Is the president changing his tune on protesters? President Donald Trump applauded protesters "speaking out against bigotry and hate" in Boston in a series of two tweets posted to his official Twitter account Saturday as largely peaceful counter-protests against a controversial "free speech" rally wrapped up in Massachusetts' capital. Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of counter-protesters had converged on Boston, significantly overshadowing the Boston Free Speech Rally they'd come to oppose out of concern the event would serve as a platform for white nationalists.
"I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate," the president said in a tweet published Saturday. "Our country will soon come together as one!"
In a separate tweet (which appeared to be deleted and then reposted with a corrected typo) published at roughly the same time, the president appeared to acknowledge the power of protests. "Our great country has been divided for decades," Trump tweeted. "Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!"
However, Trump's message of thanks and gratitude appeared to be contradicted by a tweet he'd posted less than two hours before in which he alleged there were "many anti-police agitators in Boston." In that same tweet, the president went on to thank local law enforcement for "looking tough and smart."
In fact, generally speaking, Trump hasn't appeared to hold protesters in very high regard. Shortly after winning the election in November, he argued it was "very unfair" that "professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting" his win. In February, Trump implied those who attended protests against him or his administration were not voters but "professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters." He made a similar claim in April, when protesters demanded the release of his tax returns, tweeting, "Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday."
Earlier this week, the president appeared to defend white nationalists protesting in Charlottesville, saying there were "some very fine people" at their rally. He also claimed counter-protesters in Charlottesville deserved blame for the violence that occurred. "What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right?" the president said in a news conference held at Trump Tower on Tuesday. "Do they have any semblance of guilt?... You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent."
Although Saturday's "free speech" rally in Boston was planned ahead of a white nationalist rally that ended in deadly violence last week in Virginia – which organizers of the Boston Free Speech Rally have disavowed any connection to – it fell amid heated debate about racism and whether the president's rhetoric emboldens white supremacists and the so-called alt-right.