As many as 40,000 counterprotesters massed and marched against a right-wing “free speech” rally in Boston one week after a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville led to violence that killed one counterprotester and injured dozens more. In Boston on Saturday, counterprotesters flooded the city to march for unity as well as overwhelmingly oppose what animated the rally in Virginia, especially since some of that event’s organizers were supposed to attend the Boston rally. In the end, counterprotesters outnumbered rallygoers by as many as 800 to one, and as a result, the Boston rally seemed to fall apart soon after it was supposed to begin.
Unlike in Charlottesville, there was very little violence outside of some isolated skirmishes and a few confrontations between a small number of counterprotesters and police. No one was seriously injured, no property was damaged, and as of early Saturday evening, only 27 people had been arrested, mostly for disorderly conduct. Boston police commissioner William B. Evans said in a late-afternoon press conference virtually all of the counterprotesters were peaceful and that “99.9%” of them had come for the “right reason,” which was “standing tall against hatred and bigotry in our city.”
“That’s a good feeling,” Evans added. President Trump, meanwhile, tweeted both criticism and praise for the counterprotesters on Saturday.
The demonstration against the right-wing rally (and what happened last week in Charlottesville) was massive, starting for many with a march from Roxbury to the Boston Common, the park where the rally was to be held. At one point, the column of marchers was reportedly more than two miles long.
The difference in crowd sizes was especially stark because the “free speech” protesters were allowed to assemble in an area of the Common that was protected by police barricades:
Just look how big the buffer zone was — and how proportionally smaller the rally was compared to the counterprotest:
The “free speech” rally was supposed to take place from 12:00–2:00 p.m., but seems to have lasted no more than 50 minutes, apparently falling apart and ending a little before 1:00 p.m., a police official told the Boston Globe. At that point, rally participants were given a police escort out of the park to the cheers and jeers of the counterprotesters who surrounded the rally. It seems no more than 50 rallygoers ultimately attended, though others may have been unable to make it to the rally on account of the massive crowds.
There were some skirmishes between the two sides, but they were limited to scuffles and shouting matches.
However, after the rally was over, there were some confrontations between counterprotesters and police. Most of that tension occurred as police were trying to load the rallygoers into vans to be safely transported away from the Common. Police had to hold back counterprotesters, some of whom attempted to charge at the police vehicles, and arrests followed.
There was also another confrontation where some demonstrators threw projectiles, including urine-filled bottles, at police near Tremont and West Streets. When police backed down, according to the Globe, that conflict dissipated.
Boston’s police commissioner later said that none of this surprised the department, as they were well-prepared, and that the police response went according to plan. He criticized only the small number of people who came to the protests to cause trouble.
The limited conflict between demonstrators and police, which didn’t reflect the overall peacefulness of the protest, unsurprisingly drew the ire of President Trump. He tweeted on Saturday afternoon that it “looks like” there were “many anti-police agitators in Boston.”
Later, presumably after watching Boston authorities explain how peaceful and positive the day had been, President Trump changed his tone dramatically from both earlier in the day and earlier in the week when he seemed to equate the Charlottesville counterprotesters with the white supremacists and neo-Nazis they were opposing:
Boston Free Speech, the group which organized and obtained a permit for the rally, has tried to distance itself from the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, insisting that Saturday’s rally would be nonviolent, encompass all political ideologies, and be focused on fighting censorship. The group originally publicized that Charlottesville organizers would be attending the event, however, and admitted there would likely be “overlap” between the two rallies since “not everyone in Charlottesville was a white nationalist.” Some of the organizers of the Charlottesville rally had been slated to speak in Boston, but either cancelled or were uninvited over the past week. The Boston Herald reports that some Ku Klux Klan members were planning to attend as well.
It’s not clear how many white supremacists tried to demonstrate in Boston, but some protest-song composers opposed to Nazi job security were definitely there:
Boston mayor Marty Walsh had opposed the rally and, worried about more violence in the aftermath of what happened in Charlottesville, had asked the group the postpone the event. “There is no place” in Boston for the kind of hatred seen last week in Charlottesville, Walsh had said. In the end, he acknowledged the rallygoers had the right to hold the event. Ultimately, while the “free speech” event still happened, not many people showed up — at least on the rally side.
This post has been updated throughout to include new information as it became available.