After marching several miles, tens of thousands of counterprotesters flooded the Boston Common and nearby streets on Saturday to effectively quash a conservative “free speech rally” shortly after it began.
Only about 20–40 people showed up to attend the rally, many of them supporters of President Donald Trump. They were quickly swarmed and shouted down by an estimated 20,000 counterdemonstrators, or more.
“Smile for your exit interview on Monday,” some protesters told rally attendees according to MSNBC, a reference to neo–Nazis and white supremacists who lost their jobs this week or were otherwise shamed after being called out on social media for participating in last weekend’s Charlottesville violence.
The Boston rally lasted only several minutes, with reports of some participants fleeing under police protection. They left after less than an hour.
Boston police and city officials had undertaken extensive preparations for the event, including ensuring that no one entered the area with weapons, homemade body armor, or any of the other dangerous objects used by white supremacists and some counterdemonstrators at past rallies, including in Charlottesville.
One scheduled speaker told the Associated Press that the rally just “fell apart.”
On the other side, the message was resounding and clear: Boston will not tolerate white supremacist views and violence. Instead of hate, the message was unity.
“This city has a history of fighting back against oppression, whether it’s dumping tea in the harbor or a bunch of dudes standing around with bandannas screaming at neo-Nazis,” a 21–year–old protester nicknamed “Frosty” told The New York Times.
The tensest moments occurred during several scuffles between unidentified individuals thought to be counterdemonstrators and police, including club–wielding SWAT team members. Several people reportedly were arrested, and the confrontations continued into the late afternoon.
In the early afternoon, the Boston Police Department tweeted that the rally had ended and the streets around the Common had been reopened.
Rally organizers had tried to distance themselves from neo–Nazi and KKK groups, as well as from last week’s violence in Charlottesville, which left three people dead. But “free speech rallies” across the country have become synonymous with racists and white supremacy groups.
Trump, who appears to have been following the developments in Boston on television, weighed in on Twitter.
“Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you,” Trump tweeted.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was set to hold a press conference about the rally, counterdemonstrations, and arrests at 4:30 p.m. local time.
Several other protests were being held across the country on Saturday, most of them in solidarity with Charlottesville and against racism and bigotry.
Update, 4:47 p.m.: Donald Trump’s tweeting thumbs apparently had more to say, but the hollow president’s hollow words were overshadowed both by his hypocrisy and his inability to spell.
“Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heel, & we will heel, & be stronger than ever before!” Trump tweeted, before someone told him how to spell heal, after which he tweeted it again.
Update, 5:08 p.m.: Here’s Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s statement following the marches:
He also had an interesting response to Trump’s string of insincere tweets: