In the end, fears that today’s “Free Speech Rally” would devolve into another Charlottesville, proved unfounded.
Boston had braced itself with hundreds of police officers to ensure that the day didn’t have the same deadly outcome of the Charlottesville protests last week. However, opponents of the right-wing took over the rally, chanting anti-Nazi slogans and waving signs condemning white nationalism.
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans told reporters on Saturday that police had made 27 arrests for disorderly conduct, with some for assault and battery during scuffles between police and counterprotesters, even as the original conservative rallygoers had largely dispersed earlier in the day.
Dozens of conservative rallygoers had gathered on the Boston Common, but then left less than an hour after the event was getting underway as tens of thousands of counterprotesters swarmed the “free speech” rally. Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday morning on downtown Boston, dwarfing the smaller group of conservatives staging their own “free speech rally.”
The small right-wing group who came for the rally huddled in a circle at the park as barricades fenced them off from the thousands upon thousands of counter-protesters who came to drown out their event. The conservatives left the rally around 1 p.m., shortly after their arrival. One of the planned speakers of a conservative activist rally said the event “fell apart” according to the AP.
This is the first video I’ve seen that really shows the disparity between the “free speech” rally and the thousands of counter-demonstrators pic.twitter.com/Lca2J3vhsc
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) August 19, 2017
Many of the counterprotesters remained in the area late on Saturday afternoon including a few who were among people chanting “Black Lives Matter” who burned a confederate flag.
Meanwhile, the “Free Speech Rally” organizers had issued a press release publicly distanced themselves from the white supremacists in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.
Organizers of the ‘Free Speech’ rally denounced the violence and racist chants of the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ protest.
‘We are a coalition of libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and independents and we welcome all individuals and organizations from any political affiliations that are willing to peaceably engage in open dialogue about the threats to, and importance of, free speech and civil liberties,’ the group said on Facebook. The Boston Free Speech Coalition, which organized the event, said that it’s not affiliated with the Charlottesville rally organizers in any way. ‘We are not associated with any alt-right or white supremacist groups,’ it said this week, insisting: ‘We are strictly about free speech.’
Heading into the Saturday rally, Boston authorities and citizens were concerned that it would be another violent day and sent at least 500 police officers to man the streets to keep the peace between thousands of tense people. The police hoped to deter violence at the ‘free speech’ rally, which had right-wing speakers, by closing streets to avert car attacks like the deadly one carried out last week. Boston also outlawed weapons of any kind – including sticks used to hold signs – in the protest area and ordered food vendors out of Boston Common, the nation’s oldest park.
However, tensions began to arise around 12:30pm, when a group of boisterous counter-protesters were filmed chasing a man with a Trump campaign banner and cap, shouting and swearing at him. Other counter-protesters intervened and helped the man safely over a fence to where the conservative rally was to be staged. A black-clad counter-protester also grabbed an American flag out of an elderly woman’s hands, and she stumbled and fell to the ground.
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) August 19, 2017
Some members of the Antifa group spoke out, including member Shane Terry, 22, who says she covers her face so that ‘Nazis can’t find me on social media’. There are uniformed officers from all over the state along with Boston firefighters from the rapid response team standing among the crowd.
Joe Fusco, 43, from New Hampshire says the entire event is ludicrous. ‘Aren’t we still the United States? So the counter protests are to stop the protest? Doesn’t make sense.’ Some counter-protesters did throw bottles of urine, rocks and other ‘hurtful projectiles’ at police.
As the counterprotest went on, president Donald Trump complimented the Boston police on Twitter for their handling of the rallies minutes before the police department tweeted asking people to stop throwing items at them. Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon, “Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.” Trump also complimented Boston’s Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh.
Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
Trump also praised the crowd of up to 40,000 anti-fascist protesters who marched through the streets of Boston in protest against right-wing activists hosting a ‘free speech’ rally on Saturday. The President tweeted: ‘I want to applaud the many protesters in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one! ‘Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!’
Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
Trump quickly deleted two tweets that misspelled the word heal as ‘heel’ and an hour earlier he had tweeted to condemn ‘anti-police agitators’. But the president’s tone was mostly conciliatory after a week of outrage over his response to the violence in Charlottesville last weekend.
Boston Police Department tweeted shortly after Trump’s tweets that out of the thousands in attendance, several dozen people were arrested for throwing bottles of urine and rocks at the police and after some some burned a Confederate flag and pounded on the sides of a police vehicle at Boston Common.
Boston mayor Marty Walsh thanked the thousands of counterprotesters that took over the the city’s streets Saturday in opposition to a conservative rally. “I want to thank all the people that came out to there that message of love, not hate,” Mayor Marty Walsh said. “To fight back on racism, to fight back on anti-Semitism, to fight back on the supremacists that were coming to our city, on the Nazis that were coming to our city”
“I want to thank everyone that came here and expressed themselves in such a positive, great manner today,” he added.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) August 19, 2017
Some antifa counterprotesters dressed entirely in black and wore bandannas over their faces. They chanted anti-Nazi and anti-fascism slogans, and waved signs that said: ‘Make Nazis Afraid Again,’ ‘Love your neighbor,’ ‘Resist fascism’ and ‘Hate never made U.S. great’ even as others, ironically, carried a large banner that read: ‘SMASH WHITE SUPREMACY.’
Dating to 1634, Boston Common is the nation’s oldest city park. The leafy downtown park is popular with locals and tourists and has been the scene of numerous rallies and protests for centuries. Beyond the Boston rally and counter-march, protests were held on Saturday in Texas, with the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter holding a rally to remove a ‘Spirit of the Confederacy’ monument from a park and civil rights activists in Dallas had a rally against white supremacy. Removing Confederate-themed or era statues has recently gained momentum in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
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