What Happened At The Boston "Free Speech" Rally? Counter-Protesters Showed Up In Droves

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After worries that a repeat of the chaos in Charlottesville might repeat itself in a Boston "free speech" rally on Saturday, the city's police department announced at 1:30 p.m. that the event had ended. The rally's early end came as enormous crowds of counter-protesters marching around Boston — much bigger in number than that of the original "free speech" crowd — overshadowed the event. "#UPDATE: 'Free Speech' rally is officially over," the department tweeted. "Demonstrators have left the Common."

Whether the rally, originally scheduled to wrap up at 2:20 p.m., was a decision made by its organizers or law enforcement officers was not immediately clear.

The event, put together by the Boston Free Speech Coalition, had slightly over 300 confirmed attendees on its Facebook page and 662 "interested" RSVPs. One of the organizers estimated that up to 1,000 supporters would join the coalition at the rally on Saturday; Boston Mayor Martin Walsh had previously predicted that less than 100 people would show up.

Ultimately, a very small group of "free speech" rally-goers gathered in a bandstand inside Boston Common. BuzzFeed News reporter Tyler Kinkade estimated the number to be around 30.

In stark contrast, counter-protests were predicted to draw between 20,000-30,000 people. Though exact crowd numbers are not yet available, video footage and photos of the event display protests with participants easily numbering in the thousands. Police estimated the number to be roughly 15,000.

Organizers of the "free speech" rally insisted that, despite what their opponents suggested, the event was not meant to promote white supremacist, white nationalist, or neo-nazi ideals like last week's rally in Charlottesville.

"While we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech and defend that basic human right, we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry," declared the rally's event page. "We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence. We denounce the actions, activities, and tactics of the so-called Antifa movement. We denounce the normalization of political violence."

Nonetheless, members from at least one hate group, the Ku Klux Klan, were reportedly intending to attend. “I know some of our members from the Springfield area are going,” said the KKK's national director, Thomas Robb. “I’m assuming members in the Boston area are going.” The rally speakers list also included multiple right-wing extremists.

The city of Boston prepared for Saturday's events by deploying 500 police officers to monitor the situation. Though numerous fights broke out between rally-goers and counter-protesters, no large-scale attempt at violence, like the vehicular attack in Charlottesville that killed one woman and injured 19 others, took place. The widespread police presence and the physical separation of the "free speech" rally and those protesting them appears to have been effective in minimizing chaos.