When Nazis walk among us

7 January 2019
Jess Lenehan

When a serious call to recreate the racist Cronulla riots goes out, and 200 people answer it, something serious is in the air. When a short-notice call for opposition is answered by three hundred anti-racists, you know there are plenty of people in Melbourne ready to stop these bastards in their tracks. This is what happened in St Kilda on Saturday.

“Personally”, ABC editorial director Alan Sunderland said on Sunday, “I wouldn’t call them Nazis. I’d call them people making Nazi salutes. Accuracy matters”.

It certainly does. It is accurate, for instance, to note that these “Nazi salute making people” chose 5 January to gather at St Kilda’s foreshore – 100 years exactly since the founding of the German Workers’ Party, the precursor to the Nazi party. And it is a damning omission that outlets such as the ABC failed to reiterate that one of the key organisers of the event has called for a picture of Adolf Hitler to be displayed in every school in the country.

At the event, some waved helmets branded with Nazi insignia. Others held two fingers above their upper lip in imitation Hitler moustaches. They draped themselves in Australian flags to invoke the Cronulla race riot of 2005. Senator Fraser Anning, who used his first speech in parliament to call for a “final solution” to stop Muslim immigration, brought parliamentary prestige to the affair.

They gathered to “take St Kilda back”. Take it back from migrants; take it back from “gangs”.

The announcement of their event left anti-racists with two options. The first was easy: stay home. The second was to stare down the “Nazi saluting people” and do everything we could to disrupt them. The enormous resources mobilised by Victoria Police only aided them. At one point the cops surrounded anti-racists to allow the neo-Nazis and fascist sympathisers to roam freely.

Politicians are now tut-tutting about the Nazi demonstration. As they should. But they cannot erase decades of bipartisan dehumanisation of refugees and demonisation of Muslims, or rewind the disgraceful Victorian Liberal Party and Herald Sun campaign against Victoria’s “African gang problem”. These campaigns, full of confected fear and insecurity, have given succour to the far right.

“Daniel Andrews’ Labor government is soft on crime”, they say. “He’s letting gangs run wild”. “Someone needs to do something”. Far right organisers take that as an open invitation to “do something”. They take matters into their own hands.

Yet 5 January changed the narrative about the people regularly described in the media as right wing activists or concerned citizens. It has become possible to name them for what they are: Nazis. This naming, with all the seriousness and urgency it implies, could be an important moment for galvanising the activist opposition to these groups and broadening the support for anti-fascist activity. We outnumbered them on Saturday, but not by enough. We need to build the opposition so that we outnumber and demoralise them.

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