Once again, fascists and other far right racists got a drubbing in Melbourne on 18 July. The rally they billed as the biggest mobilisation of “patriots” in Australian history was a pitiful rump, barely more than 100 people.
The far right was vastly outnumbered by up to 2,000 anti-racist counter-demonstrators. The only reason the fascists could assemble was because they were protected by a huge operation involving more than 450 members of Victoria Police.
The extreme lengths the police went to in order to facilitate a march organised by known fascists and Nazis were an absolute disgrace. In the weeks leading up to the protest, a long string of posts on the United Patriots Front page made it clear they were coming intent on a physical confrontation with what they call “dirty lefty scum”.
Some promised to bring guns or knives. One posted a video in which he enthused over footage of a Nazi in Europe lethally stabbing an anti-fascist on a train. If UPF were a Muslim group rather than a white fascist one, there is no doubt the police would have arrested the lot of them and banned the rally.
But instead of shutting down a rally explicitly aimed at spreading hate speech and violence, the police acted as private security for the fascists. One sergeant was even photographed high-fiving one of the thugs as they were escorted across the steps of Parliament House.
The image was a shocking contrast to the police violence against anti-racist protesters. The indiscriminate use of pepper spray on a mass scale – including on medics treating those already injured – is unprecedented at a protest in Australia. At least 100 people required medical treatment as a result. Police horses repeatedly were ridden into the crowd, and a snatch squad from the notorious Public Order Response Team was used to arrest and attack anti-racists in the crowd.
The police actions might be shocking, but they should not be surprising. The police are part of the same state apparatus that has spent the last 15 years persecuting Muslims and whipping up ever more hysterical fear about the supposed threat of Islamic terrorism.
The deranged ravings of Reclaim Australia are the inevitable result of anti-terror laws, national security scares, raids on Muslim homes and fear-mongering about refugees that are the everyday reality of Australian political life.
If anything is surprising, it is that Reclaim Australia did not emerge earlier and with greater numbers. Statements from politicians such as Tony Abbott, the endless cycle of inflammatory articles in the Murdoch press and the total acquiescence of the ALP in this racist fear-mongering constitute a clear incitement to the kind of open bigotry espoused by the far right.
In this context, anti-racists should be completely unapologetic about our determination to prevent groups like Reclaim Australia and the UPF from marching in the streets. The damage such movements can do if they are allowed to grow is evident across Europe, where in a number of countries the far right is capable of mobilising thousands and launching vicious attacks on immigrants and other marginalised groups.
Part of the reason we do not have this situation in Australia is that every time the far right attempts to mobilise, socialists, anarchists and other anti-fascist activists organise to stop them.
The concerted counter-protests in Melbourne have had a major impact in limiting Reclaim Australia’s ability to get a foothold. The counter-rallies have exposed the fascists at the heart of the far right and made the less brazen and extreme racists hesitant to attend.
This approach might not win us many friends in the media, from either conservatives or hand-wringing liberals. But if it stops the far right from gaining the space to spread their hate, it is a small price to pay.