What most people saw when they watched the chaotic events on the steps of Parliament House on Saturday was a group of neo-Nazis engaging in an act of self-promotion by spreading hate on the highest profile stage they could find.
The confusing events that unfolded on Spring Street on Saturday have resulted in 48 hours of claim, counter-claim and conspiracy.
The result could be that Moira Deeming, an MP elected only last November to the upper house for the Liberals, loses her party endorsement; the Nazi salute is banned from being performed in Victoria; and, if threats become reality, a number of defamation suits are launched.
The protest started when a diminutive British woman – known variously as Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, KJK and Posie Parker – organised an Australian and New Zealand tour entitled “Let Women Speak”. She has held rallies in other cities to assert that the transgender lobby is silencing, disparaging and discriminating against women.
She’s appealing to an increasingly angry cohort of women who believe that the push for trans rights has gone too far and is risking the rights and safety of women by allowing “men” (transgender women) into women’s sports, change rooms and other female-only activities.
The speakers at Saturday’s rally ranged from young feminists who said they were once trans allies but had flipped, to older (often lesbian) women worried about losing female-only spaces and claiming people who would otherwise be lesbians were being hoodwinked into transitioning.
One woman, wearing a Greens T-shirt told a story of being punished by her former party for insisting on the rights of “real women”. The audience numbered about 400 mostly middle-aged women.
These activists were once dismissed by their opponents as TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), but many now the embrace the title. The movement has brought together elements from the right, including the religious right, and the old left. The principal organiser of the Melbourne rally, Angie Jones, describes herself on Twitter as “Gender Heretic. Woman … Leftie. Women’s Rights Activist. Radfem”.
Keen-Minshull is on record saying she had not fully vetted her interviewers to check their beliefs, but added that her cause was too important to be fussy about which YouTube channel she appeared on. She has said she abhors “white supremacy and the racism that fuels it”, but that, as a free speech advocate she thought “dialogue, even with those with the most odious prejudices, is essential”.
But it’s the mostly unimpeded presence of the neo-Nazis that’s caused most angst. The bulk of the police faced the left-wing protesters while having their backs to the Nazis as they sauntered past repeatedly delivering the Sieg Heil salute.
Police are also under fire from the women’s anti-trans activists.
Organiser Jones told The Age the Nazis from the National Socialist Network turned up about halfway through their rally and were “let in by police”. She said she initially thought they were Antifa (anti-fascist activists) seeking to join their mates in the counter-protest.
“Then the police opened up the line,” said Jones, who is Jewish and says she abhors Nazis. She worried they were there to attack the women, but they stood on the steps away from them.