Boston Free Speech Rally Ends Early After 15K Counter-Protesters Drown It Out

Julia Glum

A controversial Free Speech Rally in Boston fell apart Saturday afternoon when thousands of counter-protesters showed up and drowned it out. Journalists at the Boston Common, a downtown park, tweeted about an hour into the planned rally that many, if not all, of the attendees left the bandstand where they were due to hear speeches from several prominent conservative figures.

The Free Speech Rally organizers had permits to hold their event from noon to 2 p.m. local time on Saturday. But as of about 1:30 p.m., police on scene were dealing mostly with counter-protesters. The free speech group had left.

"I didn't realize how unplanned of an event it was going to be," speaker Samson Racioppi told WCVB. "I really think it was supposed to be a good event by the organizers, but it kinda fell apart."

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A large crowd of people march towards the Boston Common to protest the Free Speech Rally in Boston on August 19, 2017. Stephanie Keith/Reuters

An estimated 15,000 counter-protesters carrying signs, anti-Trump gear, water bottles and more marched toward the park Saturday morning to meet roughly 50 free speech activists gathered in the bandstand, according to the Boston Globe. The demonstrations were likely getting more attention than normal because of last weekend's incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a group of white nationalists gathered to fight the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and kicked off a series of counter-protests that ultimately left three people dead.

The free speech activists denounced the violence in Charlottesville earlier in the week on their Facebook page, writing that "we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech and defend that basic human right, we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry." But city officials seemed concerned all the same. Mayor Marty Walsh, for example, tweeted that he wanted everyone to be peaceful and "stand together against intolerance."

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Regardless, the attendees Saturday didn't really get the chance to speak. Reporters like Tyler Kingkade of BuzzFeed tweeted that the flood of counter-protesters was too loud. They asked the free speech group "where's your rally?" according to New York Times reporter Katharine Seelye.



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At 1:30 p.m., the Boston police department tweeted that the Free Speech Rally was over. It wasn't clear why the event was called off, but scheduled speaker Joe Biggs retweeted a message reading "We're being blocked by 30k AltLeft agitators. Welcome to fascist America." Alt-right figure Mike Cernovich wrote that "principles are nice and all but people are apes, and in the end numbers, visuals, and optics control."

As of about 2 p.m. Saturday, officers were trying to contain counter-protesters, even arresting some, according to NBC Boston reporter Abbey Niezgoda. It wasn't immediately clear how many people had been detained. 

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