New Zealand deploys tactic used against Noriega on Freedom Convoy

As we discussed on Thursday, the capital city of New Zealand experienced its own Freedom Convoy this week, with more than a thousand people parking their vehicles on the lawn of the Parliament building in Wellington and in the surrounding streets. Their numbers had dwindled considerably by yesterday, but hundreds of them still remained, protesting all of the governmental restrictions and mandates regarding COVID vaccines, face masks, and various other orders. The government was obviously losing patience with the protesters so they began using increasingly aggressive tactics in an attempt to get them to disperse. They turned on the lawn sprinklers to soak all of the protesters and their belongings. When that measure seemingly failed to impress the protesters, they broke out an old tactic intended to drive them away. They set up huge speakers and began blasting the camp with pro-vaccine advertisements and loud, blaring music, including some old hits by Barry Manilow and the “Macarena.” (Associated Press)

When a downpour hit Saturday, their numbers only grew. Protesters brought in bales of straw, which they scattered on the increasingly sodden grounds at Parliament. Some shouted, others danced and one group performed an Indigenous Maori haka.

By evening, Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard had come up with a new plan to make the protesters uncomfortable: using a sound system to blast out vaccine messages, decades-old Barry Manilow songs and the 1990s earworm hit “Macarena” on a repeat loop.

Protesters responded by playing their own tunes.

The protesters didn’t seem particularly fazed by these efforts. When the sprinklers came on they dug drainage trenches to channel the water off of the lawn and spread hay on the ground to absorb it. When the music began, some of them spontaneously broke into a dance in time with the tunes. Others turned up their own speakers and began blasting Twister Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” back at the Parliament building. Few were reported as leaving the camp.

If the tactic of blaring music at people in an effort to disrupt their sleep cycles and force them into compliance sounds familiar, you’ve probably spent some time studying your history. It’s the same tactic that the United States Army used against drug cartel kingpin Manuel Noriega in 1989 when he was holed up in the Vatican embassy in Panama City. They blasted the building with heavy metal music for days until he finally surrendered.

Of course, there’s a significant difference between Noriega and the Freedom Convoy participants. Noriega was the mastermind of years of rigged elections, massive drug trafficking, and an untold number of murders and disappearances. The convoy participants are demonstrating in front of their elected representatives in opposition to government policies with which they disagree.

Are these tactics warranted? Human rights advocates refer to this type of assault as “music torture.” It’s well understood that prolonged sleep deprivation or interrupted sleep cycles can produce serious medical consequences, including negative impacts on mental and emotional well being, depression, and even spikes in blood pressure. And this is being done to the protesters because they are calling for members of Parliament to come out and address their issues regarding COVID mandates?

While I do not approve of blocking traffic as part of a protest, particularly when there is a risk of emergency response vehicles being isolated, there’s no question that the entire Freedom Convoy concept is rapidly turning into a movement and spreading around the world. At this point, most of the vehicles that were blocking the streets in Wellington have departed and the protesters are largely on the lawn. When that happened, this became nothing more than an exercise in free speech. The protesters deserve better from their government than the treatment they are receiving.

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