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The end of the American dream? Amid Covid-19 crisis, US super-rich flee to BUNKERS in New Zealand

Darius Shahtahmasebi
Darius Shahtahmasebi
is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.
is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.
The end of the American dream? Amid Covid-19 crisis, US super-rich flee to BUNKERS in New Zealand
While the majority of Americans have no choice but to put up with the shortfalls of their government amid the coronavirus crisis, the US’s super-rich are seeking refuge in New Zealand.

New Zealand has become the go-to place for billionaires escaping a hypothetical apocalyptic scenario. Scattered across the country are a number of underground bunkers designed to keep the ultra-wealthy safe and sound in an emergency

The international media has fawned over Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, putting New Zealand in the global spotlight as an example of what real leadership should look like in the Trump era and how to successfully run a healthy democracy. 

If one contrasts Ardern’s efforts with how the epidemic has been managed in the US, where more than 47,000 people have died, I can’t say I’m all that surprised that, from the outside at least, New Zealand looks like a location in a utopian novel. Yet, while the majority of Americans will have no choice but to put up with the shortfalls of their government, it appears there are some who have different plans entirely.

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According to Bloomberg, there is a vast underground shelter network not far from where I live, just north of Christchurch, built by manufacturing company Vivos, that can house 300. Meanwhile, another such company, Rising S Co, has allegedly built 10 private bunkers across the country and kitted out dozens more. They can cost as much as US$8 million to construct, and include such features as games rooms, shooting ranges, gyms and surgical beds. One Saudi national has allegedly requested a heliport at his James Bond-style subterranean hideaway, which connects to an underground mosque. It had a price tag of about US$60 million.

To date, New Zealand media have been unable to independently verify these claims. Apparently, one local council has no records of any consents given for applications to build bunkers or underground shelters in the area in the past five to 10 years.

Nonetheless, it’s been suggested that a number of Silicon Valley elites have already escaped the US and sought refuge in New Zealand. And unlike the rest of us, the super-rich aren’t hoarding food and fighting each other for toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the supermarket. They’re not posting up poorly constructed, badly edited renditions of ‘Imagine’, then patting themselves on the back and saying, “I made a difference today.” US businessman Mihai Dinulescu and his wife are seeing out the pandemic on New Zealand’s Waiheke Island, where he quipped to the press that they planned to go “billionaire hunting.” God forbid that they might actually meet a poor or middle-class person during their attempt to escape the fate destined for many of their fellow men, women and children.

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Apparently, a refugee fleeing a catastrophe who doesn’t feel safe enough to avail themselves of the protection of their own country is acceptable in a Western nation as long as they are uber-wealthy. In contrast, a refugee trying to escape war-torn Syria or Afghanistan is something to be feared, ridiculed and ultimately rejected.

Just over a year ago, an Australian-born gunman with a professed hatred for incomers opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people and wounding dozens more. His movements were copycatted in both Europe and the US, highlighting the very real threat that white nationalism poses to the safety of migrant communities.

While clearly an extreme (and extremist) response, the hypocrisy and differential treatment we see meted out to these different categories of migrant is astounding. No one seems to bat an eyelid when the ultra-rich build multi-million-dollar bunkers underground in a place thousands of miles from their home country. I certainly don’t recall seeing in the gunman’s manifesto any distaste expressed for the parasitic ultra-rich who are plaguing Western society.

And what is the international fascination with New Zealand anyway? Haven’t these tech-giant CEOs and ultra-wealthy sycophants read former member of parliament Peter Dunne’s op-ed in which he described New Zealand as an “increasingly Orwellian society?” Have they not read Victoria University’s political analyst Dr Bryce Edwards’ post in The Guardian questioning the slow but very real erosion of New Zealand’s democracy? (I’m guessing they haven’t read my take on the matter either). The New Zealand that the super-rich have come to admire is very different to the one in which police officers shot dead a suspected criminal earlier this week, or that in which police dragged, punched and kicked a 13-year-old boy last year. However, if you’re working out in your underground gym, you probably don’t need to care too much what happens in the outside world.

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Some would say we have PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to thank for the current state of affairs. Thiel, who owns a 193-hectare former sheep station in New Zealand, has also been advising the government through his data-mining firm Palantir about the use and management of tracking data during the COVID-19 crisis. Interesting how that all works out.

The irony is that these Silicon Valley tech moguls are escaping the United States – the symbolic good guy in Hollywood movies that keeps everyone safe in times of crisis. If the US government can’t even protect its people following decades of terrible movies persuading us as to the contrary, perhaps it’s time to admit the demise of the so-called American dream, along with the collapse of its leadership.

If ever proof were needed of the collapse of the US as a protector of liberty, opportunity and equality, then this is it. And until there are reports of New Zealanders escaping the pandemic to seek succour in America, then you’d be hard-pressed to conclude otherwise.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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