A court in Athens has found seven former parliamentarians who founded the extreme right-wing Neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn guilty of running a criminal organization after a marathon five-year trial.
The extreme group was founded in 1985 and registered as a political party in 1993. But it would be the 2012 elections—held amid stifling austerity measures that led to many Greeks killing themselves in public squares—when the party would become the third largest in parliament.
At that time, the far-right party offered an anti-migrant, Euroskeptic, anti-globalist message that resonated with many frustrated Greeks. During the elections, party members were accused of torching cafes and bars in Athens owned by migrants or left-wing Greeks. The group also clashed with left-wing anarchists in violent brawls that often ground Athens to a halt.
In September 2013, a 35-year-old man with ties to the group was arrested for the murder of hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, known as Killah P, who was fatally stabbed. Several party members, including leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, were arrested. Michaloliakos served time for his connection to the rapper’s killer.
The convictions announced Wednesday do not immediately spell the end of the party, as members vowed revenge and promised to remain active after the verdicts were read.
More than 2,000 police were ready for the verdict outside one of the most high-profile trials in modern Greek history. After the decision was read, they fired tear gas at more than 15,000 people gathered outside. Many were family members of the group’s victims, which include migrants, refugees, and left-wing activists over the years. When the verdicts were read, the crowd erupted in cheers before throwing projectiles at police.
The trial considered the fate of 68 defendants, including 18 former lawmakers of the far-right extremist party that became Greece’s third-largest political party at the height of the country’s economic crisis in the early 2000s. The crowd chanted, “The people demand the Nazis in jail.”
The trial wrapped four cases—including the fatal stabbing of Fyssas, attacks on migrants and left-wing activists, and whether the political party operated as a criminal organization.
Nikos Michaloliakos, Ilias Kasidiaris, Yiannis Lagos, Giorgos Germenis, Ilias Panagiotaros, Panagiotis Iliopoulos, and Nikos Papas were found guilty of running a criminal organization and 11 other former parliamentarians were found guilty of being members of a criminal organization.
Party leader Michaloliakos and the other former parliamentary members face at least 10 years in prison for their crimes, which were carried out while they were lawmakers in the Greek parliament.
Over the five-year trial, the court heard evidence that the political party operated as a paramilitary group, handing down orders to small clans in neighborhoods who would assault groups and businesses. They also heard evidence of how the group targeted migrants and refugees.
Two years into the trial, the prosecutor was forced to recommend acquittals for many party members who were not active in the violence.
“The accusations against the leaders and members of Golden Dawn, including the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, expose a fissure that exists not just within Greece but across Europe and beyond,” Nils Muiznieks, Europe director at Amnesty International said in a statement ahead of the verdict. “The impact of this verdict, in what is an emblematic trial of an extreme far-right party with an aggressive anti-migrant and anti-human-rights stance, will be felt far beyond Greeces borders.”
Golden Dawn members denied the charges, calling it an “unprecedented conspiracy” aimed at destroying the once powerful political party.