The streets of Auckland’s city centre were thick with the noise of tubas, homemade drums and distorted music.
Over a thousand people turned up at Albert Park on Saturday to see British anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, otherwise known as Posie Parker.
But the vast majority of those people were not there to support her, but to drown her out with an orchestra of makeshift instruments and a bottle of tomato juice.
Parker arrived at the Albert Park band rotunda, where she had planned to hold court, to find a mass of protesters operating at high decibel levels.
However as she took to the stage, a protester appeared from behind her and emptied what appeared to be a bottle of tomato juice on her.
Parker was led out of the area by security into a waiting police vehicle. In a livestream she then told audiences that she may not hold tomorrow’s event in Wellington due to safety concerns. She has since been seen passing through security at the airport enroute back to the United Kingdom.
Before she arrived, her supporters were siloed off from the crowd by a set of barricades. It was here, where the two groups jostled against one another, that things got the most heated.
Two men dressed in black with faces obscured yelled at each other over the borderline.
Some of the people who seemed to be standing guard to the area containing Parker’s supporters had slogans on their clothing related to groups in the militant alt-right:
“Bad boys, good habits”, read one man’s hoodie – the slogan of Will2Rise, an organisation headed by Robert Rundo, co-founder of the Rise Above Movement, a now-defunct American white supremacist group.
Another man wore a shirt with the words ‘It’s OK to be white’ and a hat with the logo of the Azov Battalion – a Ukrainian military group that has attracted controversy for its association with far-right groups and neo-Nazi ideology.
But as Parker was escorted from the area, the barricades quickly came down and the pro-trans protesters swarmed up onto the rotunda.
A few remaining Parker supporters stayed within the rotunda, where a few scenes of physical confrontation occurred – including a group of at least five people, including far-right activist Dieuwe de Boer, playing tug of war over what appeared to be a bottle or a noisemaker of some kind.
But by that point, the area was mostly populated by people who agreed with each other, and the counter-protest transformed into more a of a general rally for trans rights and LGBT+ acceptance.
Prominent rainbow activist Shaneel Lal, one of the organisers of the event, took to the rotunda with a megaphone and looked as if they were trying to speak. But the whistles and bells from the crowd continued at fever pitch, making that all but impossible.
But while the immediate support for Parker seemed to have dissipated very quickly, there was a sizeable protest with similar values occurring just down the hill at Aotea Square.
Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki gathered hundreds of people in Aotea Square with signs emblazoned with similar talking points to Parker.
The anti-Parker crowd made their way down to Aotea Square, where the two groups formed lines standing against one another and butted heads – in most cases, metaphorically speaking.
While the tensions were high and passion had burst forth into anger on both sides, if you looked around you could also see people talking. Words flew before fists in many cases – although whether either side got through to the other is perhaps doubtful.
There were, however, reports of violence. One anti-Parker protester said she had her cellphone stolen up at Albert Park, and then took a blow to the face while walking up Queen Street through a group of Tamaki’s Tu Tangata troops while holding a rainbow flag.
With police escort at hand, Tamaki’s protest began the slow march down Queen Street, led by the man himself. Following closely behind was the similarly sized cohort of pro-trans protesters. The two groups began to blur and intermingle as they made their way down the road.
Normally, protests like this would reach Te Komititanga, the area outside of Britomart, and regroup there.
Today, a festival run by Auckland’s Nepali community was already in situ, so Tamaki’s flock were forced to turn around.
So back the entire crowd marched to Aotea Square.
The energy of both sides seemed boundless – perhaps testament to the building of pressure that debates over trans rights have fomented in recent times, as the culture wars wing their way to New Zealand.
Today, they landed.