This "Free Space" Rally Is Putting Boston On Edge This Weekend

by Jenny Hollander
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From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday morning, the Boston Free Speech organization plans to hold a rally in honor of "free speech." According to the Facebook event, the rally will act as a "tide-changing peaceful event that has the potential to be a shining example of how we, in the city of Boston, can come together for the common goal of preserving freedom of speech for all and respectfully discussing our differences of opinion without engaging in violence." Despite the group's pleas to the contrary, officials and citizens of Boston are wary of the upcoming rally, fearing a repeat of the Charlottesville rally last week that left three people dead and the country more divided than ever.

Given the enormous police and protester response to the Charlottesville rally last week, which saw neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching for the sake of keeping Confederate monuments standing in Virginia, Boston has made sure it's prepared for the rally. "Despite the fact that our rally was peaceful in May, we are going to be facing a police state and surrounded by a mob. Be smart. Be Safe," Boston Free Speech wrote in a Facebook post on its event page.

"We're going to respect their right to free speech," said the city's mayor, Marty Walsh. "They don't have the right to create unsafe conditions."

Boston is not the only major city that'll be contending with white supremacist demonstrations in the days and weeks to come. In the aftermath of the hyper-visible protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville ― which left one anti-racist demonstrator dead and 20 more reportedly injured ― far-right and neo-Nazi organizations have been mobilizing to descend on predominantly liberal, Democratic-voting cities, likely to try to whip up similarly fervent and chaotic scenes.

For example, racist demonstrators are expected to arrive in the Bay Area next week, in the overwhelmingly liberal cities of San Francisco and Berkeley. And while it's yet unclear what kind of reaction they'll draw, a previous white nationalist event held near the UC Berkeley campus earlier this year descended into violent clashes.

The Boston rally will likely be faced with deep opposition from the community. A Stand For Solidarity rally is planned across the street at the Massacusetts state house, with over 10,000 people signed up as attending according to the event's Facebook page. "Our coalition believes that it is crucial to not only vocally oppose these grass-roots led, far-right mobilizations, but that local communities must unite to resist the ways that white supremacist ideologies are validated, re-enforced and perpetuated by legislation and policy on a state and local level," state the event's organizers.

The police in Boston are preparing to keep the two groups of demonstrators apart, hoping to prevent a repeat of the kinds of events that occurred in Charlottesville. The Boston Commons, where the Free Speech Rally will be held, has been set up with concrete barricades and security cameras, and 500 police officers are expected to be on duty for the event.

Chris Tognotti and Jon Hecht contributed to this report.