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Woman who defied Swedish neo-Nazis 'inspired by Mandela'

Published 05/05/2016

Tess Asplund gestures towards a group of far-right protesters in Borlange, Sweden (DT.se via AP)
Tess Asplund gestures towards a group of far-right protesters in Borlange, Sweden (DT.se via AP)

A woman who stood up to 300 neo-Nazis in Sweden hopes her gesture will draw attention to the fight against racism in the Scandinavian country.

Tess Asplund tried to block the path of the Nordic Resistance Movement as the right-wing extremist group marched in the town of Borlange on May 1.

In this image made from video from Sunday, May 1, 2016, Tess Asplund, center right, gestures towards a group of far-right protesters as a man at left tries to push her aside, in Borlange, Sweden. (DT.se via AP)
In this image made from video from Sunday, May 1, 2016, Tess Asplund, center right, gestures towards a group of far-right protesters as a man at left tries to push her aside, in Borlange, Sweden. (DT.se via AP)

An image of Ms Asplund facing the neo-Nazis up close with a clenched fist has been shared thousands of times on social media in Sweden and internationally.

The 42-year-old anti-racism activist told Swedish Radio her defiant gesture was inspired by the late Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid in South Africa.

"I felt when they arrived that they shouldn't be here and spread their hate," Ms Asplund said. "I don't think I was even thinking. I just jumped out. Things happened quite quickly. Then a police officer pulled me away."

A video of the incident from the Dala-Demokraten newspaper shows Ms Asplund walking backward as she faces men with shaved heads at the front of the procession. One of them tries to shove her aside while another counter-demonstrator is forcefully pushed out of the path of the parade.

Ms Asplund said she was stunned by the attention she got after images of her defiant gesture spread in Sweden and beyond.

"I have fought against racism for 26 years. I am 42 now. And if this is a thing that makes people pay attention to the fight against racism and xenophobia, then that's very good," Ms Asplund told Swedish Radio. "But I don't want people to see me as a symbol. There were a lot of others who were there against the racists in Borlange."

David Lagerlof, the photographer who took the most shared photo of Ms Asplund, said he was getting ready to take photos of the approaching march when Ms Asplund suddenly walked out into the middle of the street.

"I thought, 'how is this going to end?' She got out there and stared into the eyes of the leader of the demonstration," Mr Lagerlof said. "They continued going forward, stone-faced."

Swedish anti-racism organisation Expo published his photo on its website, and Mr Lagerlof also posted it on social media. Many people shared the image and expressed support and admiration of Ms Asplund's defiance.

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, tweeted "Tess Asplund, you are magnificent" and shared Mr Lagerlof's image.

"I don't know if it gets any bigger than that," Mr Lagerlof said.

Swedish security service SAPO has described the Nordic Resistance Movement as a white supremacist group with a strict hierarchy and military influences. Several of its members have been convicted of violent crimes including manslaughter, assault and attempted murder.

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