Archived: 40,000 Protest Hate in Boston in Largely Peaceful Demonstration

An estimated 40,000 counter-protesters took to the streets of Boston this weekend to protest hate speech and white supremacy in response to a “free speech” rally that garnered a few dozen attendees.

Boston Police Chief William B. Evans said at a news conference, “99.9 percent of the people here were here for the right reason, and that’s to fight bigotry and hate, for the most part, here today.”

According to the Boston Police Department’s final count, 33 were arrested during the weekend’s demonstrations. Despite reports of rocks and urine-filled water bottles being thrown at law enforcement, BPD also reported that “the majority” of attendees were “on their best behavior and [embraced] nonviolence over violence.”

Evans said at the press conference that “no one got hurt, no one got killed” and there was “no significant, at all, property damage to the city.”

“We probably had 40,000 people out here standing tall against hatred and bigotry in our city, and that’s a good feeling,” he said.

The “free speech” rally was organized by a group called Boston Free Speech, which stated in a Facebook post on Aug. 15 that its rallies “are in no way affiliated with the Charlottesville rally on 8/12/17.”

“We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence,” the group further states. “We denounce the actions, activities, and tactics of the so-called Antifa movement. We denounce the normalization of political violence.”

“Antifa” stands for “anti-fascist.” NBC News describes anti-fascism as “a loosely organized coalition of protesters, left-wing activists, and self-described anarchists who vow to physically confront ‘fascists’ meaning anyone who espouses bigoted or totalitarian views.”

A list of speakers was posted to the group’s Facebook page on Aug. 18 and included Kyle Chapman, who recently founded the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights (FOAK). The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes FOAK as “a new fight-club ‘fraternity’ of young white, pro-Trump men.”

“Although there initially aren’t any overt racist themes, the new Alt-Right group of street fighters sounds quite similar to a neo-Nazi ‘fight club’ called the ‘DIY Division,” according to SPLC. “Members of that white supremacist group showed up in March in Huntington Beach, California, mingling with an estimated 2,000 Trump supporters.” FOAK is partnering with Proud Boys, which SPLC says is sometimes described as “the military arm of the Alt-Right.”

According to an older flyer advertising the event posted to Boston Free Speech’s Facebook page, Gavin McInnes, founded of Proud Boys, was set to be a guest as well. Also named was Augustus Invictus, a Holocaust denier who was one of the organizers of the rally in Charlottesville. That rally turned violent and left one counter-protester dead at the hands of a 20-year-old white supremacist.

The speaker list for the event the day before did not include McInnes or Invictus, though. The Standard reported that McInnes “dropped out at the last minute” and that the group “disinvited” Invictus after Charlottesville.

Samson Racioppi, who was scheduled to speak at the last minute, reported to WCVB 5 that he “didn’t realize how unplanned of an event it was going to be.”

“I really think it was supposed to be a good event by the organizers and it just kinda fell apart,” he said.

Despite identifying himself a speaker for the rally, Racioppi said that counter-protesters were “very receptive” and willing to speak with him, emphasizing the reports of mostly nonviolence throughout the day. Racioppi added that he wanted to take the stage to “denounce extremism.”

Aaron Flamm, a Boston resident, attended the protest with Steven, his partner, and spoke with DiversityInc about their experience. Initially, Flamm was unsure about going to the rally after what happened in Charlottesville.

But he was watching the news and heard a newscaster say, “If you’re sitting at home watching this, you’re not doing the right thing. Get out and go and peacefully go express yourself.”

“That was enough for me,” Flamm recalled.

Flamm and his partner wore ACT UP t-shirts on Saturday. Formed in the 1980s, ACT UP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about AIDS and ending the AIDS pandemic. The group’s motto is “Silence = Death.”

“I was a little hesitant to wear them, because again, I didn’t want to provoke I didn’t know what to expect,” Flamm explained. “We got onto the subway and we were immediately met with smiles. I must’ve heard [I love your t-shirt] during the day at least a dozen times.”

“I don’t know if it would’ve been the same in another venue, but here it provoked a positive response,” he added.

The couple arrived after many of the protests had broken up already. Flamm said what he witnessed was mostly nonviolent but described one “horrible moment” that occurred minutes after he arrived at the Boston Common, the park where most of the protests took place

“We’d been there maybe about 10, 15 minutes, and there was this kid if he was 20, 21, I’m pushing his age and he was wearing a Trump jersey.”

“It wasn’t a Confederate flag, it wasn’t a Nazi symbol, it was just a Trump jersey. And he was surrounded by the [counter-protesters],” Flamm recounted.

Flamm is not a Trump supporter but said, “I do recognize that he had a right to be there.”

“So I stood up for the kid. I said, ‘Look, he’s got a right to be there. He’s got a right to wear his Trump jersey. We may not all like it, but right at this moment, he’s not dong anything wrong.’ I said, ‘Nobody touch him.'” Soon after a group of police escorted the man out of the crowd.

But Flamm said he didn’t witness violence.

“From what we saw was mostly nonviolent, for sure. I didn’t see any punches, nothing near what happened in Charlottesville. I definitely witnessed heated discussions but did not see anything physical.”

Flamm called the day a victory for those protesting hate.

“From my perspective, I think it was an abysmal failure for the organizers of the rally. For those who wanted to stand up against hate, it was a tremendous, tremendous success,” he said a success he attributed to everyone from Boston’s top leadership to the city’s subway workers.

“It started with the top, with Mayor Walsh saying this is gonna be peaceful, we’re not gonna tolerate any monkey business. And I think that it really reverberated throughout all of the city workers, so I commend them,” he said.

President Donald Trump posted conflicting messages about the events over the weekend on Twitter, at first seeming to denounce the counter-protesters as “anti-police agitators” despite BPD’s largely positive account of the weekend.

(ProPublica tweeted that the president used the incorrect spelling of the word “heal” in two now-deleted tweets, but DiversityInc could not independently confirm the authenticity of the screenshots of the tweets in question.)

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