BOSTON — Thousands of counterprotesters descended on downtown Boston Saturday as far-right speakers held a rally claiming their First Amendment rights to assemble and express their views.
The rally was held a week after violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., between far-right activists — including white supremacists and neo-Nazis — and counterprotesters. A woman was killed when a driver rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
Boston police said they were taking extra precautions and implementing a tight security plan to prevent what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. And the plan was largely successful, as the large gathering ended by 2 p.m. local time — as scheduled — without major incident.
Officials had announced the deployment of 500 police officers, extra security cameras and barriers separating the opposing rallies. The city also banned participants from carrying weapons, sticks or flagpoles — which were used in the Virginia violence.
“I ask everyone to be peaceful today and respect our city. Love, not hate. We stand together against intolerance,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a Twitter post Saturday. Walsh urged people to stay away from the Boston Common, the nation’s oldest park, where a group called “Boston Free Speech” held its rally.
On Saturday, the protests were largely peaceful though tension ran high.
Police helicopters circled overhead as officers kept the groups separated. The far-right group — about 50 in total — was dwarfed by counterprotesters associated with a “Fight White Supremacy” rally in which participants marched from Roxbury, a historically black neighborhood in Boston, to the Boston Common. A little before 1 p.m., the far-right demonstrators were escorted from the Common by police in the opposite direction from the huge crowd of counterprotesters.
“Go home, losers,” chanted the counterprotesters, many of whom carried signs with anti-racism slogans. “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” read one. Another protester carried a sign with a photo of Heather Heyer, the woman killed at the Charlottesville protest. It read, “American hero.”
As a group of police officers escorted what appeared to be a member of the far-right group from the park, several counterprotesters swarmed around yelling, “Nazi scum,” and, “Go home.” Police put the man in the back of a police van and drove off to applause from the crowd.
Organizers of the far-right rally have said they don’t condone racism and some speakers who attended last week’s rally in Charlottesville were uninvited from the Boston event.
(Haller is a special correspondent. Lee reported from Los Angeles.)
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