Reasonable Force: undercover with Section 59 an unsuccessful referendum to restore a criminal defence for physically disciplining children, ex-Craccum writer Joe Nunweek goes undercover with the only men brave enough to resurrect the golden age of parenting.

Murray Pedersen is crouched behind Aisle 12, between the clearance condiments and a new brand of toiletries. His combat fatigues and and the military greasepaint smeared over the ex-serviceman’s lips, nose and ears are an incongruous sight in the Lynfield Countdown. It’s a Saturday morning – the milieu is less gruelling training than it is a weary domestic bliss. Young families wheel younger charges amongst ziggurats of sale goods, and the babble of children’s voices mills over the rows of shelves. It’s bustling but hardly a nightmare. Yet, here I am, dressed in an old motorcycle helmet and khakis Pedersen lent me, hidden with half a dozen members of the secretive organisation only known as Section 59.

Shoppers pass us with bemusement – a woman makes a disparaging remark about how the sickness benefits were paid out late this week. I see Pedersen twitch visibly, sweat forming on his upper lip. He keeps his cool even as muddy green rivulets seep past his mouth – until his moment arrives. A 3-year-old toddler, banished to walking as an infant and groceries take up the trundler, explodes into a fearsome tantrum when his parents refuse him a Chupa Chup. His shriek pierces the air, drowning out Hootie And The Blowfish on the speakers above. He’s kicking, flailing, face contorted in confused, exasperated rage. He wants to go home. His parents look embarrassed, and taking his hand, make for the exit.

Pedersen blows a whistle, and six middle-aged men spring into action with the youthful vigour of an entirely different half-dozen middle-aged men who go to the gym more. They move into form with precision, surrounding the family and assuming quasi-martial stances. A more able, broad shouldered man launches into the toddler with a mean right hook, breaking his jaw instantly. The sickening crack tells me so, along with the teeth scattered along the shopfloor. Two others launch the momentarily defenseless boy skyward, firm and burly wrists holding a leg each. They spin him clockwise and his cries are finally cut short as he flies twenty metres into a tank of mussels. He gurgles, placated by the unexpected intervention. Pedersen and his men flee immediately (“No time for thanks”, he grunts) with me in tow.

Named after a former, unamended section of the Crimes Act 1961 which provided a defence of the use of physical violence when disciplining children, the group are now a rogue militia, dishing out reasonable force to kids in defiance of the law anytime, anywhere. Truly and verily, they are Section 59.


I’m back at HQ. HQ is a Pakuranga house of poor mid-70s design. Even on a sunny day such as this, the natural light doesn’t penetrate the slightly squalid gloom. It suits Pedersen’s mood: happy another child has been disciplined, but angry about the woman who commented on him. “I should have broken the little bitch’s neck.” He snarls and throws a remote across the room.

Pedersen tells me he’s a good, loving father – he can no longer see his children because of what he explains were a succession of women who conspired to ruin his family life. There’s the tired, frazzled-looking ex-wife in his wallet photo (“the slut”), a female CYPS worker who reported evidence of domestic strife (“the Feminazi dyke”), and the Family Court judge who determined no custody was to be enjoyed by Pedersen (“the uptight cow”).

Pedersen has had a hard week. He yells at his new partner, a somewhat submissive Thai woman with little English, to put on some refreshments for his team. Most of Murray’s current mates met over the Internet, fond and regular contributors to the CYFSwatch blog, both before and after it was banned from Google. There’s a warm round of laughter when I mention how the company pulled the plug on the website, which continued to attack and release the personal details of social workers. It turns out that while Pedersen and his experience in the Territorials provide the leadership, the initial rallying point for Section 59 was Clem, the small but wiry man peering out from thick glasses and a handlebar moustache in the corner. He wrote a rant about Green MP Sue Bradford almost sexual in its visceral hatred, before calling for her assassination on Twitter. His eyes roll back into his head a little as he paraphrases his post, punctuating his points with little orgiastic grunts.

“I wanted to punch her in the nose…*gasp*. See that warm blood all over her face. I wanted to lick it off her and taste it. I wanted to stand over her like she was a little girl…*unngh*. And say – ‘How does that feel, Sue. That’s the difference between a little smack. Isn’t it! Isn’t it…’”

Louise Nicholas was a liar!”, agrees a somewhat more inebriated member as he startles from the couch and his empties roll off his singlet.

Clem and the others had always known any family breakups or loss of visitation rights they had endured were the fault of a vast conspiracy ushered in by the Feminist Revolution some forty years ago, but with Bradford’s bill to repeal Section 59 in place, these archetypes of Kiwi male culture would go from responsible, loving parents to criminals. It was clear action had to be taken. The men of Section 59 had lost their children to “Clarky’s witches’ coven” (as one gentleman in improbably short shorts puts it) but their protest could stop other parents from experiencing the same. Did Pedersen approve of National MP Chester Borrows’s proposed amendment to allow for ‘transitory and trifling’ physical force?

“Sort of. This how I like to see it. With Chester’s amendment, we won’t be making criminals out of good parents, but we will be making good children into criminals.”

I ask him to clarify, and he looks indignant.

“That soundbite went down well in Investigate. Look, I’ll break it down. Maybe the best kids will behave after a transitory and trifling smack, but what about little rascals? One moment your boy’s leaving muddy footprints from the backyard, next he’s knick-knack paddy-whacked on the P.”

“Or making false allegations against the boysh in blue!” slurs the man on the couch.

Section 59 are willing to use their lay expertise to weigh in on complex historic rape cases and matters of evidentiary discretion, but first and foremost is making sure the kids get a fair go in life by getting the guidance of a stern hand.

Section 59’s main aim is to find children who need it and then mete out old-fashioned, untainted reasonable force, vigilante style. The parents might no longer be above the law, but they are. Pedersen and his men can’t go after every child at once, despite having new wings in Wellington and Havelock North. They’re forced to focus on what they feel are the most deserving cases. As a rule of thumb, they won’t deal with your ordinary school bully, partly because there’s too many about, and partly because, as Pedersen says, ‘we’re here to help kids, but not mollycoddle them: if you think someone else will come and take a bully away, you’ll never really grow up.”

The main consensus preoccupations are rudeness to adults – cursing, pushing past, temper tantrums – and property based crimes like litter and shoplifting. Section 59 felt the Labour Government had been especially lax in addressing “cheeky little Maori kids who cut across well-kept frontsections and tread on the flowers to get to school” – although, as Pedersen hastens to add, “some of [his] best friends are Maoris.”

Pedersen’s personal bugbear is autistic children. He gets angry when I try to suggest that’s a medical condition.

“This bloody liberal society…where we get kids so insou…inso…insouciant and bloody insolent, and what do we do? Those kids don’t so much as acknowledge a hello, and we get some bloody doctors to call it a disease. That’s not right. Rude little shits. No respect. I accept a little cheek, but you answer when your elders call you.”

Pedersen’s middle child was autistic, and the first he was denied access to.

“ I used to tell them about their mother’s lies. I tried to explain what a deceitful whore of Babylon she was, and you know, little Zinzan and Buck, they would nod. They would be afraid of what they were learning but they would go ‘Yes, dad.’ Jacinta…I tried. I’d shake her, I’d raise my voice. I drilled it into her, locked her away all weekend until she had to go back to the Bitch. She just looked at her feet and said nothing. It made me so angry.”

He was angrier when a woman from Child, Young Persons and Families came to investigate the shouting.

“This gussed up feminist, lezzo, occultist hater of a good, traditional family just rolled up and acted like she owned the place. Demanded to talk to the children alone and fed them lies to say in court. She was fat, too. Fat disgusting lesbian slug! Women shouldn’t look like that, and they shouldn’t be able to destroy strong families. Fatty fatty conniving bitches, they’re all bitches. MY PRECIOUS KIDS!”

Like Othello in his tragic fall, Pedersen becomes incoherent, wracked with sobs. Except, this time, Iago is a social worker working 50 hour weeks for a low wage. A gloom hangs over the room as the last vestiges of afternoon sun fade, and all sit in shadowy silence.

“Mmmmghh! Come on her face!” cries Clem, his train of thought suddenly back in action.


Section 59 have gotten bolder by the time Murray next invites me on an excursion. They jet around in an only partially repainted LibertariaNZ van, wearing slightly misspelled slogans on their livery as they would their sleeves: “END WOMAN’S REFUDGE.” “TOUFH LOVE.”

The ranks have swelled to nine, yet I fear the men have begun to alienate me. Our next destination is a primary school, a destination I doubt (along, I think, with some of the men) is a particularly appropriate one. Equally troubling is the fact that Pedersen believes 6 year old children will need the discipline after “a year of PC NCEA.” My suggestion that few, if any young children are sitting the NCEA brings a volley of ‘college boy’ jeers. Yet I still feel sorry for these men, existing out of their time. Even the heartland National Party have deserted them to compromise over the anti-smacking bill.

I ask them about their politics and they look wistful, then utterly offended when I suggest ACT.

“What are we? Child abusers?” demands the man from the couch.

The fracas appears to play out in slow motion as I watch. I’m careful to have a pad and paper visible, walking six steps behind Section 59, refusing to let the lines be blurred on this one. If anything, it should mean I’m ejected from the school grounds a little after them.

The men suddenly look a silly sight, hidden between tiny shrubs and doing commando rolls under the monkey bars. The children look at them uncomfortably, and move over to another part of the adventure playground. The tension grows abominably, as the vigilantes wait for the kids to put a foot wrong. Finally, the tots lapse – a small crowd ignore the bell to return to class. It’s been slim pickings elsewhere of late, but now the group has a chance to educate on the dangers of truancy –presciently, brutally, and above all, reasonably.

By the time the teachers run out from the prefabs at the end of the field, the onslaught has begun. My last sight of Section 59 before I flee to avoid what may well be their last stand is of fallen men with a renewed vigour, regaining a dignity of sorts as they steal a girl’s lollies off her before force-feeding her bark; as they play one particularly outspoken new entrant up and down the jungle gym like a xylophone.

Finally, there is Pedersen, down but not out. He’s found an oddly silent, introverted pupil. He may even be developmentally impaired, staring blankly as a responsible adult throttles him. Not in a trifling or transitory way, not quite enough to kill, but reasonable.

“Speak up! What makes you think you can show up whenever you like to class? Answer me! OPEN YOUR NASTY LITTLE MOUTH!”

A teacher aide struggles to pull Pedersen off, as police sirens ring out.


A tear rolls down my face, and it tastes like greasepaint.


One Comment on “Reasonable Force: undercover with Section 59”

  1. Matt says:

    This is brillant

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