In a dangerous ruling, anti-fascist activist and trade unionist Pier Moro has been found guilty of affray and assault and fined $2,000 after participating in a Melbourne demonstration against far right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in 2017. Moro pleaded not guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, claiming he was acting in self-defence. While the magistrate ruled that no conviction be recorded, this verdict is a direct attack on the right of anyone wanting to organise against the growth of the far right.

Moro had participated in a demonstration called by the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) against Yiannopoulos, whose Australian speaking tour emboldened the local far right and sent mainstream commentators into a frenzy of excitement. 

Current affairs and daytime TV programs ran glowing interviews with him before he’d even arrived and, when he did, he was invited by Pauline Hanson to speak at Parliament House in Canberra – an event cheered on by One Nation parliamentarians, Liberal MP George Christensen and a then relatively unknown senator named Fraser Anning.

CARF called a counter-protest to “give Milo the welcome he deserves”. CARF recognised that the best way to fight the far right is by mobilising the broadest layers of people opposed to racism and fascism. The December protest against Yiannopoulos drew hundreds from around Melbourne who heckled his supporters, including local far right personalities who turned up to support Yiannopoulos on the day.

Yiannopoulos’ tour organisers – desperately seeking a venue in the lead-up – settled on a reception centre in Melbourne’s Flemington-Kensington area, across the road from public housing flats where the very targets of the far right’s rhetoric – Muslims, African migrants and refugees – reside. On seeing CARF’s demonstration and the far right types CARF was protesting against, dozens of public housing residents joined the demonstration.

This is the context in which Moro was arrested and charged. Moro intervened to prevent neo-Nazis from entering the demonstration and defended himself when they attempted to assault him.

Yet, according to the magistrate, Moro had terrified other protesters that day. Despite there being no video evidence of Moro assaulting anyone, the magistrate accepted the far right witnesses’ testimonies that Moro had initiated the violent altercation.

While it might appear obvious that there is a marked difference between fascists, who espouse a violent world view, and anti-fascists such as Moro who campaign against fascism’s spread, the magistrate’s decision perversely reinforces the mainstream idea that both sides are as bad or violent as each other. In addition, it sends a message to anyone willing to engage in protest or civil disobedience to think twice.

Popular mobilisations like the one CARF called against Yiannopoulos are one reason that the far right has not been able to grow. The strategy of counter-protesting fascists whenever they attempt to mobilise has not only disrupted their ability to organise, but has helped to expose the neo-Nazi core of many right wing demonstrations.

Moro can appeal the court’s verdict. Meanwhile, as far right politics continues to become normalised within the political mainstream, anti-fascists need to continue the strategy of public protest to build broader active opposition to the far right agenda.