Boston Free Speech Rally Fizzles As Thousands Protest; City Cuts Event Short To Avoid Mayhem

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(UPDATED — 7:20 p.m.)

BOSTON — Thousands upon thousands of counter-protesters ignored Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s “avoid the Common” edict, descending upon the Hub’s largest public space to shout down what had been dubbed a “free speech rally,” exactly one week after a rally of a different sort deteriorated into carnage and mayhem in Virginia.

The “resistance” took hold in the morning hours, as crowds swelled in Roxbury outside the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in preparation for a massive march up Tremont Street to the Common’s bandstand, the epicenter of the rally.

Marchers however would not have the opportunity to shout down the rally, which the city capped at 100 per the group’s permit and enforced through the use of a pattern of barricades. Police ultimately “shut down” the rally a little more than 45 minutes after it began, just before the thousands of marchers — which occupied more than a mile of city blacktop — could reach the bandstand.

Instead, the primary skirmishes up until authorities put the kibosh on the event were limited to instances in which rally-goers attempting to navigate their way into the barricaded bandstand area were spotted inside the throngs of counter-protesters (language advisory):


At least one Boston politician was spotted outside the barriers — state Rep. Byron Rushing, a Democrat whose district encompasses the city’s South End. Rushing was asked about the massive counter-protest turnout.

“I think it’s wonderful, I just think we should do it all the time no matter who’s here,” Rushing said.

Another person said that they simply wanted the rally-goers to “go home.”

Other people who tried to attend the event were met with backlash, including a man who named Daniel from Cambridge who declined to share his last name.

“I spent seven years of my life defending those idiots’ rights,” he said, referencing his time serving in the armed forces.

He had earlier argued with a counter-protester:


Meanwhile, other groups also descended upon the Common, including the organization known as “Antifa.”

The black-masked activists had a message for police, apparently:

James Leavett of Weymouth said he decided to attend the rally because of his belief in the First Amendment. Leavett was one of many who tried and failed to access the barried-off free speech rally zone.

“Antifa, whatever they’re doing, that’s for them, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, and we’re not hurting anyone, it’s our love and admiration for the First Amendment,” Leavett said.

Leavett said he disagrees with the counter-protesters labeling of people like him as “Nazis.”

“If you start labeling everyone Nazis and racists, what you’re doing is you’re watering down that word,” Leavett said. “My grandfather fought Nazis in Germany — it’s a slap in the face to World War II veterans.”

The organizers behind Saturday’s attempted rally, who identified themselves as the Boston Free Speech Coalition on Facebook, announced earlier this week that those urged to attend the the event include “libertarians, conservatives, classical liberals, Trump supporters or anyone else who enjoys their right to free speech.”

The “rally” itself ended rather abruptly:

However, while some counter-protesters dispersed, the thousand-plus strong marchers who wound their way up Tremont Street from Roxbury Crossing had just reached the Common. Initial reports indicate that police arrested as many as a dozen protesters after crowds refused to vacate the area.  Violence, however, was apparently kept to a minimum, prompting kudos from Trump to police — and even to Walsh:

More scenes from today:

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UPDATE: Things appear to have further devolved, hours after the rally — as this woman describes what happened when counter-protesters allegedly again tried to engage police (5:17 p.m.):

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