Boston Is Bracing Itself For A "Free Speech" Rally This Weekend

by Jon Hecht

With the nation still reeling from the neo-Confederate and Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville that left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead and many more injured, the city of Boston is prepping for its own coming rally of white nationalists and far-right groups. On Saturday, the Boston Common will be the location of the Boston Free Speech Rally, which many fear will lead to a repeat of Charlottesville's violence and hate.

According to the Facebook event for the rally, the event is not focused on white nationalism and should not be compared to the events on Saturday: "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. 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."

However, the rally organizers have conceded that there will likely be overlap between the attendees of the rally in Charlottesville and the rally-goers in Boston, claiming that this is because not everyone in Charlottesville was rallying in support of white nationalism. And the rally has confirmed that some noted members of the "alt-right," such as Tim Gionet, better known as Twitter personality Baked Alaska, and Kyle Chapman, better known as Based Stickman, will be attending.

Regardless of the stated goals of the rally organizers, the city of Boston seems to be girding itself for something like what happened in Charlottesville. In a press conference Friday morning, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh warned residents to stay away from the Commons on Saturday, and said that while the city welcomes free speech, it does not welcome hate.

"We don't respond hate with hate," Walsh said in his press conference, standing with Boston Police Chief William Evans and Massacusetts Governor Charlie Baker. "We respond hate with peace. We want people to be civil, and we want everyone to make sure that we make Boston proud."

The city of Boston seems to be learning from some of the criticisms that the city of Charlottesville received last week for its police response to the white nationalist rally. The city is expected to deploy 500 police officers to keep the peace, and has already installed concrete barriers and security cameras in the Commons.

Part of the concern is due to the expectation of massive counter-protest responding to the Free Speech Rally. The Facebook event for a Stand For Solidarity Rally held at the Massachusetts state house has over 10,000 registered attendees. According to the event, hosted by the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump (COMBAT) and the Boston chapter of the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) coalition, "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."

The Stand For Solidarity Rally also decries violence and condemns its use by anyone attending their counter-protest, but it's clear that the city of Boston isn't leaving anything up to chance.