Since a group of neo-Nazis, white supremacy and Ku Klux Klan members took to the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia — ostensibly to protest the planned removal of a Confederate statue — the attendance of the Boston counter rally grew substantially.
The “Boston Free Speech Rally” that was organized by a coalition of groups calling themselves “libertarian” and “conservative” — had been on the books since late July and the protests were organized not long after by ANSWER Coalition Boston and the local chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM).
“It went from a few hundred to well over 1,000 to now roughly 3,000 pretty quickly,” said ANSWER Coalition Boston organizer Nino Brown. “There were over 10,000 interested in our event, according to Facebook.”
A BLM-organized demonstration called “Fight white supremacy” experienced the same growth, raising more than $20,000 by Thursday night and suddenly swelling with more than 10,000 attendees.
“While it is our intention to send a message to those who would subject marginalized communities to domestic white terrorism, hate speech, and violence, we also stand in opposition to the most insidious and deadly forms of white supremacy,” BLM Boston said in a statement. “These include, but are not limited to: mass incarceration, income inequality, anti-immigration initiatives, police and local law enforcement, and housing and employment discrimination.”
ANSWER Coalition, which also brought out thousands of protesters to Trump’s inauguration in January, are working alongside the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston against Trump as well as a number of local activist and socialist organizations to hold “Stand for Solidarity” at 11 a.m. outside the Boston State House.
This is the second rally planned by the Boston Free Speech Coalition. In May, the event was made up of self-described libertarians and Trump supporters as well as Oath keepers and American Patriot Three Percenters — the latter two groups attended the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville.
By Saturday, Boston police said at least 15,000 counter protesters were peacefully marching toward the park where the rally was blocked off by a ring of metal barriers.
Many carried signs saying “Love your neighbor,” “Resist fascism” and “Hate never made U.S. great.” Others held a banner reading: “SMASH WHITE SUPREMACY.” One column of marchers carried a sign stretching almost the width of a street that read, “Which side are YOU on?”
City officials made no secret of their wish that marchers on all sides would have stayed away, given the level of violence that erupted in Charlottesville, where a counter protester was killed.
Boston Free Speech Coalition, which organized the two-hour rally, said on Facebook that it is not affiliated with the Charlottesville rally organizers in any way. “We are not associated with any alt-right or white supremacy groups,” the coalition said. “We are strictly about free speech.”
Participants in the rally marched from Roxbury, a historically black neighborhood in Boston, to the Common.
Monica Cannon, an organizer of the “Fight White Supremacy” march, tells Reuters that “ignoring a problem has never solved it.”
“We cannot continue to ignore racism, ignore white supremacy ideologies, ignore neo-Nazis and pretend it’s not a problem,” she said.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” some in the crowd shouted as Massachusetts state troopers, clad in bright yellow vests, used their bikes to hold back the crowd. “No Nazis! No K.K.K.! No fascist U.S.A.!”
The Boston Free Speech Coalition said it would not offer a platform to hatred and bigotry.” John Medlar, a spokesman for the group, said it would not allow its platform “to be hijacked by the K.K.K.”
“We will not stop until this type of white supremacy is removed from our country,” said Jason Charter, an activist who also attended the counter protest Saturday in Charlottesville.
Trump denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name Monday, declaring racist hate groups “criminals and thugs” and “repugnant to all that we hold dear.”
The president’s statement on Monday came amid mounting criticism from Republicans and Democrats to his initial response. On Saturday, Trump condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” but he did not single out and condemn the white supremacists by name.