VICE: A Day Of Anti-Racist Anarchy With Antifa
Earlier this year I did an anonymous interview with a man at the forefront of Australia’s anti-fascist movement. Anti fascism first appeared down under in the 1930’s. Today, it’s a loose band of activists with shared antipathy towards racists, sexists, and homophobics.They are hardnosed in the war against hate, which they wage on the web and the streets alike.
Recently, I got word of dual Antifa events in Sydney’s inner-west. Both coincided with a xenophobic gathering. What’s more, they were scheduled almost back-to-back, and just walking distance from one another. The stars of anarchy were aligned that day.
The first was a counter-protest against the recently formed Freedom Party, who were rallying against a Marrickville supermarket for displaying “Happy Ramadan” signage. The since removed Facebook event read: “Woolworths should know better than to support a political ideology that has unleashed a wave of terrorism.”
The second and more hazardous affair was a protest outside Australia First Party headquarters in Tempe. This right-wing group—which carries a violent past and ties to Neo Nazi factions—was holding a public forum on something they were calling the “ethnic cleansing of Australians from our education institutions!” In both cases, Antifa planned to send a message to their opponents.
I met with the group beforehand. They arrive sporting hoods, sunglasses and balaclavas. “We stay anonymous for two reasons: Police, and our opposition,” says a man who asks to be referred to as Ivan. “ASIO is watching political activists like a hawk and groups like Australia First are constantly trying to expose us online. The latter also have a history of violence and harassment.”
When I ask about their motives for today, Ivan explained: “Attempts by fascist groups to recruit and organise cannot be tolerated. If these groups are not aggressively opposed early on, they could become comfortable with attacking immigrants and queers. Militant anti-racism is a necessity.”
“I certainly don’t agree with everything that Muslim people do,” Ivan adds. “But to say that all Muslims are terrorists is to say that all anglos are pedophiles. The actions of a minority cannot condemn an entire race.”
Outside the carpark, Antifa assembles. They already outnumber the opposition, who were prepping to kick things off across the street. But it’s more than a two-sided affair: police are also in attendance, along with more ambiguous authorities. In particular, there is a monster truck of a man in a suit—likely security hired by the supermarket—observing both camps.
“What’s happening here then?” a smarmy looking fellow asks me. I stop short when I notice he’s pointing a small camera at my face. The anarchists berate him. Allegedly he’s a member of the Australia First party from the subsequent protest. The rationale for the balaclavas is already becoming apparent.
Soon after this, Antifa march on the enemy. The Freedom Party is draped in Australian flags and holding anti-Islam posters. The two sides clash cinematically: a stack of Freedom Party flyers shoot into the air, raining over the crowd. A scuffle erupts in the middle of the road.
“Go home, racists!”
Police assert some control, containing the attacks to the verbal category. The respective mobs engage in a megaphone dispute over Government policies. It’s like watching a parliamentary hearing where every member is on a gram of speed.
Scores of locals encircle Antifa. It’s clear that Freedom Party had a major lapse in judgment: Marrickville is one of the most multicultural suburbs in Sydney. Moreover, they have a council which is vocal in denouncing Islamophobia.
Eventually things come to a head. The Freedom Party retreats and, soon after, post on their Facebook page that the low supporter turnout made them “fucking sick.”
A lanky anarchist grabs the megaphone:
“I should note: we do support freedom of speech, just not when it vilifies people over race or religion. Now: who’s coming to visit these Nazi fucks?”
I will admit to being more nervous about round two. Australia First leader Jim Saleam has served three years in prison for multiple conspiracies to assassinate his opponents.
It’s eerily silent when we arrive. The headquarters of Australia First, or the bunker, is no stranger to public disapproval. Red paint is splattered across the party banner and the industrial grating on the windows lives up to the bunker epithet.
“Come on out, Jim! Let’s just have a talk.”
One youth knocks on the roller door. Briefly, a smiling figure appears in the window, only to steal back inside. By 1:30pm-the scheduled time for the forum-the rally is in full swing. A portable amplifier blasts punk, and anarchists address those inside with delicate innuendos:
“Just follow your leader Hitler and tie the fucking noose!”
According to the guys outside, Australia First had largely provoked this by posting flyers for the forum all over Newtown, a suburb which is patently leftist and arguably the epicentre of Antifa.
Suddenly, a fight breaks out between an anarchist and a man in military attire. Police swarm the scene with batons swinging, and the offenders are detained. An anarchist explains the guy was a suspected Neo Nazi.
There’s a definite slump in vigor after this, and soon Antifa call it a day. It’s evident that Australia First isn’t leaving the bunker. It’s unclear why this is the case: perhaps they want to appear civil in front of police. Perhaps, they managed to make some headway on the forum- notwithstanding the chaos outside.
Regardless, the battle between Australia’s political extremists will wait for another day.