At the “Boston Free Speech Rally,” thousands of counter-protesters eclipsed a small group of far-right marchers on Saturday. The gathering took place just one week after a deadly white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Phillip Martin, WGBH senior investigative reporter, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Boston with more.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:
Good evening and thanks for joining us.
One week after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia a self-described free speech rally today in Boston organized by conservative activists was eclipsed by thousands of counter-protesters.
Hours before the rally in the Massachusetts capital was to start, an estimated fifteen thousand counter-protesters marched peacefully through downtown Boston. In sharp contrast with Charlottesville, today's events in and near the historic Boston Common were largely peaceful.
More than 500 police officers were on hand — some undercover — and Commissioner William Evans greeted the counter-protesters today telling them violence would not be tolerated.
A few dozen people attended the event organized by the Boston free speech coalition, but shortly after the rally was scheduled to start..And vastly outnumbered, they left the site. Today's organizers had publicly distanced themselves from the racist groups that gathered last week in Charlottesville. After officials declared the so-called 'free speech rally' over, some counter-protesters scuffled with police.There were other anti-racist events planned around the country, including in Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston.
For more on the scene today in Boston, I'm joined by WGBH senior investigative reporter Phillip Martin.
Phillip, you were there. What was if like?
PHILLIP MARTIN, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WGBH:
Well, Hari, it was — it was extraordinary in the sense that there were a lot more people there than what was anticipated. Several thousand, by one estimate, 15,000 alone marching from a section of Roxbury, which is a black community in Boston, to the Boston Common, where the so-called "free speech" rally was taking place, which was organized by a group of right-wing activists in the area with some very controversial speakers on hand. They — the march essentially involved people of all races and represented a number of religions. I spoke — I spoke to Muslims. I spoke to Christians.
I spoke to a number of people who said they'd come in from Hartford, Connecticut, part of what they call the Moral Mondays, which, of course, was an offshoot of what occurred in North Carolina, over — around voting rights. And they said they would not have missed this because wherever there is hate, quote/unquote, they want to counter it with love.
So, the majority of people I spoke with were people who want it to be amongst people who thought like themselves — anti-white supremacists, they said, anti-neo-Nazi and, frankly, anti-Donald Trump.
Now, speaking of Donald Trump, he tweeted this afternoon: Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart. Thank you.
That's his perception of it. How significant were the groups of people that were there to agitate?
I would say not significant at all, though they had a presence. They were very apparent. But they were dwarfed by the large number of people who were there, again, to protest peacefully. Police made sure that this was peaceful. They waited until the crowd taking sticks and poles away from people that were — that held placards. Those placards, again, contained some choice words, which I cannot repeat, many of those directed at the president of the United States.
Anti-fascists, antifas as they're called, they were in fact present. They were, in fact, clad in black, but they were not a significant presence. Though, I did find a lot of people had sympathy for their position. That is to say, their position is: we do not negotiate with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and their position is they do not believe in freedom of speech for these individuals.
But if they wanted to carry out any type of action, it was not going to be under the watch of the Boston police commissioner, nor, frankly, of most of the people who took part in today's demonstration. They were there, and they asserted this forcefully, for peace, for — to show that they oppose white supremacy, and oppose the president of the United States who they say has endorsed white supremacy and hate.
All right. Phillip Martin of WGBH — joining us from Boston — thanks so much.
It's good talking with you.