The Anarchist drinks rose petal tea. He likes its delicate floral notes and dreamy bouquet. It's a treat, he says, giggling.
He's normally more of a masochist, taking his coffee strong, short and black, hold the sugar. But today we're sitting on plush chairs in a tea room in Sydney's Queen Victoria Building, by thick drapes and a crystal chandelier. The Anarchist sips from a dainty cup painted with a red carnation. He speaks in a loud, shaky voice about smashing the state, about Hitler and imperialism and a "monopoly of violence" – utterly oblivious to the unsettling effect this has on other diners.
He's 28 years old, with neat fingernails, unbrushed brown hair and puffy cheeks. He wants a revolution. He's gluten intolerant. He advocates the overthrow of capitalism. He's studying at the University of Sydney and expects to work in IT.
He's among Australia's ranks of extreme anti-fascists – who have clashed violently with far-right groups at recent street protests in Sydney and Melbourne. They rally under the red-and-black flag of anti-fascist group "Antifa" – an umbrella term covering a loose collection of socialists, anarchists, anti-racists and small-l liberals.
While anyone opposed to an authoritarian or totalitarian state might be considered anti-fascist, Antifa tends to be associated with the militant left wing. There's no leader or executive committee. Members are identified by their all-black clothes (known as a "black bloc") and often angry confrontations with opponents and police.
Antifaschistische Aktion started as an anti-fascist organisation in Germany in the lead-up to World War II. Exactly who's in Antifa in Australia in 2016 is hard to say, because many members don black masks as a form of anonymity and intimidation.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane last month accused extremists on both sides of promoting a "mob mentality" – after a bloody clash at a Halal Expo in Melbourne left one anti-Islam protester bleeding heavily from the head and others injured from being punched, kicked and beaten with flag poles.
NSW Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Kyle Stewart similarly tells Fairfax Media that while everyone has a right to protest – regardless of their political views – "there is no place for criminal, anti-social, or dangerous behaviour".
I first met the Anarchist one Saturday in Sydney's CBD, where he was protesting against the Australian Christian Lobby in a balaclava and black-rimmed reading glasses. We agreed to meet later at the QVB, where we continued on to The Palace Tea Room, a fancy cafe on the first floor.
He doesn't want to be identified, in case fascists come after him. He's attended four Antifa rallies, including an ugly fracas with anti-Islam protesters in Cronulla last December, on the 10th anniversary of race riots there.
The Anarchist admits he has never laid a finger on an opponent. But he insists that any form of violence is legitimate against racists, bigots, nationalists or Nazis. "If someone beats up a racist it doesn't worry me. These people are heinous, so I don't really have any sympathy for them."
He grew up in a family of Liberal voters, in the wealthy suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. At university, while studying science and arts, he started reading Karl Marx and was swayed by the notion of a working-class revolution. Later, he embraced anarchy – but admits it's hard to follow in practice, while studying IT in Sydney.
"You can't escape capitalism. You can't live on an island. You can't just magically declare yourself not part of the system," he says, sipping his tea. "To radicalise people is not easy. You can't just walk up to someone and say 'smash the system' – they will think you're a loony. That's why people have to be mobilised."
Dr Troy Whitford, a lecturer in Australian history and politics at Charles Sturt University, says Antifa members tend to be disaffected male university students. Many have joined the cause in recent years to counter far-right groups, such as the United Patriots Front (UPF). "Whenever you see a rise in radical nationalism, you see a rise in counter groups as well," he says.
Such groups tend to be loosely organised, with a tendency to splinter, he says. He plots Antifa on the radical left-wing fringe of the mainstream debate on multiculturalism. While most Australians sympathise with anti-fascism generally, relatively few support Antifa's more aggressive methods, he says. "Look at some of the demonstrations between Reclaim Australia and anti-fascists, and you actually find anti-fascists are the ones throwing the first punch," he says.
"It becomes difficult to know which ones are the fascists. To quash someone else's view is fascism. To hit someone over the head because they don't agree with you is fascism. To lay the boot into another person to get what you want is fascism. You can be an anti-fascist and hold a placard but the minute you start imposing your will on someone else, you become a fascist as well."
Melbourne-based Antifa organiser Blake (not his real name) says the level of violence by anti-fascists is overstated. "I have seen worse brawls among people at the pub than I have at some of these rallies."
He's 27 years old and a tradesman for a residential building company. He admits punching and kicking right-wing protesters at street rallies but insists that it was in defence of his comrades. "I was standing at one rally and saw someone from UPF punch a woman's face. I got really angry and tried to shove him off and it turned into a brawl," he says. "To be honest, it felt quite scary. I half expected them to pull out a weapon."
He admits to also feeling a "macho adrenaline rush" and "indignant rage" during such stoushes. Antifa members adopt the term "no platform" when confronting far-right groups – meaning that their aim is to shut down entirely their rallies, protests and propaganda.
But he rejects the argument that quashing their right to protest is akin to fascism. "We are not trying to control what people in their everyday lives are allowed to do and say, we are only trying to shut down one tiny element of society," he says.
'Violence is usually a last resort'
At a bustling cafe in Newtown, near Sydney University, I meet a young anti-fascist who wants to be called Alison. She's wearing a black T-shirt with the pro-Indigenous slogan "Sovereignty never ceded" and a bright pink cap, which she sits on the table. Her lank black hair hangs over her face as she talks.
When she's not screaming at fascists, she works as a mathematician – but won't say where. She says she knows anti-fascist doctors, pilots, scientists, tradespeople, students and fire fighters.
She calls herself a Marxist and makes vague claims to have organised several rallies against Reclaim Australia in Brisbane, before moving south in late 2015. At the Cronulla riots anniversary, she held aloft the Antifa flag while marching behind a banner reading: "The only good fascist is a dead one!"
Anti-fascists outnumbered anti-Islam protesters on the day. A woman draped in an Australian flag was surrounded by 20 to 30 masked Antifa, shouting at her to "take that fascist flag off now". "Burn that flag and burn that woman," yelled a man in the crowd.
Alison argues that such abuse is usually in self-defence. "It's a bit weird, because 70 years ago people were celebrated for shooting fascists – but now when you just push one over on the street you get vilified," she says.
"Violence is usually a last resort but it is certainly not one we are apprehensive about. Obviously, converting someone is better than beating the shit out of them. But if you can't reason with people and you can't ignore them, you have to confront them."
Posts on the Antifa Australia Facebook page adopt an equally hard line: "We will not be afraid to use force"; "We need to F---ing shut down the fascists"; "Violence is the language of the unheard"; "We take policing into our own hands"; "If they plan a riot, we plan a riot. We must not be afraid to use force to defeat the enemy and instill (sic) fear in the racists."
But such bluster is not embraced by all anti-fascists. Anti-fascism advocate Andy Fleming (the pseudonym of a Melbourne blogger who tracks far-right groups) describes such posts as "quasi-hysterical". "It is not like you are fighting the battle of Stalingrad. To the extent that it is exaggerated, I think it undermines the seriousness of the purpose."
Antifa in Australia lacks the history and organisational capacity of its peers in Europe, where such groups attract thousands of supporters, he says. In a funny way, Antifa here is not dissimilar to Reclaim Australia – it's not terribly well-established or organised, and tends to be hijacked by self-appointed spokespeople.
Fascism and anti-fascism remain relatively marginal in Australia, Fleming says. But he argues that large rallies by groups such as the UPF in recent years illustrate the need for vigilance. "Anti-fascism will remain small for so long as fascism is small," he says.
"But we may be witnessing the first few sparks of a fascist movement emerging in Australia. So it makes sense to monitor and keep track of what is going on."