A “free speech” rally planned by right-wing activists was shut down early due to the attendance of thousands of counter-protesters who showed up in case the event became another vehicle for White Supremacists.
The rally, scheduled for Boston Common, was described by its organizer, college student John Medlar, as not associated with White Supremacists or Confederate monuments.
In the wake of the deadly and violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia exactly one week ago, many of the rally’s planned speakers had pulled out of the event and thousands of people signed up to counterprotest and drown out any White Supremacist speakers.
The city of Boston also took extra precautions to minimize the potential for rioting or violence ahead of the rally Saturday. They installed at least 500 officers in the Boston Common, added extra security cameras, brought in protective barriers to isolate ralliers from counterprotesters, and videos shared on social media showed attendees being searched and scanned with metal detectors.
KKK members reportedly told the Boston Herald that they knew of several groups planning to attend the rally, though The Washington Post reported that there was not a large, visible presence of KKK members. Kyle Chapman, who was accused of, and charged with, beating counterprotesters with a wooden stick during a confrontation at UC Berkley earlier this year was scheduled to speak, as was Joe Biggs who used to write for conspiracy theory, alt-right website Infowars. It is not clear whether either man was, in fact, in attendance Saturday.
Mayor Marty Walsh made a statement on Friday, ahead of the rally, in regards to the permit for the rally and why it was granted: “The courts have made it abundantly clear. They have the right to gather, no matter how repugnant their views are. But they don’t have the right to create unsafe conditions. They have the right to free speech. In return,” he concluded, “they have to respect our city.”
Counterprotesters were estimated in the thousands early Saturday morning, even before anyone began officially gathering; the online event page for the rally had just over 200 confirmed RSVPs.
Counterprotesters also reportedly marched through the streets at one point as well as gathering in the common and chanting loudly in a continuous, and seemingly successful, effort to drown out the “free speech” rally. There was a marching band in attendance also participating in the efforts to “drown them out.”
“By 1 p.m.,” according to The Post, “the handful of rally attendees had left the Boston Common pavilion, concluding their event without planned speeches. A victorious cheer went up among the counterprotesters, as many began to leave. Hundreds of others danced in circles and sang, “Hey hey, ho ho. White supremacy has got to go.”
Counterprotesters also reportedly taunted rally attendees with “We can’t hear you,” as some attempted to make speeches.
At one point, while police were escorting rally attendees out of the Common, there were reportedly some altercations between counterprotesters and police. No arrests have been reported as yet.
Rally-attendees were mostly dressed in GOP and Trump garb according to reports and one man, “draped in a Donald Trump flag” was shouted down by counterprotesters when he ventured out of the rally corral; they yelled at him to “go home.”
“One rally attendee, Luke St. Onge, a young man wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and GOP T-shirt, said he came even though he knew it might be attended by white-supremacist groups, whose views he said he does not agree with.”
Despite repeated assurances by rally organizers that it was not associated with White Supremacists, Bostonians were not willing to take the risk. Activist Monica Cannon, who attended the counterprotest, stated: “We’re not standing for it. We’re not standing (for) white supremacy. We’re not going to have it in our city…We want to send a clear message that you don’t get to come to the city of Boston with your hatred.”
Some counterprotesters said that the events in Charlottesville definitely inspired their presence in the Common today. “It wasn’t even on my radar until last weekend,” Joel Moran said. “After seeing that and having a very emotional and disturbing response to that, I feel like it’s basically my responsibility.”
Counterprotesters held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” as well as chanting the slogan. Others, like Elle Koskinen, 5, held a sign in her little hands that read: “I’m only five and even I know Black Lives Matter.”
There has been bipartisan condemnation of the events in Charlottesville last weekend, where White Supremacists descended, brutalizing counterprotesters unprovoked, chanting racis, homophobic and misogynistic things, and where one neo-Nazi drove his car into a group of counterprotesters, injuring many and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
There has also been bipartisan condemnation of President Donald Trump’s refusal to outright condemn the White Supremacists for their violence and beliefs. At one point, he stated that “many sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville. He has lost several committee members from his economic council, as well as several prominent supporters. He has been called upon by people like Mitt Romney to apologize for making excuses for the White Supremacists in Charlottesville.
On Friday, there were rumors that a White Supremacist rally may take place in downtown Durham, North Carolina which prompted hundreds of counterprotesters to show up. Whether the rumors were just rumors or the volume of counterprotesters scared them away, the White Supremacists were a no-show.
The city stated that there had been no permits issued for a rally that day.
James Fields Jr., 20, was arrested shortly after plowing his car into a group of protesters in a pedestrian area during the riots in Charlottesville last Saturday. At that time he was charged with second-degree murder, among other things, including fleeing-the-scene. It was reported Friday that he is now facing the additional felony charges of malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding, five in total.
Donald Trump tweeted about “anti-police” protesters in Boston Saturday while commending the police and city officials for containing the event. He also tweeted support for “the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate;” though, in light of his refusal to concretely condemn White Supremacists many are arguing that he was referring to the “free speech” rally attendees and not the thousands of counterprotesters.