Private Policing I Find Disturbing

Some residents of New Brighton, Christchurch are sick of the police failing to control crime and have taken to patrolling the streets. I would be all for that were these guys not a bunch of white supremacists.

A “white pride” group, Right Wing Resistance (RWR), claims to be patrolling New Brighton streets that “the police and the system has all but given up on”.

The group, linked to North Island-based white power activist Kyle Chapman, says Christchurch is the centre of a “white pride” revival.

Films of their initiation ceremonies were listed on an internet site for “white nationalists” called WNTube.

A message board used by the group,, said the group was performing “crimewatch patrols” aimed at “cutting down on homie [American rap-style] vandalism and muggings that have become common on the east side of CHCH”.

“The police and the system in general has all but given up on the poor areas and it is left to us to sort this out now,” it said. (…)

Locals were getting very upset with youths, particularly Polynesian youths, standing over people and vandalising.” (…)

If a European youth was found vandalising property: “We’d probably say `Hey, what are you doing? That’s not really the white way’.” (…)

New Brighton Residents Association member George Aorangi Stanley said “boot boys” had been spotted “hanging around looking menacing”.

“I don’t know if you’d consider it patrolling. I just consider them as contributing to the tension.”

The group had correctly tapped into local concern about crime and safety, she said. “It’s the main topic of conversation at the [Residents Association] meetings.”

Aorangi Stanley said the association had discussed doing their own patrols – a “reclaim the night” action – to increase safety.

This is the kind of thing Eric Crampton and I worry about in our paper on meddlesome preferences in anarchy, recently discussed here and here. (New Brighton, by the way, is Eric’s neck of the woods – I wonder if he has noticed anything?) Without government to provide public or quasi-public goods like policing, private clubs will step in to fill the gap. Of course, not all private clubs are created equal and those most able to overcome collective action problems will become more common in anarchy (or, as we see here, dysfunctional government). Further, small groups with intense preferences will have more power relative to large groups with weak preferences in anarchy compared to democracy.

The economics of religion pioneered by Larry Iannaccone, another of the amazingly interesting economists at GMU, suggests that clubs which require costly signals of commitment to the group – often including the internalization of wacky beliefs and efforts to make oneself stigmatized by the outside world –  will be more successful. Iannaccone is interested in sects, but his logic also applies to secular gangs like skinheads. Costly signalling means that we can’t rely on the standard incentive arguments against bigotry being expressed through markets. Beating up Polynesian kids is costly, but if it works to signal one’s commitment to the group, the costliness is a feature rather than a bug. On average, then, high-commitment clubs will instill preferences which favour the violation of others’ rights more than low-commitment clubs. Since these small groups with intense have more say in anarchy (where willingness to pay largely determines outcomes)  than democracy (where the raw numbers supporting some policy largely determines outcomes) , anarchy produces the situation it is least able to handle. So, by the way, does democracy.

Now, if the skinheads in New Brighton really are making the streets safer (which I doubt), the benefits will be enjoyed by residents regardless of whether they join or not. The fact that the group can get a bunch of guys to produce a public good (even if it’s intimidation of Polynesian kids) indicates that they’ll also be pretty good at producing a whole lot of club goods only enjoyed by members. If the role of government decreases, then, the skinheads will attract more members and we should expect more racist violence in New Brighton.

I still favour anarchy, but I do think this is something to worry about. Fortunately, it’s also something that reasonable people can work towards avoiding. The community association conducting its own patrols will reduce the leverage the skinheads can get in the community. More generally, efforts to create non-bigoted groups to voluntarily produce public goods will fill the void sects emerge to fill.

8 Responses

  1. Are they supremisists or seperatists?

    It’s worth noting that one of the things promoted by the nation state is nationalism. Which acts somewhat as a counter force against tribalism by creating a larger collective identity. Unfortunately a larger collective identity is also what fosters socialism.

    Perhaps there is no stable system for ordering society and we are destined to oscillate chaotically between totalitarianism and anarchy and all the variations in between.

  2. I haven’t seen any of those folks — I’m down in South Brighton — the 25 minute walk makes a bit of a difference.

  3. There are of course also the “community patrols” and neighbourhood watch programs. Those were in place before Chapman started his outfit. I suspect he’s more pulling a publicity stunt than anything else. His troop is centered up Rangiora way I’d thought, no?

    • I think he has moved somewhere in the North Island now. I don’t think he’s directly involved in this, but these guys seem to worship him as the second coming of Hitler or something. Weird.

  4. Is there any indication that these white groups are trying to impose their preferences? Or causing a net increase in violence?

    For the white group, what would be the most effective strategy at gaining in acceptance? I really doubt they’ll be a threat to peaceful order.

    • I don’t think they’ll be a threat to the peaceful order for most New Brighton residents, but I do think they’ll spend an awful lot of their patrolling time harassing peaceful members of a minority whom they figure must be up to no good. If they piss off everyone, people will react. If they pick on a minority, they could be successful. Thankfully, most people rightly despise skinheads, so it’s more likely they’ll be driven out of town rather than Polynesians. I just thought it was interesting that they’re (not unreasonably) claiming that ineffective government means someone needs to step in, and that they’re clearly a sect in Iannaccone’s terms.

      Chapman has committed a few racially-motivated arsons in the past, I believe. I certainly wouldn’t count on these guys taking a live and let live posture towards those they don’t like the colour of.

  5. There are more than enough polynesian churches and rugby clubs around; these guys will have their asses handed to them if they get too interesting.

    There’s a bogan element around Brighton (last week saw a woman coming out of the Woolworths wearing a shirt saying “Up the bum, no babies”), but the area generally leans far more to the hippie than the skinhead. It’s generally pretty laid back.

    Brad: you’re going to have to start wearing a wig so’s for folks won’t mistake you for that lot :>

    • Good point on the churches and rugby clubs: pacific islanders in NZ probably have high cooperative efficacy without the bigotry.

      I’ve had skinheads give me the nazi salute when I’ve been in Southland, where they seem more common :(

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