Circa 1999: In the late 1990s, Graeme White was found guilty and sent to prison for tunneling into an abortion clinic with what the police described as “incendiary devices”. In 1976 an arson attack was carried out at the Auckland Medical Aid Centre, which was estimated to cause $100,000 in damages to the facility. The Auckland office of the Sisters Overseas Service organisation was targeted that same evening.”

      Wiki notes some doubt about the accuracy of the presence of an incendiary device, but I don’t think that changes the answer.

  • Eiselmann

    There are a few people I would love to get my hands on, and I daresay what I would do would result in a cessation of their continued and long term activities that cause harm to society.

    However while I don’t agree with every law in this country or our very soft laws and even softer judiciary , I don’t express my dis-satisfaction by knowingly breaking the law….its a dangerous thing to believe you are above the law what happens next time they decide to break the law in this manner

  • Andy

    I would have thought it would be treason to damage military/government property.