We Can Do Something: One Stalwart Woman Vs. 300 Stone-Faced Nazis

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Asplund wades into the ugly fray. Still from march video. Front photo by David Lagerlöf/ TT News Agency/Press Association

Bravo to fearless Afro-Swedish activist Tess Asplund, 42, and the photographer who caught the moment Asplund ferociously, instinctively charged a march of over 300 anti-immigrant neo-Nazis with her head and fist held high, and Nelson Mandela in her mind. Asplund, a longtime anti-racism activist, was returning from another protest when she came upon an International Workers' Day rally in Borlange, Dalarna, in central Sweden, by the violent white supremacist Nordic Resistance Movement. Marching stiffly in homemade uniforms of white shirts and dark green ties, their members are part of an alarming resurgence in Sweden and across Europe of right-wing racist groups fuelled by an influx of refugees. In an odd twist of fate and timing, the rally came days before a top Israeli military official caused an uproar when, during a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, he seemed to compare Israel's similar rising nationalism to the "abhorrent processes" in Germany that led to the Holocaust, warning, "Nothing could be easier than hating the other."

On the day of the Swedish rally, photographer David Lagerlöf, who works for the anti-racist Stiftelsen Expo magazine, was getting ready to film the marchers when Asplund suddenly walked into the middle of the street, raised her fist and stared at the leader. On video, one marcher tried to shove her aside as the rest kept moving; she walked backwards with them until a police officer pulled her out of their way. She later said she just felt "they shouldn’t be here and spread their hate...I was thinking, 'Hell no, they can’t march here! I had this adrenaline. No Nazi is going to march here, it’s not okay.'” After the photo went viral, she stressed in interviews there were many others who marched against hate that day. But she also acknowledged that, having fought against racism for 26 years, she views any action that garners public attention as useful in a long, often quiet battle. "It's a symbol that we can do something," she said. "If one person can do it, anyone can."


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Another Lagerlöf shot of Asplund. Some in Swedish media compared the photo to the 1985 image by Hans Runesson, below, of a woman hitting a skinhead from the Nordic Reich party with her bag in Växjö in southwest Sweden. With one of the most famous rage-against-the-machine photos: the lone dockworker declining to salute Hitler in 1936. 

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