First clash with police - stopped counter-protestors because of picket signs
First clash with police - stopped counter-protestors because of picket signs

BOSTON - Left-wing activist groups, including Black Lives Matter and Antifa, have announced plans to protest an event that its organizers are calling a free speech rally Saturday in Boston, as a response to the violence in Charlottesville last weekend.

The free speech rally in the East Coast state of Massachusetts was organized in July by a group calling itself Boston Free Speech, which says it is made up of a coalition of “libertarians, progressives, conservatives and independents.”

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John Medlar, one of the group’s organizers, has told multiple media outlets the rally will not welcome white supremacists, and he has denounced racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

"We absolutely denounce the KKK, neo-Nazis, ID Evropa, Vanguard — all these legit hate groups. We have nothing to do with them and we don’t want them here,” Medlar told NBC Boston.

A poster promoting the Aug. 19, 2017 Boston Free S
A poster promoting the Aug. 19, 2017, Boston Free Speech rally that was posted to the group's Facebook page.

Descriptions of event

While the Anti-Defamation League said the event, as it has been announced, is not a white supremacist event, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said some of the event's speakers "spew hate."

"They have the right to gather no matter how repugnant their views are," Walsh said. "We're going to respect their right of free speech. In return they must respect our city."

Counter protest groups gather for a 3km walk to t
Counter protest groups gather for a 3km walk to the Boston Common.

On its Facebook page, the free speech coalition said those in its group are “dedicated to peaceful rallies and are in no way affiliated with the Charlottesville rally” last weekend.

Despite the group’s rejection of white supremacists, ANSWER Coalition Boston, a local chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, has announced plans to hold a counterdemonstration, which it has dubbed "Fight Supremacy," to oppose the free speech rally.

The Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians ak
The Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians aka BABAM will march with the counterprotestors. Rebecca Gorlin wears a sign on her back about Jewish resistance as she plans to march playing her snare drum.

In a post on the Fight Supremacy Facebook page, the group repeatedly refers to the free speech rally as a gathering of white supremacists and said it has a “moral obligation” to confront bigotry.

“Prevailing political realities have emboldened overt white supremacists to openly intimidate vulnerable communities, and subject them to unchecked fragility and hatred,” it said. “We believe those committed to anti-racism work have a moral obligation to unapologetically confront and oppose these violent and threatening displays when they occur.”

The Fight Supremacy rally isn’t solely geared toward disrupting the free speech rally, though. Its organizers posted a laundry list of issues they hope to tackle, including income inequality, “anti-immigration initiatives,” and racist police officers, among other things.

“The individuals and institutions most effective in harming black and brown people do not carry torches or wear white hoods. Instead, they aggressively patrol our neighborhoods, enforce laws unequally, systematically impose poverty, and suppress the voices and needs of oppressed communities,” the group said.

Permit for rally

The free speech rally was granted a permit from the city of Boston to hold its rally in a downtown park from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, with a maximum of 100 people. 

The Black Lives Matter protesters have not acquired the permit necessary to hold a rally, although its organizers say they expect thousands of people to attend.

“It went from a few hundred to well over 1,000, to now roughly 3,000 pretty quickly. There are about 10,000 interested in our event, according to Facebook,” organizer Nino Brown told NBC News.

Brown noted that the left-wing group Antifa is expected to make an appearance at the rally Saturday, and he welcomed their support.

“Though we don’t agree with Antifa’s tactics and strategy and adventurism, we respect their willingness to put their bodies on the line to fight fascists,” he said.

In a post on its Facebook page, the Boston Antifa group wrote, “Guess what, Boston? You'll be seeing us all over town for a while” and promised to “give right-wing terrorism no platform.”

Boston officials say they are prepared to handle the dueling rallies Saturday, and have a plan in place to avoid the violence seen last weekend in Charlottesville, which left one woman dead after a white nationalist protester allegedly drove his car into a group of counterprotesters.

Matt (no last name given) waits for friends to mar
Matt (no last name given) waits for friends to march to the Boston Common. He's a war veteran and says "I don't want my country to look like this with so much hate and people who want to kill everyone else."

Police presence

Mayor Walsh said more than 500 police officers will be on hand to keep the peace and certain items will be banned from the protest site.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, left, wi
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, left, with other officers along barricades on the Boston Common where a "Free Speech" rally is scheduled and a large rally against hate in solidarity with victims of Charlotestville will converge on Aug.18, 2017 i

“No weapons, no backpacks, no sticks,’’ Walsh said. “We are going to have a zero-tolerance policy. If anyone gets out of control — at all — it will be shut down.”

Boston Police Commissioner Billy Evan said officers would be “working with the crowd real closely,” and that the city has been coordinating with organizers of the free speech rally in advance to ensure there is no violence.

"I hope anyone who protests and is marching is doing it for the right reason," Evans said. “Unfortunately, I think there's going to be a few troublemakers here."

He also criticized the media response to the planned event because “the frenzy over the last six days” has portrayed the rally “like a showdown.”

The free speech group held a similar rally in May in Boston that went largely unnoticed. A few hundred people attended the rally and it attracted a small crowd of protesters.

Celia Mendoza contributed to this report from Boston.