Stuck in anger

After our first son, Tom, died I found myself getting angry over all sorts of things that normally wouldn’t have worried me.

It was only at a Women in Agriculture day, entitled beyond aspirin for feelings that are a pain in the neck that I worked out why.

I didn’t blame anyone for Tom’s death. He had a degenerative brain disorder and we had both had the best possible care from the start of my pregnancy.

But what I learned that day made me realise that although I didn’t blame anyone and it was no-one’s fault, I was still very angry that the son we’d loved had died.

The facilitator taught us to name, claim and tame our feelings. Once I’d named the anger and claimed it – worked out what I was feeling, why and the effect it was having on me – I was able to tame it and pull myself away from it.

I was reminded of this while reading about the man who allegedly chucked the muck at Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee:

The man who allegedly tipped a chocolate and flour mixture over Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee lost his son in the February 2011 earthquake.

John Howland arrived at the Christchurch District Court on Tuesday on what would have been the 20th birthday of his son, Jayden Andrews-Howland.

He said he attacked Brownlee “to prove a point”. . . 

“The Government, they’re heartless.” Howland said.

“They don’t listen to people. They don’t care about us, don’t care about nobody.”

Howland said he had been planning the move on Brownlee “for a few years” and hoped his actions would make the Government “get their s… together and sort this blimmin city out and all the people that are suffering. It’s just bulls…. I’ve just had enough”. . . .

The only point he’s proved is that he’s stuck in anger.

Attacking the Minister at any time would be wrong. To do it after yesterday’s memorial service to quake victims was also insensitive and lacked respect for the others who were at the service to commemorate their own losses.

This is the third time a government minister has had something thrown at them by angry people in the last couple of weeks.

The first was the dildo that Steven Joyce copped at Waitangi, to which he responded in good humour.

The second was the glitter-bombing of Prime Minister John Key at the Big Gay Out.

And the muck chucked yesterday completes the shabby trifecta.

In an editorial, published before yesterday’s muck-chuck, the Listener opines:

Josie Butler wasn’t exactly breaking new ground when she hurled a rubber dildo at Cabinet minister Steven Joyce on Waitangi Day. Her choice of missile may have been novel, but the nature of the act was ­wearisomely familiar.

Elements of the protest movement clearly regard physical assaults on politicians as a legitimate tactic. Don Brash, then leader of the National Party, was struck hard in the face with a clod at Waitangi in 2004. More recently, brothers John and ­Wikitana Popata assaulted Prime Minister John Key at Te Tii Marae in 2009 – an act that their uncle, Hone Harawira, then a Maori Party MP, gave every ­impression of excusing.

It doesn’t need to be Waitangi Day for the angry and dis­affected to justify hands-on attacks. Act MP John Boscawen was speaking in a debate during the Mt Roskill by-election campaign in 2009 when a rival candidate, campaigning on a “People Before Profit” ticket, smeared a lamington on his head. And when broadcaster Paul Henry tried to enter Auckland’s SkyCity Casino for a charity lunch – unconnected with politics – in May 2015, he was jostled, menaced, abused and spat on by a screaming mob purporting to be concerned about child poverty. . . 

Butler’s dildo attack prompted a commendably droll response from Joyce, who tweeted that someone should send a video to British comedian John Oliver – noted for his lampooning of New Zealand as a weird place – and “get it over with”. Sure enough, Oliver devoted more than four minutes of his HBO show Last Week Tonight to the item. But amid all the chortling, he made a serious point: “If you threw something at a politician in this country, you’d be dead before the dildo hit the ground.” That, at least, is a point of difference about which New ­Zealanders can be proud.

Levity aside, there’s another serious issue here. Physical attacks – whether with a dildo, a lump of earth, a lamington or a gob of spit – are not part of the repertoire of legitimate protest. They are an intrusion on the rights of others. They are also a sad admission that gestures of inarticulate rage are too often preferred over the skills of reasoned debate.

It matters not whether any serious harm is done in such incidents. In a civilised, liberal democracy, people engaging in politics are entitled to expect that basic rights, such as freedom of speech and movement, will be respected. It’s legitimate to ask what would have happened had the Waitangi attack been aimed at Jacinda Ardern, say – if she had been hit in the face by a big rubber teat thrown by a skinhead protesting about refugee immigration.

Some might consider it not to be funny if a woman gets hit. Yet a female journalist was in fact struck on the breast by Butler’s dildo after it bounced off Joyce.

There is no question that throwing a missile hard enough to hit two people constitutes assault, though Butler appears to have escaped prosecution. So what happens now if young people are punished for throwing rubber missiles at teachers or students with whom they disagree? Are they not entitled to cry “hypocrisy”?

The reality is that Brash, Key and Joyce were entitled to go to Waitangi to celebrate our national day without risk of assault. Similarly, Boscawen was entitled to take part in a political debate without being subjected to the humiliation of having a lamington planted on his head. The boundaries of reasonable protest will always be blurred but ­physical intimidation is never acceptable. It constitutes an assault on democracy itself.

It’s also counterproductive, since it conflicts with most New Zealanders’ views about how public life should be conducted. This may not bother hard-core protesters but it is a problem for the wider left, because as long as ideological zealots continue to parade their angry intolerance, the mainstream left will be tarnished by association. . . 

There is a place for righteous anger but there was nothing righteous about these protests.

The first two were political, the third partly political and partly what appears to be unresolved grief.

Regardless of the motivation, throwing toys, glitter bombing and chucking muck are not legitimate forms of protest.

Freedom of expression brings with it the responsibility to express it without infringing other people’s rights.

In New Zealand we have remarkably unfettered access to our Members of Parliament.

People who let their anger overcome them as these three protesters did, do nothing for their cause, potentially endanger their targets and innocent bystanders, and threaten the accessibility the rest of us have to politicians.





19 Responses to Stuck in anger

  1. Andrei says:

    It is both traditional and universal to throw things at authorities you disagree with

    Jenny Geddes did it in the 17th century – she threw her stool at the Minister in the Cathedral over his use of King James’prayer book in the service

    And who could forget this incident from more recent times

  2. JC says:

    In the Brownlie incident the media declined to check the back story.

    Turns out the grieving father did not raise his son, other family members did, and he’s just been convicted of 8 charges of child pornography. He and his wife have been on benefits for years.


  3. Will says:

    What a charming individual.

  4. Andrei says:

    The man is mentally ill JC – a unfortunate individual who is clearly very unhappy and has led a sad life

    We who are more fortunate do not need to sneer at him

    He did what he did – it was highly inappropriate but ultimately fairly harmless except to J. Brownlee’s suit which no doubt can be dry cleaned perhaps at the tax payers expense

  5. Gravedodger says:

    Some very quick to produce acceptance and understanding for what could easily been seriously upgraded from assault to compounding tragedy
    He got close enough to pour the contents of a two litre Ice Cream container, thankfully only non reactive ingredients from any kitchen pantry.
    With the New Zealand custom of easy access for any reason to engage with or MPs and Councillors we must be approaching a re-assessment of the custom.
    Remember Dail Jones who was stabbed in his electorate office.

    What if this sick person in choosing the vehicle for his clearly political protest had gone to the Knife Block instead.

    I accept the reason that Ms Butler was not charged over her dildo tossing could have been Mr Joyce’s reluctance to give the event oxygen but with a third assault in three weeks that may turn out to be a grave error.

    I note State TV is still painting Howland as a casualty of the events of Feb 22 2011, it was five years ago and he clearly needs psychiatric help.
    Our little personal circle has had serious life changing events since Canterbury was rudely awakened on Sept 4th 2010 and none of us has had any urge to blame Gaia, Key, Little, Cunliffe, Goff, Parker (Bob), Dalziel or Clark although all have acted in ways that could accord a mentally ill person an excuse if Mr Howland’s action is deemed justified in any way.

    The man is convicted on multiple charges of having Child porn on his computer, was not caring for his dead son when He died, has no outstanding Insurance or rebuild claims and crassly used the event where many including the other families who were remembering their equally loved ones who died in the tragic events of five years ago. Mr Howland is barely deserving of sympathy or even empathy.
    Many much more deserving of such succour are out there and waiting, have departed or died.
    I am mystified what more the man considers The Hon Gerry Brownlee could have done for him and even then the compelling impression is it would not have been enough.

    I came across an English couple on the road a few years ago who had spent nights with the Hon Jonathon Elworthy who had served in Muldoon’s administration as Lands and Forests minister, in a home stay he and his wife ran, I think in Lyttleton.
    The were absolutely gobsmacked that such an encounter could happen.

    Society often accuses our politicians of becoming remote disconnected and unable to empathise with the peasants, tightened security from the action of this deranged soul will only make such charges more likely.

  6. JC says:

    Andre, you wouldn’t have known this if you relied on the media. Also that he didn’t own a house in Chch and his child pornography offending started before the earthquake(s).

    As for his mental state, the courts judged him fit to stand trial and be convicted with no reports stating that he or anyone else claimed any form of mental infirmity.

    Both he and the media lied by omission both to justify his offending against Brownlie and to blame Brownlie and the Govt for the aftermath of the earthquakes.


  7. Andrei says:

    JC I don’t need to know the sordid details of this sad man’s sad life because they have no influence on the things that matter in my life

    Hearing them just makes me sad

    Nobody is any the wiser for knowing them they just provide fodder for huffing and puffing and pointless outrage

    I don’t approve of what he did nor the venue he chose to do it – that’s a fact and as a gesture it is entirely irrational

    Bonking Steven Joyce on the nose with a dildo shows imagination and if John Key chooses to attend gay pride events, well being glitter bombed goes with that territory I’d say

    None of this is particularly serious and we should be grateful that thus far this is the limit of our political violence

  8. Will says:

    I think you are missing the point Andrei, which is how poorly served we are by the media. Why would they leave out so many relevant details? To make the man’s actions seem justified. That way we will get more of these sort of incidents, and people will be emboldened to up the ante. Sooner or later violence is exactly what you will see.

    They actively encourage and sensationalise conflict, anxiety and despair to sell copy. To have something ‘interesting’ to write about. A story to tell. They can no longer be trusted about anything, it is fortunate we no longer need their services.

  9. Andrei says:

    I think you are missing the point Andrei, which is how poorly served we are by the media. Why would they leave out so many relevant details?

    The media is very fallible Will – journalists and editors have their own biases and that is reflected in what they present to us and how they present it

    And we ourselves bear some culpability in what catches our attention and what we gloss over

    “If it bleeds it leads”

    What do you know of the “glitter bomber”? What would you like to know about the “glitter bomber”? Why haven’t the media chased this up? What purpose would be served by the media chasing this up?

    My point is that this particular individual is living on the margins of our society, he is vulnerable and an easy target for us to look down our noses at – his actions were incoherent and inappropriate and now he gets his “fifteen minutes”…..

    IMHO – the media should not have run with the story at all because there is nothing useful to be learned from it. I actually feel sorry for the guy because none of this is doing him any favours and he is one of life’s losers

    Steven Joyce handled the dildo incident with grace and aplomb – we all got a smile from it or not as the case may be and moved on

    Gerry Brownlee seems to have screwed up here – he is going to have to endure a “Restorative Justice” session with this sad individual – sooner him than me

  10. TraceyS says:

    The information about this guy’s past is in the media and is not hard to find. People need to maintain their own curiosity in regard to reporting and not expect the media to serve everything up to them on a platter. It’s dangerous to expect the media to tell us everything we need to know. Who thinks that it does anyway?

    Andre argues that we don’t need to know about the guy’s past as it serves no purpose.

    He may be right, but I went and had a look at the 2013 article reporting on the convictions just out of curiosity. That article states “But less than two years later they have found themselves in another “Nightmare”.”

    That really is inaccurate. Nobody who downloads child pornography from the internet “finds themselves” in that situation. He created it for himself and the nightmare is not his but that of his victims.

    He may be “ill” as Andrei states. Who knows. Certainly he is perverted. That doesn’t mean that he’s not in charge of his actions. He’s getting enough pity through the media who have taken his side. So why on earth would anyone else waste their emotions feeling sorry for him?

  11. Andrei says:

    Tracey I bought this issue up with you on another thread before these sordid details became public – like Ele’s post here suggests at that time I thought the mans motivations were anger or rage over his son’s death inappropriately directed at an inappropriate time and place

    But his history has subsequently been revealed across the blogosphere and a lynch mob mentality now prevails

    Were the journalists who published the original story focusing on his grief lazy and did not dig deeper?

    Or did they know and choose to frame the story the way they did by omitting the detail?

    This now has the all the makings of a tragedy unfolding before our eyes and could get very nasty showing the unpleasantness of the mob dumping on the weak and vulnerable

    This man as you say has not taken responsibility for his prior actions preferring to blame his misfortunes on others – he has no personal insight and his actions at the memorial service are another self inflicted wound along with his talking to the media afterwards

    But I think we should stand up to the mob, not fuel the fire and let this story die as quickly as possible and let this man fade back into obscurity

  12. TraceyS says:

    The media regularly omits things. In fact, I think that it should be assumed that information will be missing or lacking from news articles. If one makes that assumption then the reasons behind omissions don’t really matter very much.

    Here’s another example.

    Where in the following article:

    …does it mention “Prosecutions Completed – Case 2”:,1023/Annual_Report_2005.pdf?

    Don’t we live in the information age?

  13. TraceyS says:

    “Tracey I bought this issue up with you on another thread…”

    You did, Andrei, and I still feel sorry for Gerry. I also feel sorry for the mudslinger’s wife, her dead son, and other family caught up in this. I cannot feel sorry for someone who has downloaded pictures of adults engaging in sex acts with toddlers. But then I don’t have to because the media doesn’t tell me what to think.

  14. Andrei says:

    Tracey I think you will find that when a case is before the courts the media is not allowed to detail the past convictions of the defendant in order not to prejudice the current trial

  15. Andrei says:


    Neither you nor I were aware of the gentlemen’s previous history when I made that comment

    Both of us along with the vast majority of New Zealanders are disgusted by that behaviour and even more repelled by the gentleman in question refusal to take responsibility for his own actions in that case.

    This is not a person who is very likeable

    Which is why the media should not have run with the story

  16. TraceyS says:

    Request Ele takes my comment down then.

  17. Andrei says:

    Request Ele takes my comment down then.

    Why would I do that Tracey?

    I am merely pointing out the reason why some facts are omitted by the media are due to the laws surrounding sub Judice

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