Boston ‘Free Speech’ Rally Organizers Insist Event Is Still A Go As City Girds For Potential Clashes

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BOSTON — Plans for a controversial free speech rally slated for Saturday on Boston Common appear to be deteriorating, as one of the organizers’ featured speakers backed out on Monday, while the city has yet to issue organizers a permit.

Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, had been scheduled to headline the event but announced Monday his decision to cancel:

Proud Boys describes itself as a “pro-western fraternal organization”. McInnes expounded on his tweet during an appearance with Boston Herald Radio on Monday.

“Nope, I am not going, the context has changed,” McInnes said. “Charlottesville has changed everything. Mayors have a language you can suss out if you’re careful. The mayor of Charlottesville said, ‘I am going to revoke your permit’ … that’s mayor speak for ‘I want a riot to happen so I can take more power’.”

“Boston’s mayor is acting the same way. That means he is calling this a Nazi thing. He is going to let a riot happen and tell the police to stand down. I can tell the mayor is going to make sure we are endangered … it is a common political tactic.”

McInnes’s observations came two days after 34-year-old Heather Heyer was killed, and 19 others wounded, after a 20-year-old Ohio man drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd protesting the marches of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Saturday’s mayhem also included the deaths of two Virginia state troopers after the helicopter they were using to monitor activity on the ground crashed.

Walsh reiterated his stance opposing Saturday’s planned rally during a press conference on Monday. Flanked by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, Walsh announced that City Hall would be lit in the University of Virginia’s blue and orange colors Monday night while declaring that “Boston does not welcome” hate groups.

“We will do every single thing in our power to keep hate out of our city,” Walsh told reporters. “We are a city that believes in free speech but we will not tolerate incentives to violence, we will not tolerate threatening behavior, we will not have it.”

Walsh also used the press conference to take President Donald Trump to task over what Democrats and others have argued was an indifferent response to Saturday’s tragedies.

“Veterans didn’t have to be asked twice to condemn those swastikas and all that they stand for,” Walsh said, recalling an appearance he made Saturday at an East Boston veterans’ event. “Yet our president had to be shamed into doing the same thing two days later.”

Trump on Monday returned to the White House and proceeded to denounce white supremacists and neo-Nazis but has been highly criticized for initially blaming the violence that occurred “on many sides.” The gatherings Friday and Saturday in Charlottesville even before the fatal attack saw white supremacist groups clashing physically at times with counterprotesters, some of whom were members of the self-described anti-fascist “Antifa” organization.

Walsh also ripped Vice President Mike Pence, who he noted “talked about fringe groups.”

“We’re not a fringe,” Walsh said. “We heard the rhetoric at those campaign rallies, we heard the silence this weekend, don’t hand hatred a megaphone, and pretend you can’t hear it.

“Leaders call out hate and reject it before it becomes violent, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Saturday’s event is being organized by a group that calls itself Boston Free Speech.

The group took to Facebook over the weekend to state its non-association with those who organized the rally in Charlottesville.

“This was a lie and blatant attempt at defamation by Brian Fallon on Twitter,” the group claimed. “There has been threats made against our lives already and we will be contacting Boston PD.”

Fallon, who once served as a spokesman for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and now works for CNN as a political contributor, claimed that the organizer for the Charlottesville rally, Jason Kessler, is also behind the planned Boston Common event. McInnes disputed Fallon’s claim and pointed out that his Proud Boys group “booted” Kessler out of their meetings.

Fallon and Kessler have since been duking it out online.

Walsh later told reporters he was not aware of the group’s intentions to hold a rally in Boston until the Charlottesville rally was held and word spread on social media of a similar rally scheduled for the Hub.

“If this group is not connected to Charlottesville we can try and encourage them not to come to Boston this weekend,” he said. “The emotions and the wounds are still very fresh from what happened in Virginia.”

“Charlottesville turned into a riot, both sides were able to connect, and in our city we’ll do everything we can to make sure those sides cannot connect.” 

Meanwhile, Baker told reporters at Monday’s press conference that “what happened in Virginia was a tragedy and an act of terror.”

“A tragedy perpetrated by white supremacists that disturbed, as it should, Americans everywhere,” Baker added. “As governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I want to be clear that there is no place for that type of hatred, period.”

The Swampscott Republican did not mince words in calling the incident that resulted in the killing of an “innocent woman bystander” as “terrorism.”

“It’s disturbing and it’s sickening to turn on the news and see that there are people in this country who believe that the color of their skin or their place of birth makes them superior to their neighbors,” he added.

Baker also cautioned that the principles of free speech “can also be wielded as a weapon of divisiveness and hatred.”

Baker later suggested that the phrase “counterprotest” should be called a “unity rally” and added that while he doesn’t know what is on his calendar for Saturday, “if I can come I will come.”

Baker also addressed Trump’s response. 

“I think he should have come out and said what everyone else was thinking and believing shortly after the incident in Charlottesville, which is ‘white supremacists have no business and no place in American political dialogue, period, end-of-discussion, case closed’.”

Evans said police officers are often “thrust in the middle of protecting groups that we don’t necessarily agree with” and added that this will likely “be the case on Saturday when this particular group wants to come to the Boston Common.”

He noted that authorities have set up a plan and reminded the public that police have a history of “handling major demonstrations in this city.”

“I’m confident that people who do come down and march will be safe,” he said. “We will not tolerate any acts of violence, any misbehavior or any vandalism whatsoever.”

Evans added that the group has not yet been issued a permit to use the Common.

“We’re going to work with them on the parameters if there is a permit issued and will make sure they abide by that permit,” he said. “It’s pretty sad we have to waste so many resources on such a group with such hatred coming to Massachusetts when we should be focusing on the safety of children on the streets of the city.”

Walsh said the group has not filed for a permit and added that Evans and others are still trying to “find out more about who this group is.”

“All we know is what we are seeing on social media,” he said, noting that a “peace walk” has already been planned for Saturday in Boston.

Later on Monday afternoon posts appeared on the Boston Free Speech Facebook page indicating that the group has rescheduled the rally for a different date. The group then attempted to quash the rumor:


Evans said he plans to “separate the two groups” and said he anticipates bigger crowds from the “anti-group” than the “group pulling the permit.”

“You always keep each group at bay,” he said. “That’s our plan, if things get ugly, we’ll pull them out of there as quickly as we can.”

“I’m not going to give away our gameplan, but believe me, we have a great gameplan.”