On Sunday, I faced a choice: how to celebrate my first People’s Unity Day in Russia? Should I tag along on a peppy multicultural Nashi contingent’s visit to a blood bank? Make a “Believe in Russia, Believe in Ourselves” sign and go hang with The Young Guard? Hit my local Orthodox service and see what happens when the church/state wall comes tumbling down? Or maybe fly out to Kamchatka, where the east coasters celebrated by cooking up an historic six-ton tank of onion and salmon soup?
All tempting displays of Russian nationalism, but I decided to see what the local fascists were up to. The march of ultras, co-sponsored by the Slavic Union and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, was a guaranteed freak show with room for surprise.
If there was a surprise on Sunday, it was that there were so many of them—between 2,000 and 3,000, according to press accounts. It was an impressive showing, considering all the competition and sterner official condemnation of this year’s march. The far-rightists were organized into five distinct, military-like divisions along a remote stretch of river opposite the White House. They marched under flags and banners mixing Imperial Russian and modern fascist iconography; no Swastikas, but plenty of Celtic Crosses, Odin’s Runes, and other symbols associated with the global neo-Nazi movement.
The marchers were a motley lot of racists: young skinheads with 70s terrorist-style face-masks, bearded middle-aged dudes in costume-box Tsarist infantry outfits, and a few older monks who looked like they just wandered off the set of Andrei Rublev. Together they wouldn’t form much of an army, but it was easy enough to imagine the younger guys stomping some foreign exchange student to death while the older ones intoned an Orthodox prayer over the scene. It’s possible someone in the crowd was responsible for this summer’s beheading video. A chilling thought on a freezing day.
In random bursts of energy, the marchers called for death to the Jews and an ethnically pure Russia—“Slava Rossii!” was the most common chant. But there was no public audience to appreciate the calls to action. With the Moskva on one side of the parade route and steep hills leading to factories on the other, it was the usual triumvirate of marchers, press, and soldiers. A notably plain, arrhythmic all-girls marching band led the first division. If the road to power requires the fascists to out-cute Nashi in their recruitment efforts, they’re in trouble.
The closest thing to conflict occurred when Antifa activists briefly unfurled an anti-Nazi banner across the river. I was staring out at the water at the time, and I think I may have been the only person that noticed the short-lived counter-protest.
Among the white, black and yellow tri-colors was a Union Jack carried by a rep from the neo-fascist British National Party, and a Texas state flag carried by a small-fry white power activist named Preston Wiginton.
It was Wiginton’s second Unity Day march, and Sunday marked the second time he publicly addressed his far-right Russian comrades. It was the usual David Duke-in-Russia routine. "I am here in Moscow to bring unity to Slavic and European peoples,” said Wiginton. “We must unite to fight this invasion from the Third World."
It was around this time that the wind off the river and dark energy of the scene started to wear me down. As usual, getting out of the demonstration zone proved difficult. The front was choked thick with fascists and the soldiers were gleeful dicks about letting anyone—even press—exit through the sides or back. Past the metal detectors, teenage soldiers stretched down the river for what seemed like a mile. Skinheads were in front of me and behind me most of the way down the exit route. It was the middle of the day with armed guards everywhere, but still I walked briskly, head down. If I’ve learned anything in this town, it’s that shit happens when you least expect it.