A group of neo-Nazis took to the streets of Ballarat on Sunday in a brazen demonstration that has left locals outraged. Even more frustrating is the casual response of Victoria Police officers who attended the demonstration.
Led by an unmasked man with a megaphone, the group of demonstrators from Australia’s largest neo-Nazi group, The National Socialist, Network wore all black, had their faces covered, and brandished a banner which read “Australia for the white man”.
They also chanted that same slogan, as well as “white man, fight back” and “heil victory”.
The group appeared to block traffic as it marched down the middle of a road. In videos on Twitter, cars can be seen lined up behind the procession, led by two police vehicles.
The march coincided with the anniversary of the Eureka Stockade, when gold miners fought with police and the colonial state over land rights. The stockade is often co-opted by Nazis because of its legacy of anti-government defiance.
Ballarat Community Alliance, a community group made up of local residents and community organisations, slammed the march in a statement on Facebook, and reminded Nazis that the stockade was multicultural and led by African American and Jewish members.
“We are a proud multicultural city and at the recent referendum were one of the biggest yes votes in regional Australia. We are a safe and inclusive city and we unequivocally condemn their presence in this city,” the group said.
Victoria Police allowed and escorted the neo-Nazi rally
Victoria Police attended the “unplanned demonstration”, and said officers chose to “keep the peace” by allowing and escorting the march.
“There were no major incidents of note during the demonstration. However, as a matter of course, police will review any vision or CCTV from the day,” a spokesperson said, per news.com.au. A teenager was arrested on suspicion of making a Nazi gesture but police said he was “not attached to the group”.
“Our top priority was keeping the peace to ensure the event did not impact the safety of the broader community,” the spokesperson continued.
“Everyone has the right to feel safe in our community regardless of who they are.
“We understand incidents of anti-Semitism can leave communities feeling targeted, threatened and vulnerable. Hate and prejudice has no place in our society.”
What police refer to as “peace” is questionable since one could argue there is nothing peaceful about a Nazi demonstration. It’s also an interesting stance given the state recently made public Nazi salutes a criminal offence.
“Victoria has new laws that prohibit the performance or display of Nazi symbols or gestures. Why weren’t these laws enforced by police who instead helped the neo-Nazis by making safe passage through the street for their protest?” Ballarat Community Alliance questioned.
The lukewarm response from Victoria Police, and its open protection of neo-Nazis at the cost of the safety of marginalised communities, is in stark contrast to the violence pro-Palestine protesters faced at the Melbourne Cup just weeks earlier.
After Victoria Police issued move on orders and tried to disperse the crowd, four people were arrested. Dozens more were pepper-sprayed “in the course of managing the non-compliant protesters”.
Earlier in the year, Victoria Police officers were also accused of “shoving” and “assaulting” protesters supporting trans rights, while remaining lenient and peaceful towards white supremacist counter-protesters.
Pro-Palestine protesters have been subject to intense police responses
In NSW, police applied for extraordinary powers to stop, search and ID random pro-Palestine protesters without reasonable cause, despite the rally being pre-planned and authorised. Opposition leader Peter Dutton even called for any non-citizen pro-Palestine protesters who engaged in anti-semitic hate speech to be deported. At the time of writing, he has remained silent on the Ballarat neo-Nazi protest.
More than 20 protesters who attempted a sit-in at a port in Botany Bay to protest the docking of Israeli-owned ZIM ships were also arrested in what was deemed a “heavy-handed” police response to a largely peaceful gathering.
The protesters were charged with an array of offences, including obstructing another pedestrian/driver’s path and disrupting a major facility — the latter of which raised eyebrows given a ZIM spokesperson told 9 News that “despite the attempts to disrupt our operation, our vessels are operating without disruption.”
These events beg the question: what actually is a “peaceful” protest, and more importantly, who defines the answer?
Image: X @randal_m_smith, @easleysgirl
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