When a fight or screaming match broke out between the marchers and those who mocked them with pussy hats and soap bubbles, fully armored police would drag someone away.
Lucie Myslikova, 16, was standing on the sidelines in her scout's uniform with some friends and handwritten banners: “A good patriot doesn't Heil.”
Their words were swallowed by the passing rally.
But the next day, a photo of Lucie would become a global symbol of defiance against Europe's rising far-right movements: On a continent where many fear the heirs to Nazism are gathering strength, in an amateur photographer's frame, a teenage scout half smiles in the face of dark-glassed anger.
Before anyone knew what Lucie had said to the man — before her name was even known — she became “young Girl Scout protesting against neo-Nazi march” on Reddit, where tens of thousands of people voted the photo onto the site's front page.
Lucie had not been scared, she told The Washington Post. She even told the marcher so, when he warned her that “those refugees will rape you,” the teen recalled in a phone interview.
“I told him they're fleeing a war,” Lucie said in Czech. “This is about life.”
The Brno march has been held regularly for more than a decade, said Miroslav Mares, who lectures on extremist politics at Masaryk University in the city. The political party that first organized the rally was banned by a Czech court in 2010, Mares said, after being linked to Nazi-inspired groups and attacks on minorities.
Now the march is organized by the Worker's Party of Social Justice. “It's a successor of a banned party,” Mares said, and while the Worker's Party publicly disavows neo-Nazism, it has links to extremist groups across Europe and “serves as something of a camp for these militants.”
Lucie has been a Scout for seven years. The global organization's Brno arm has taken her hiking across the Czech Republic and parts of Europe and taught her to accept people no matter who they are or what they think, she said.
She knows that scouting was banned when the Nazis occupied her country during World War II, she said — and by the Communists after that.
“I don't think that it's time for another Hitler,” Lucie said. But “there are people who listen to them. They know neo-Nazis are bad, but they might agree with some of what they're saying.”
So when the Worker's Party put on this year's rally on May Day in Brno, Lucie put on her uniform and went down to the square.
For the last several marches, a large group of counterprotesters — the so-called Brno Blocks — has come out to oppose the rightists. “Some of the militants, they like this confrontation,” Mares said.
This year, the blockers decided to mock the nationalists instead, organizing resistance through jugglers, bubble blowers and dancers.
“The scouts started peacefully, playing guitars and drums; I was hopping around and dancing, occasionally shouting something out,” Lucie said. “Some people may say we provoked them, but we wanted to show that we were against what they were saying and against their very presence.”
The marchers formed a ring in the square and unfurled their banners.
There was one for the Worker Party's youth brigade, whose website condemns the so-called “BombenHolocaust” of German cities in World War II.
And there were flags for the the People's Party in Slovakia, whose leader used to dress in a black uniform “reminiscent of the Nazi-era Hlinka guard,” The Post reported last year, when the party won seats in Slovakia's parliament for the first time.
Mares, the Masaryk University lecturer, placed these groups on a spectrum of extremism that runs from neo-Nazism to Islamophobia, stretching from France to Russia.
“Whores!” someone yelled in Czech at the counterprotesters in the Brno square.
A marcher shoved a man in a pussy hat, knocking a woman beside him to the pavement. A man in a suit climbed a platform and began yelling into a megaphone, as constant drumming muffled his words.
The Worker's Party chairman, Tomas Vandas, was scheduled to speak at the rally. Several years ago, Mares once wrote, Vandas made a speech in another town, after which demonstrators “tried to attack houses occupied by Roma families.”
The Roma minority — “gypsy parasites,” as the Slovakian People's Party calls them — used to be the scapegoat of choice in central Europe, said Selma Muhic Dizdarevic, who lectures on politics at Charles University in Prague. “What has become now much more prominent is Islamophobia,” she said. “Muslims, Arabs or Africans, or anyone who would like to come here.”
Dizdarevic noted that the Worker's Party holds no power in the Czech parliament, but she said “their agenda has become mainstreamed” all the way up to the country's president, Milos Zeman, who said last year that it's “practically impossible” to integrate Muslim immigrants.
As she watched videos of the Brno rally — with officers in full face helmets pinning counterprotesters to the ground after disruptions — Dizdarevic wondered if Europe's tilt toward the far right had spread into police ranks. “Anything on extreme left is dealt with swiftly and severely,” she said. “On the extreme right, basically, the police say: we're helpless.”
Lucie said she saw a bit of scuffling from the sidelines but no major violence. Nor was she much concerned, she said, when a man with a shaved head made a beeline toward her and started yelling.
“He would knock into me, or grab my friend's shirt,” she said. “But we would tell him: You know you can't hit us. You can't hurt us.”
The man was trying to convince her that she should be frightened about waves of immigrants crossing through Europe, Lucie said.
“Those refugees will rape you,” she recalled him saying. “Maybe you’re not scared, but I’m afraid for my daughter, that they will rape her.”
They went back and forth for a bit, amid the chanting and drumming and sirens, before police herded the counterprotesters down the block.
The Worker's Party had a permit for its rally, after all.
Vladimir Cicmanec, a computer programmer with the counterprotesters, was snapping pictures a few yards away. He'd been to the blockade in 2015 too, he said, when the neo-Nazis had a larger presence.
At Monday's rally, he said, the demonstrators had been kicking bicyclists.
But Cicmanec found a different scene: a girl in a scouting uniform, arms stretched wide across a banner that proclaimed the worth of every child, smirking at a bald man's tirade.
A bubble drifted just above her eyebrow. Cicmanec snapped a single photo, and now the world knows Lucie's stance.