Human rights Opinion

'Power of the people' derails Melbourne's neo-Nazis

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Neo-Nazis fronted up in Melbourne last week to call for a stop to immigration (Screenshot via YouTube)

If not for the anti-fascists who gathered at Parliament House in Melbourne last week, a group of neo-Nazis would have succeeded with their anti-immigration racist rant, writes Tom Tanuki.

ON SATURDAY, 15 May, Australian neo-Nazis organised a rally in Melbourne. Their intent was to stand atop Melbourne’s Parliament House steps in Spring Street and call for a stop to immigration. 

Australia doesn’t often see publicly-declared fascists and Hitlerites hold rallies on the streets in the way that the National Socialist Network (NSN) has been inching its way toward doing since early 2021 when it first began a public campaign in the provocative publicity-generating tradition of the American Nazi Party. (There’s been plenty of covert neo-Nazi rally organising, mind you; they’re just usually less than upfront about it.) 

When NSN showed up to support UK transphobe Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull (also known as Posie Parker) only a month ago, the public began paying close attention. 

It was hard not to: footage of neo-Nazis being given a protected space by Victorian Police to march back and forth in front of Parliament House steps is confronting to everyone and a shock to a broader mainstream audience who haven’t been paying attention to NSN’s efforts.

Their almost universally-reviled politics of hate generate easy national attention. They use that to recruit. No genuine creativity or thought is required from them. They might draw on historic grassroots and political fascist aesthetics because they call themselves "traditionalists", but they also do it because they are uncreative people with no ideas. 

Viewing them on a personal level reveals a more pitiful side to them. Their leader, Tom Sewell, is delusional; he once said that the ghost of Adolf Hitler paid him a visit when he got electrocuted at work. Demonstrably violent and wildly grandiose about himself and the White race, Sewell is a social pariah that gathers lonely young boys into his group to do lots of working out in a gym together. The bulk of the group is young boys.

But they are a collective threat to the community’s safety all the same. Their political ideology is inherently violent and pushes them toward increasing acts of violence and intimidation. 

Of late, some of the lonely young boys roam Melbourne’s CBD of a weekend trying to intimidate people they don’t like the look of. Sewell has attacked a security guard and allegedly a random group of people who photographed NSN hanging up Nazi flags because he thought they were "antifa". 

Neo-Nazis organise around discrimination and they always wind up hurting working-class people who don’t look like them. Like the Christchurch killer — who Sewell once tried to recruit into his group.

Occupying the Parliament House steps in Melbourne’s CBD has become a shorthand for protestors denoting political legitimacy. You’re physically standing over the city, for one, when you’re perched at the top of Spring Street and whether you’re organising around parliamentary politics or not, standing proudly out the front of Parliament, uncontested, has come to possess a power unto itself. 

Counter-protests, consequently, have focused on ousting political opponents from planned rallies on the steps for years. When NSN showed up on the steps in support of transphobes, it was a wake-up call for the bulk of the public; it showed even the apathetic that Australian neo-Nazis were not vying for public prominence. A month on, that’s what the NSN wanted to reaffirm with a snap anti-immigration rally.

And so they rallied. Having seen that anti-fascists had arranged a counter-protest to their event to deny them the steps, they went out many hours earlier — about 18 of them. 

At around 9 am, neo-Nazis took the steps. Victoria Police had barricaded the intersection, but for all that, they still allowed them up. It’s important to bear in mind that despite making performative tsk-tsk sounds about neo-Nazi sieg-heiling last month, the police don’t actually seem to care about this stuff. They are there to stop people from destroying property or punching each other. 

The neo-Nazis even brought a deadlifting setup. Barbells, plates and a mat for deadlifting. They were going to deadlift on the steps to show everyone in Melbourne how good they are at deadlifting. This is what happens when you give fascists free rein to unleash their imaginations. As I've said: they’re very uncreative and lonely people.

A small, autonomous group of anti-fascists appeared many hours before any planned counter-protest. They immediately moved to confront NSN on the steps. 

First, they were calling them out by name, which neo-Nazis who always hide their faces in public obviously don’t like. Then they began physically confronting them. And it was at that moment that VicPol stopped letting anyone on the steps. 

They pushed everyone off, pepper spraying and attacking them, neo-Nazi and anti-fascist alike. One young NSN member, Nathan Bull, whose dad is a cop, rolled down the steps and lost both of his shoes, rallying the rest of the day barefoot. The cops confiscated the weightlifting stuff.

NSN wound up trapped between police, barricades and anti-fascists. Stuck for some time, then eventually forced to move on by the police, they were followed by anti-fascists through Melbourne lanes and back streets as they tried to flee what was now a significant and hostile crowd. 

There was fighting. Someone threw a can of what might have been soup at Tom Sewell. At one point, one of the lonely young boys tried to split from the group; NSN had to yell at him to come back and rejoin them.

They wound up in Fitzroy Gardens, with police trying to split them into little groups of ones and twos to vacate the city with police escorts so they wouldn’t get hurt. Some of them arrived at their cars to find their tyres slashed. One of them drove away on flat tyres.

Fascists are optics-obsessed — this was dismally bad optics for them. For a group that is so desperate to look strong that it would seriously consider deadlifting on Parliament House steps, Saturday was a total Aryan failure. 

It was also a measurable failure in terms of their capacity to influence people who aren’t fascists: because, as it happened, nobody else who was not a neo-Nazi even tried to join their anti-immigration rally. Melbourne only showed up to get rid of them.

All I want everyone to know is that despite outraged calls from Australia’s mainstream to ban all kinds of neo-Nazi symbols and expressions to stop them from doing what they did on Parliament House steps a month ago – and despite all the hand-wringing from Dan Andrews and VicPol leadership – it wasn’t actually any of these things that caused NSN getting off the steps. It wasn’t Dan, or laws, or bans, or cops that made that happen.

They actually wound up vacating those steps because of a little autonomous group of anti-fascists. If not for them, they’d have spent the day sieg-heiling with pride of place outside Parliament — again. So! Thanks, anti-fascists!

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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