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Anticipating protests, Boston hopes to prevent another Charlottesville

August 18, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Boston police and city officials are preparing for a self-titled "free speech" demonstration on Saturday, which comes in the wake of last weekend's white nationalist and white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. John Yang learns more from Philip Martin of WGBH.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Echoes of last weekend’s protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, continued to reverberate today.

Counterprotesters took to the streets in Durham, North Carolina, even before a rumored white supremacist march got under way there. And in Boston, police and city officials are preparing the city for a self-titled free speech demonstration slated for tomorrow.

John Yang takes it from here.

JOHN YANG: Thanks, Hari.

To talk about how Boston authorities plan to deal with tomorrow’s rally, I’m joined from Boston by Phillip Martin, a senior investigative reporter at PBS station WGBH.

Phillip, thanks for joining us.

First of all, help us understand this. Is there any connection between the people organizing tomorrow’s event in Boston and the people who organized last week’s event in Charlottesville?

PHILLIP MARTIN, WGBH: Well, the people who are organizing tomorrow’s event would like to say there’s no connection. They call themselves the Free Speech Coalition. And I can talk about that later, what the Southern Poverty Law Center says about the Free Speech Coalition.

But some of the same speakers, some who have now been disinvited or dropped out altogether, are some of the same people who are connected to the Charlottesville rally. We’re talking about people like Augustus Invictus, a renowned white supremacist, someone who believes that there should be a second civil war, and a fellow named Joe Biggs, notorious also within extreme right circles who also has an association with what many call the alt-right, what others simply call white supremacists.

JOHN YANG: So, given that, what are Boston police and others doing to try to — or what lessons do you think they have learned from Charlottesville? What are they doing to make sure there isn’t another Charlottesville?

PHILLIP MARTIN: Well, they are intent on guaranteeing that there’s not another Charlottesville.

You could start with the deployment. We’re talking about 500 police officers tomorrow. None of them will simply be sitting around, which is what they believe is one of the lessons from Charlottesville, not that they were super critical of what happened in Charlottesville, but they’re aware of it.

And so they’re talking about blocking off streets, the entire perimeter that borders the Boston Commons. So, you won’t see cars driving into a crowd. They’re very much aware of what happened in Virginia and very much aware of what happened in Spain, in Barcelona, the use of cars as weapons.

You will also see a huge deployment of state police officers playing a secondary role. And what you won’t see are undercover police officers who will be dispersed throughout the crowd ready to take away sticks that might be — were attached to placards, ready to take away bottles, ready to take away spray cans.

Anything that might be used as a weapon or construed as a weapon will be taken away by police officers. They’re also working with the Joint Terrorism Task Force. They have been looking at the organization, again, that’s sponsoring this, a coalition of actually young people who call themselves libertarian, but whose speakers roster and some of their rhetoric reflects some of the extreme right-wing events that we have seen around the country, including in Virginia.

JOHN YANG: Phillip Martin from WGBH in Boston, thanks so much for helping us out understand what’s going to happen tomorrow.

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