ATHENS — In a landmark verdict in Greece’s highest-profile political trial in decades, an Athens court on Wednesday found the neo-fascist party Golden Dawn guilty of running a criminal organization as it rose to prominence during the country’s financial crisis, systematically targeting migrants and left-wing critics.
The ruling came more than five years after the trial first began in a makeshift courtroom in Greece’s largest high-security prison near Athens, and as with as the beginning of the trial, none of the party officials were in the courtroom in central Athens where the verdict was announced.
But thousands of Greek citizens had gathered outside the court on Wednesday, waving banners reading, “They are not innocent,” “Nazis out” and “Life terms to the murderers,” as some 2,000 police officers patrolled the area and helicopters and drones circled above.
The three-judge criminal court tied the party to a string of attacks including the fatal stabbing in 2013 of a left-wing rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, by a member of the party who was found guilty of murder on Wednesday. The attack on Mr. Fyssas led to the arrest of the Golden Dawn’s political leadership and a judicial investigation which culminated in the trial.
Formed in the 1980s by a former Greek army commando, the Golden Dawn party was catapulted from obscurity to become Greece’s third largest political party at the peak of the country’s financial crisis in 2012, tapping into public discontent against austerity and a growing influx of immigrants.
During its time in Greek Parliament from 2012 to 2019, the party maintained public support by casting itself as patriotic and fighting the system from within, but it retained links with neo-fascist parties in other European countries and the United States.
A spate of violent attacks in 2013, culminating in the fatal stabbing of Mr. Fyssas by a self-professed member of Golden Dawn, Giorgos Roupakias, precipitated the party’s unraveling. Mr. Roupakias was found guilty of murder on Wednesday.
A few days after the killing, police arrested the entire party leadership as a judicial investigation began into suspicions that Golden Dawn had conducted criminal activities under its military-style leadership.