The story behind the Odd Future ban

CONTROVERSIAL: Odd Future collective members Earl Sweatshirt (L), Taco Bennett (2nd L), Tyler, The Creator (R) and singer-songwriter M.I.A.
CONTROVERSIAL: Odd Future collective members Earl Sweatshirt (L), Taco Bennett (2nd L), Tyler, The Creator (R) and singer-songwriter M.I.A.

A senior Immigration NZ (INZ) official thought banning Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future from New Zealand in February could be spun into a good news story for the government agency.

Within INZ there were also concerns the decision would place the agency in a difficult position when visas were sought by similar performers in future.

Documents relating to the decision have been released under the Official Information Act. They show Immigration NZ border operations manager Karen Unwin expected "some media interest" in refusing entry to six members of the collective just two days before they were due to perform. The collective members had been given initial permission to visit.

Unwin noted the group's intended appearance in support of performer Eminem at the Rapture event in Western Springs on February 15 "already has the lobby groups up in arms".

"However, I think we have the opportunity to spin this into a good news story for INZ," she said in an email sent out late on the morning of February 13.

"There is also the strong possibility that the group will make some very public (and offensive) protestations but in my view this will only serve to reinforce the appropriateness of our decisions."

An email sent shortly after Unwin's said: "Thanks, Karen. Fun times. I think you're right, this is a good story for INZ."

The name of the author was removed in the OIA documents.

When it stopped Odd Future coming to New Zealand, INZ said under the law permission to enter might not be granted if there was reason to believe there was, or was likely to be, a threat or risk to public order or the public interest.

"Odd Future has been deemed to be a potential threat to public order and the public interest for several reasons, including incidents at past performances in which they have incited violence," INZ said.

"In one instance, a police officer was hospitalised following a riot incited by Odd Future."

It was the first time the section of law involved had been used to stop musicians coming to New Zealand.

In interviews at the time, Unwin said she did not think INZ was setting a precedent by using the section to bar Odd Future.

However, the OIA documents show the issue raised concerns within INZ.

"While personally I have no problem whatsoever with the decision, it does place us in an invidious position processing such groups in future," one email - from which the name of the sender was deleted - said.

"From our position we have processed similar groups in the past particularly in terms of the nature of their songs and the antisocial message they contain, and/or criminal convictions such as domestic violence.

"It becomes a question of where do we draw the line. This is something we would appreciate guidance on after the dust has settled on this situation."

The main case for preventing Odd Future from entering this country appears to have been contained in an email sent on the evening of February 12. The name of the author has been removed but it appears to have been written by someone within INZ's intelligence, risk and integrity division.

Information in the note came from reports which are also unidentified in the released documents.

The email referred to an incident in May 2011 in which a police officer was hospitalised after a store appearance by Odd Future in Boston got out of control and members of the group allegedly incited a riot.

"On the basis of this, and all of the other shocking information contained within the reports, I am satisfied that we can intervene," the email said.

An online search for reports on the incident turned up few details, with even the Boston Globe seeming only slightly interested.

The newspaper quoted a police spokesman saying an officer received a back injury while trying to contain the crowd and was treated and released from hospital the night of the incident. A 13-year-old girl was charged with disorderly conduct.

The February 12 INZ email said Odd Future "clearly has a history of promoting and inciting hatred".

"Their lyrics are homophobic and racist. They glorify rape and murder fantasies, as well as cannibalism and necrophilia. They also court controversy by 'calling out' activists who try to get them banned or their shows cancelled," the email said.

"Were they to be permitted to travel to New Zealand and to perform I believe, on the basis of their track record thus far, that they are likely to incite violence (towards women), racial, sexist and homophobic disharmony in New Zealand."

A few hours before that email was sent an unidentified INZ official queried: "Anything (legal) we can use to stop these people from coming?"

From the documents provided under the OIA it is not possible to see who started the ball rolling to get Odd Future barred.

The first piece of correspondence in the bundle looks to be a message sent from someone's iPhone at 3.34pm on February 12.

"Hi ... you guys interested in this? the content is definitely objectionable and they must be flying in. Will get media attention," it said.

The names of the author and recipient have been removed.

A message sent at 4.41pm - again with the names of the author and recipient removed - said: "Hmmm - might need a bit of thought regarding the imminent arrival of these people."

At the time the collective was refused entry, Odd Future manager Christian Clancy told the Associated Press members of the collective had changed over time and were not being given credit for growing up.

"It's disappointing because it's coming from a place where the reasoning is based on lyrics and/or actions that happened when these guys were teenagers," Clancy said.

"And if that's a stance someone's going to take, then what are you implying? That you don't allow talented kids to grow and change?"