Steve Leblanc, AP, August 20, 2017
Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans in a public rejection of white nationalism upstaged a small group in Boston that planned a “free speech rally” a week after a violent clash rocked Virginia and reverberated across the U.S.
Counterprotesters marched through the city on Saturday to historic Boston Common, where conservatives had planned to deliver a series of speeches but soon left. Police vans later escorted the conservatives out of the area, as boisterous counterprotesters scuffled with police.
Organizers of the event, the Boston Free Speech Coalition, had publicly distanced themselves from the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others who fomented violence in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.
Opponents feared that white nationalists might show up in Boston anyway, and turned out in force, some dressed entirely in black with bandannas over their faces. Officials said the rallies — the largest of about a half dozen around the country on Saturday — drew about 40,000 people.
Counterprotesters chanted slogans, and waved signs that said: “Make Nazis Afraid Again,” ‘’Love your neighbor,” ‘’Resist fascism” and “Hate never made U.S. great.” Others carried a large banner that read: “SMASH WHITE SUPREMACY.”
Chris Hood, a free speech rally attendee from Dorchester, said people were unfairly making it seem like the rally was going to be “a white supremacist Klan rally.”
“That was never the intention,” he said. “We’ve only come here to promote free speech on college campuses, free speech on social media for conservative, right-wing speakers. And we have no intention of violence.”
One of the planned speakers of the conservative activist rally said the event “fell apart.”
Members of the Black Lives Matter movement held a protest on the Common, where a Confederate flag was burned and protesters pounded on the sides of a police vehicle.
Boston Commissioner William Evans said 33 arrests had been made by Saturday night — mostly for disorderly conduct while some were for assaulting police officers.
The police department tweeted Saturday afternoon that some protesters were throwing bottles, urine and rocks at them.
Rallies in other cities around the country, while smaller, also were forceful.