Thousands of Counter-Protesters Shut Down Boston ‘Free Speech Rally’

Two protesters reach across the crowd to hold hands at Boston Free Speech counter-protest. Photo by Gaelen Morse

By Rob Carter
BU News Service

Demonstrators at Boston’s “Free Speech Rally” left early without giving any of their planned speeches after they were met by approximately 40,000 counterprotesters in Boston Common Saturday afternoon.

Event organizers maintained the goal of the rally was to protect their first amendment rights. But others believed the speaker list, which contained multiple so-called right-wing extremists, indicated it would actually be a platform for hate speech.

The massive crowd of counterprotesters drowned out the voices of the few dozen rally attendees with anti-Nazi and anti-fascist chants. Anyone trying to enter the rally had to wade through a sea of people who made it clear with their jeers that they would not tolerate any hate speech. Many left the Common without reaching the Parkman Bandstand, where police had separated the rally from the counterprotesters with barricades.

Before 1 p.m., the rally-goers, who were scheduled to demonstrate until 2 p.m., had decided to leave the Common. The counterprotesters cheered as the rally dispersed, singing: “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye.”

“Guess we proved this today,” said Karen Lindquist of Lynne, Mass., pointing to her sign, which depicted a Nazi wearing a Trump Make America Great Again hat, over which read the phrase: “We beat ‘me before and we’ll beat ’em again.”

To her right, a group had begun dancing to the music of a drum circle, as onlookers clapped along.

“Free Speech Rally” organizer Jon Medlar was less than pleased. In a Facebook post after the event, Medlar wrote that Mayor Marty Walsh had “recklessly whipped thousands of decent well-meaning fellow Bostonians into a frenzy by spreading lies about us.”

In press conference later that day, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans expressed his relief the event ended peacefully.

“No one got hurt, no one got killed and there was no significant property damage,” he said. “99.9 percent of the people here were for the right reasons and that’s to fight bigotry and hate.”

He added there were a few “troublemakers” who did not represent either side of the protest whom he believed were just there to cause problems. In total, 33 people out of the 40,000 counterprotesters were arrested, according to the Boston Police Department.

The rally and counterprotest could not escape comparisons to the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville just a week earlier, during which 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed after being stuck by a car driven by a reported neo-Nazi. Boston police had taken precautions to avoid similar incidents, using traffic barriers and large trucks to wall in Boston Common and separating clashing sides with barriers and a large area of green space. New security cameras were also added throughout the Common.

After the early end to Saturday’s rally, Mayor Marty Walsh praised the counterprotestors’ efforts.

“I think it’s clear today that Boston stood for peace and love, not bigotry and hate,” said Walsh.

President Donald Trump also weighed in on the rally, praising Walsh and the Boston police force for maintaining order.

He also later tweeted: “I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate.”

Brynne Quinlan contributed reporting to this story.

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