MELBOURNE: A couple of Australia’s most obnoxious far-right ‘criminal celebrities’ and their mates tried to troll the 200,000 strong crowd that gathered to mark Invasion Day last weekend. And ended up failing miserably. Anti-fascist tracker, Tom Tanuki, was there to witness it go down and breaks down what it all meant.
I’m used to running into far-right scammers at protests like Melbourne’s enormous Invasion Day rally last Sunday. It’s hard to spot them among tens of thousands of attendees, but we’re actively looking for them so we find them eventually. I’m part of some groups who’ve developed excellent ways of non-violently making it hard for pests to undermine protests in Melbourne. What we do is tough to get right. We’re on display before the keen eye of media cameras, all eager to portray a rally of thousands as ‘violent’ if even one person caves to someone’s baiting. We’ve got to navigate the armed presence of Victoria Police. Finally, we’ve got to negotiate the best efforts of the pests themselves to agitate and stir up conflict. We know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it – but we often find after these rallies that the media has completely mischaracterised our efforts that day.
A brief run-down of the far-right agitators who showed up to Melbourne’s Invasion Day event. Firstly, Avi Yemini showed up, as always. Avi is a grifter. Much in the mould of say, Milo Yiannopoulos. He is a freelancing scammer who makes money by attending rallies and filming himself offering up low-rent jibes and disingenuous zingers to protestors (“Do you even know when Captain Cook landed?” BAM!). He uploads a compilation of the worst answers, partly to try and make the rally look bad but mostly to earn himself more subscribers. Avi isn’t politically informed – he’s just good at earning money and attention.
Secondly there was Neil Erikson, a convicted stalker and committed nationalist pest. He stood on Flinders Street Station steps draped in an Australian flag to provoke the Invasion Day rally (there were other attempted nationalist interferences on the day, but they all complied with police orders and left quietly, and as such aren’t worth mentioning).
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Neil Erikson was dragged away by the police long before the rally could conclude its march at the steps, so no one saw him in his cape. As for the group I was working with, we found Avi Yemini. We ruined his video footage and we watched him get arrested by Victoria Police. That was that. No harm done. The media were unable to find any violence to report on, which I’m sure was a shame for them. There were hundreds of amazing marshalls and organisers, and thousands of attendees, all committed to ensuring a peaceful, successful protest.
Some conservative pundits skewed the events of the day to suit their agenda while maintaining a comfortable degree of separation between themselves and the far-right agitators. On Twitter, Miranda Devine shared a video with the caption ‘Man wrapped in Australia flag gets arrested’, saying:
“I don’t know the whole story but, since you ask, this is not typical of Australia. It’s the socialist state of Victoria, where the police dept has been co-opted by the Labor govt and citizens have to protect themselves against home invasions and carjackings not seen elsewhere.“
I feel like Miranda did know the whole story, but let me enlighten you. Neil Erikson is a veteran agitator, and possibly the first twice-convicted racist in Australia. Once for stalking and threatening a rabbi, the other for inciting hatred against Muslims by helping stage a mock-beheading video in 2015 at Bendigo. Erikson was trying to copy a stunt from a nationalist pal of his from last year. His mate stood on the Flinders steps over 2019’s Invasion Day rally for over 20 minutes, wrapped in an Australian flag, surrounded by angry protestors and silently refusing requests from protest marshalls and police to leave. Finally, someone in the crowd went to take his flag off him. Chaos ensued for a few seconds. The cops dragged him away.
The point of that 2019 stunt was to provoke a hostile reaction from the rally and skew the media reportage of Invasion Day. This is how one agitator can have an impact on a large, respected event far beyond their usual means. Imagine: one person has the ability to mischaracterise tens of thousands of people as violent! If you can understand the power in that potential, you can comprehend the rationale behind most of the stunts we’ve seen from far-right trolls since 2015. They are willing to risk a bit of injury because the reward is potentially very high.
You won’t be surprised to hear that Neil Erikson wasn’t the only person in Melbourne with an Australian flag on his body on January 26th. They’re everywhere. The Australia Day parade is also on. They move obliviously through the Invasion Day rally sometimes. People expect that. Neil is, however, the only one to be dragged away because of it. Why? Because he is Neil Erikson! Police have been dragging Neil away from stunts like this for years and years. Why would they stand by at a rally they’re monitoring, knowing that a veteran agitator is planning to provoke a hostile reaction, simply letting it happen? Presumably they didn’t want a repeat of 2019, where things got physical to the detriment of the rally. There’s only one person who wanted that outcome: Neil.
Similarly, much of the reason that Avi Yemini was charged with breaching the peace at Invasion Day is because he is Avi Yemini. There is a long, documented history of Avi being dragged off mid-stunt by the cops. These facts didn’t stop him from being mollycoddled on 3AW’s Drive however – a show hosted by Tom Elliott, a hysterical Facebook rage-boomer who has somehow wandered into an unmonitored radio room. Tom compliantly helped Avi make a martyr out of himself. We were described as the “radical left” who were “trying to intimidate” Avi, and Avi’s legitimacy as a “citizen journalist” was defended. He asked everyone to visit his YouTube channel to watch the full, “unedited” video of what happened to him at the rally.
Arrested again: Avi Yemini at Melbourne’s Invasion Day rally (Image: Sean Bedlam)
Not quite, though. This little Citizen Journalist’s video is heavily edited. It excludes most of the interactions we had with him. That’s the point! That’s what we do. We locate a far-right videomaker at a rally, waste their time and say things to them that they don’t want contained in their videos, repeatedly. They might be incidents from the publicly documented, violent and abusive criminal pasts of these people, for example. We don’t enjoy or celebrate the terrible things they’ve done but we do recognise that talking about these things interferes with their footage. They don’t want to be responsible for releasing their own dirty laundry to their followers.
It vastly reduces amount of footage they release from the rallies they crash. All of this is not only non-violent, but it in fact reduces the potential for violence against these agitators. I’ve found that it provides a ‘pressure valve’ release for frustrated rallygoers who are forced to sit through these scammers’ humiliations. Instead of raging, they can laugh! That’s a good thing. The worst thing we’ve ever seen happen to Avi is a bottle of water being poured on his head. Honestly, we don’t encourage that because Avi gets to depict it as a terrible PHYSICAL ASSAULT, using it as martyr material to gain more subscribers. But still, is a bottle of water Radical Political Violence? Was Eggboy a suicide bomber? Bit OTT, mate.
It’s also a bit rich of Yemini – sometimes now known as AVO Avi – to depict himself as a victim of assault when he was recently found guilty of violently assaulting and stalking his ex-wife. A charming man if ever there was one.
What happens when we don’t organise and carry out these non-violent counteractions? Violence. Neil Erikson was able seize a mic at a November 2017 refugee rally to yell at the crowd that “refugees are rapists”. The police violently arrested the person who’d grabbed the mic back from Neil. Protestors were in a rage at this unfairness and wanted to see the guy released. In the resultant chaos, another veteran protestor was sent flying to the ground, splitting his head open. So, here’s a photo of what happens when Neil is allowed to agitate unimpeded.
‘Head split open’ (Image: Liz Walsh)
More recently he went to St Kilda in December 2018, before his planned Channel 7-promoted race riot at St Kilda Beach, to film some African kids hanging out at the beach. They were playing soccer and hanging out. They asked him why he was filming them. He kept reminding them about his legal right to film. Police appeared. The kids wound up being pinned to the ground by VicPol and violently put under arrest. Crucially, in Erikson’s footage at that moment you can hear one of his group of nationalists crying, “Yes, yes, yes!”
It tells you, once more, all you need to know about nationalist agitation with cameras in public. The point is to prod you again and again until you react, with only your reaction finding its way into footage. It also tells you why, since late 2018, we’ve had to develop ways of repelling pests like Erikson, Yemini and others – and if not, at least making their baiting less effective. Ignoring them can lead to arrest and injury.
Their parasitic attitude towards activists and the police is evident in the way they react to our efforts. Over the years, Neil and Avi have made regular performative displays of ‘thanking Victoria Police for their efforts’ at rallies and the like, despite their impressively lengthy charge sheets. However, both of them have now said that they are “taking Victoria Police to court” for arresting them on the day of Invasion Day! They don’t like being arrested before they can carry out the same stunts they’ve being doing for years. What happens when we get to them before the police do? Not much, because we’re mostly just massive time-wasters with them – but their responses over time have been hilarious.
In 2018 at the Melbourne Slutwalk protest, we said some not-nice things to Neil Erikson. He actually walked himself out of a protest for once. Then the coppers told him to be nice. What did Neil do? He called 000 in the middle of the protest, to get police to come and save him from the police! After lefties had simply said some bad things to him. What a pest!
At a 2019 Student Strike 4 Climate Justice, a couple of comrades followed Avi Yemini around being repetitive and not-nice to him. No violence! Just words. Just a couple of blokes saying things to him he didn’t like, while he was saying things to activists that they didn’t like. So what did Avi do? He approached the police to ask them to arrest my comrades for ‘stalking’ him, at a protest he had shown up to troll! Poor darling!
This hysterical, erratic reaction to our counteractions and the police demonstrates how reliant on sponging these scammers’ ‘careers’ are. They know these rallies are public events and are afforded a degree of public coordination by the police. They want to leverage that police presence to safely undermine the events. They want to be allowed by police to do what they like, even though the police have seen – and been part of – the violent fallout from their agitation many times before. They want to provoke activists into violence, because it’s lucrative for them (look at Andy Ngo in Portland – a bit of blood trickling down his head earned him over $100,000 in donations!). We don’t deal with them violently because we’ve discovered a better approach to these games. But when we get the job done they still depict us as violent radicals, hoping that conservative or mainstream media will take the bait!
Sometimes the media do, because many journalists find it difficult to understand the degree to which they are being manipulated by these agitators. Or, in the case of some of the above mentioned names, there’s a wilful compliance with their lies. The facts, however, speak for themselves: Australia’s most experienced nationalist agitators are having less success interfering in Melbourne’s thriving protest movements lately. Long may it remain so, until these scammers develop new ways to trick an ignorant media and police force into furthering their own ends.