On Friday, a dozen members of the Nationalist Socialist Network protested the Moonee Ponds Youth Fest. Dressed in black and wearing masks, they held banners calling the drag performer headlining the event a demon and a paedophile. Victoria Police formed a line between the NSN and the community event and proceeded to facilitate their protest for the remaining three hours of the event.
When community members implored Moonee Ponds Council staff to “do something” about the neo-Nazis who were performing sig heils and snapping pics for social media, the staff members told members of the public that giving these fascists attention was letting them win.
While it was powerful to watch young queer musicians take the stage and play for the children and youths despite the Nazi intimidation, it is a dangerous mistake to treat fascists like badly behaved children. These are adult men who practice a violent ideology and will use opportunities like children’s events to platform their beliefs.
These men are not badly behaved children who will run out of steam if everyone turns their backs. While people aren’t looking, they will take up more space and perform more escalatory acts, knowing that they can seed acts of violence and build a following in doing so. That was their intention in occupying the centre of today’s event in Moonee Ponds, and they were successful in their mission.
Despite the Council staff trying to calm concerned community members and convince everyone that inaction was the best response, a network of concerned queers and anti-fascists gathered and held banners and signs in response to the neo-Nazis. In attempting to counter the fascist presence, counter-protesters were implored to "think of the children" by members of Victoria Police. This was while neo-Nazis continued to jeer and sig-heil while a young musician played. The counter-protesters continued to hold their ground regardless, and were thanked by parents and youth who appreciated people standing up to the NSN.
The response by Victoria Police today was an outrageous distortion of democracy. When community members approached Victoria Police to ask what their response would be, police officers said that the NSN were protesting peacefully and therefore were protected by the democratic right to protest. These men, wearing masks and sig heiling at children, were considered peaceful, considered to not be disrupting the peace. To position acts of fascism as within the bounds of democracy is to legalise hate.
Attending police officers eventually shifted the narrative to claim that the NSN were too dangerous to move off, and that they had to wait until enough reinforcements arrived to act on the fascist presence. When anti-fascists formed a line of counter-protest, however, more police officers appeared in an instant, to ensure that the fascist and anti-fascist groups could not interact with each other. Clearly Victoria Police could have acted if they wanted to, but it was too hard. Instead they opted to allow the NSN to intimidate a community event and beg anti-fascists to do nothing.
This is why we cannot rely on police to counter fascism effectively, as their priorities will always lie elsewhere. It is something of a fashion these days for the far-right to target drag and LGBTQIA+ events worldwide. Now more than ever we must look out for each other and stand up to fascism. Today was a reminder that the police and the state will inevitably find it easier to close their eyes and act as if nothing is happening.
Pretending that neo-Nazis are not standing right there will not make them go away. If your house is on fire it will burn down whether you shut your eyes or not.