Christchurch Counter Protest Draws Dunedinites Decrying Discrimination

Christchurch Counter Protest Draws Dunedinites Decrying Discrimination

Critic takes journalism seriously enough to brave a trip to CHCH

Last Wednesday, a small, dedicated group of anti-fascist protesters confronted a crowd of Counterspin Media supporters in Ōtautahi Christchurch. The anti-fascists hoped to “get their narrative” out, and stood in opposition to a protest marked by intimidation and Islamophobia. Despite the fact that the Counterspin protesters seemed very concerned about the erosion of their “freedom of speech”, they insistently heckled and shouted over the speeches given by anti-fascists.

The “Ka Tū Kotahi Tātou” (“We Stand United”) protest was first publicly announced by activist Dudley Benson at 7am – an hour before it was due to start. It was called after Counterspin’s founders, Kelvyn Alp and Hannah Spierer, were arrested and charged for distributing an “objectionable publication,” reportedly including footage of the March 15 massacre. According to organiser Sina Brown-Davis, their appearance in court presented a perfect opportunity to “show that there are New Zealanders out there that love our Muslim whānau… getting out there in a positive way was the best way to counter the hate”. 

They numbered around 15, with Sina and activist Jack Brazil among the three travelling from Ōtepoti. Following a similar model to the recent Anti-Fascist Ōtepoti protest (which we covered in Issue 14), they tried to stay cheerful, peaceful and positive: dancing, singing, playing upbeat music and chanting “Haere atu” (“Leave!”) to the gathered Counterspin supporters. 

Unlike the Ōtepoti protest, though, this was notably more tense, with the anti-fascists being outnumbered almost three to one. The eclectic group they were facing included anti-vaxxers, conspiracist “sovereign citizens” and white supremacists, as opposed to Dunedin’s store-brand racism. Carl Bromley, an Ōtautahi mayoral candidate, was live-streaming from the protest site. But even as Carl was denying charges of “racism,” insisting the Ōtautahi massacre was an “atrocity” committed by a “psychopath,” Philip Arps, who was jailed in 2019 for sharing a livestream of the massacre, was grinning and chatting just metres away, wearing a shirt emblazoned with neo-Nazi imagery. Arps is also on the ballot for a local school board, an election which currently has only about a 20% voting rate.

Despite the tension, it was a generally peaceful affair, and songs like “YMCA” and “Dancing Queen” from the anti-fascist side helped to calm faceoffs across a police barricade. While they faced repeated misogynistic, violent and Islamophobic threats, the anti-fascists were under strict instructions to stay peaceful and “not engage” – the closest they got was an attempt to drape a Pride flag over Carl's livestream (which he later complained was “assault”).

The anti-fascists read a statement by Azad Khan, from the Foundation Against Islamophobia and Racism. Condemning Kelvyn and Hannah for “igniting racial hatred,” the statement warned: “Online hate goes on unabated, and we know there is a direct link between online activity and real-world consequences.” This was followed by a second statement from Rafiqah Abdullah, who said that “complacency [about misinformation and hate speech] is for the privileged… one attack is an attack to us all… [these are] not singular events, but part of the tentacles of white supremacy.” 

Though threatened and outnumbered, Sina told Critic Te Ārohi they had achieved everything they wanted to: “We stood in solidarity and dignity with our Muslim whānau. And more importantly, we got our narrative out… with our kōrero, and the beautiful statements from our Muslim whānau.” 

She was optimistic that protests like this would continue to embolden others around the motu: “It’s just beautiful to be at the beginning of a national movement… We’re all in this together. United we are strong, and our unity, love and hope will defeat their hate.”

This article first appeared in Issue 21, 2022.
Posted 6:46pm Friday 2nd September 2022 by Denzel Chung.