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The power of persuasion in confronting fascism

  • 24 February 2017


For the last few years, Reclaim Australia and other white-nationalist groups have held rallies to protest Australia's immigration policies, the building of mosques and, more recently, in support of US President Donald Trump.

Each time, there have been counter rallies of socialists, refugee advocates and anti-racism groups.

These protests and counter-protests have been going on for years now; many of them have been violent. There is inevitably a heavy police presence and, on occasions, pepper spray has been used. The white-nationalists accuse the counter protesters of being 'traitors'. The counter protestors yell back: 'You are not welcome here.'

When these protests began, I grappled with whether or not to join the counter rallies. Some of my friends — people who I have stood next to on picket lines and marched in demos with — were enthusiastic participants, confronting the purported neo-fascists.

These friends send me text messages the week before the rallies, or share 'event invitations' on social media. The invitations sometimes have a sickly tone of excitement in them. 'Come and fight some fascists, it will be fun!' one friend texted me in the lead up to one of the confrontations. In the wake of the skirmishes, my social media feeds are peppered with videos and photos of the day's highlights.

From the beginning, I was ambivalent about participating. I find the views of the white-nationalist groups abhorrent, but I saw them as marginal fringe groups of (mostly) white men who were only getting attention from the media because the conflict with the counter protesters made for good content.

Why validate their cause by gifting them coverage? Why animate them by giving them somebody to organise against?

One Sunday last year, the day after a particularly violent confrontation between the groups, I began work at 7am in my then role as a residential care worker with homeless teenagers. Work was quiet and I began scrolling through the news coverage, voyeuristically wondering if any of my comrades featured.


"The anti-racism campaigners thought they were right because they fought fascists; no matter if the apparent fascists were homeless children who had been coaxed into participating with lies and predation."


To my horror, I knew people on both sides of the scuffles. As expected, my socialist and trade unionist friends were there clashing with the police and the white-nationalists. Completely unexpected was a handful of my homeless clients, draped in Australian flags, engaged in rolling street battles with the anti-racism protestors.

When I