A Danish collective of jazz musicians have perfected their far-right counter-protest strategy. “Free Jazz Against Paludan” follows the far-right politician Rasmus Paludan around the country and plays jazz very loudly and very badly at his events, in a bid to drown out his voice.
Paludan, founder of the political party Stram Kurs (Hard Line), is notorious for organising “demonstrations” in neighbourhoods with large immigrant populations, where he burns, throws, and stomps on Qurans behind walls of police officers. A self-proclaimed “guardian of freedom” and “light of the Danes”, Paludan considers immigrants and Islam enemies of the Danish people, as well as the country’s values, traditions and general way of life.
Since May, jazz musicians countrywide have crashed his demonstrations armed with trumpets, bongo drums and saxophones. When allowed in close proximity, they play right in his face, to his visible annoyance. If they can’t reach Paludan – who received a suspended sentence in 2019 for a string of offences, including racism – they simply play loudly enough to drown out his voice or draw attention away from him.
“We’re fighting noise with noise,” said John Rasmussen, an IT-consultant and “old man turned activist”, who played saxophone at a free jazz counter-demonstration in Copenhagen in July.
“I’m of the opinion that rhetoric like his should not be ignored,” he added. “You have to protest against it, but in a way that is not destructive and violent. This initiative fits that really well in that we simply try to make more noise than him. We just provoke Paludan as much as he provokes others. I want to make it very visible how destructive he is, and the louder we can play, the more attention we can draw to it. What he does is incredibly, incredibly evil.”
Since they first went viral, the “band” have consistently rounded up tens of thousands of views across social media. They’ve also raised around £7,000 from supporters, with the promise that all profits will be donated to Together WE PUSH, a non-profit organisation working to support families with children at a centre for asylum seekers, whose applications were denied and are now awaiting deportation.
On their official Facebook page, Free Jazz Against Paludan describe themselves as Denmark’s “potentially biggest band”. If you own an instrument, you can join simply by showing up to a counter-demonstration. And if all you’ve got to hand is a frying pan and a wooden spoon, that will work too.
“Our purpose is to accompany racism-convicted Rasmus Paludan around the country with free jazz accompaniments and improvisations,” reads a message on their official Facebook page. “Anyone can join, with the exception of just him. He cannot.”
“There’s not much to say, except for my boundless excitement over the musicians’ initiative,” Jørn Tolstrup, who has attended several Free Jazz Against Paludan’s counter-demonstrations, told VICE News. “Gruesome music against gruesome words.”
“What he wants is to get beaten up by some immigrants, get some close-ups of a soap eye or a broken arm – that’d be great for him,” he continued. “So this is great, because here we have an idiot who won’t shut up, and now we’ve found a way to take his foot off the pedal.”
Paludan and Stram Kurs were on the ballot for Denmark’s 2019 parliamentary elections, running on a platform widely described as fascist.
Paludan promised to deport almost all immigrants and their descendants, and has also toyed with the idea of placing immigrants as well as ethnic minority Danes – those he considers “losers of society” – in prisons or “closed-off camps”. He led the party to win 1.8 percent of the popular vote, falling just short of the 2 percent minimum threshold. They did not win a seat in parliament.
In a statement to VICE News, Paludan said of the Free Jazz Against Paludan protests: “It is an illegal disturbance of a legal demonstration. Furthermore, the disturbance is a complete admission of failure and an acknowledgement that the persons who are being noisy with musical instruments cannot handle our viewpoints and arguments. That’s the reason they can only make noise. It’s pathetic.”
According to Roger Courage Matthisen, spokesman for Afro Danish Collective, an organisation working to promote equality for ethnic minorities, part of the brilliance of the free jazz initiative is that it’s hard for anyone to be angry with them.
“You must ask yourself: why am I angry over this? And why am I not angry that we’re spending millions of police funds on Paludan, to protect him and his hate speech and racism, which he has been convicted of? It contributes to alienating us Danes with minority backgrounds from our own society, and it is horrible to witness.”
Paludan has several convictions for racism, including a 2019 sentence for comparing “most negros from South Africa” with people who have an IQ below 70. A few months ago he was again found guilty on several charges of derogatory statements against ethnic minorities, this time for remarks made on video, such as “the Danes and Denmark are much too developed and advanced to co-exist with the very primitive Muslim cultural trash”.
He has previously been accused of inciting ethnic cleansing, in an unearthed speech from 2016, saying that a “civil war will come”. He has since distanced himself from the speech’s content, denying allegations that he was inciting violence and instead claiming that it was merely a “warning speech”.
But this normalisation of ethnic nationalism is exactly what drove Merete Rostrup Fleischer, a 50-year-old bassist and usually apolitical woman, to attend an anti-Paludan demonstration with a banjo in hand. A friend of hers came along, too, rattling an egg shaker for the better part of an hour as one of Paludan’s demos took place close by.
“I’m shaken that the nationalist project has worked so well that it is now more scandalous to not be a racist than not,” she told VICE News. “When I see banners at his demonstration promoting ethnic cleansings… and that it is considered OK, that worries me. We cannot just ignore it.”
“It’s quite hard to take a man seriously when someone is trumpeting him in his face.”