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Dozens hold July 4 rally at Old State House

Richard Howell, dressed as a Continental army general, rehearsed his reading of the Declaration of Independence at Saturday's event outside the Old State House in Boston.
Richard Howell, dressed as a Continental army general, rehearsed his reading of the Declaration of Independence at Saturday's event outside the Old State House in Boston.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A group of about 50 people gathered outside the Old State House in Boston Saturday for a reading of the Declaration of Independence, despite officials’ pleas to avoid crowds during the coronavirus pandemic.

The event featured speakers who delivered calls for patriotism, while some spectators carried American flags or displayed campaign signs for President Trump. Most in the gathering did not wear masks or practice social distancing.

Garret Kirkland, the lead organizer of Saturday’s event at the Old State House, said in a phone interview that he did not want 2020 to be the first year without an Independence Day event at the site.

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“When the city said there would be no reading, I decided we the people had to do it,” said Kirkland, 36, of Haverhill.

Typically, hundreds gather outside the Old State House as part the city’s traditional July 4 celebrations, where the declaration is read aloud from the balcony of the Old State House.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fourth of July festivities are largely canceled across the country on the advice of public health officials, who have warned that crowds can help fuel new infections.

Kirkland, who also helped organize a 2017 free speech rally in Boston, dismissed health officials’ warnings and said the coronavirus pandemic was not a health risk for the July 4 event at the Old State House.

“These same public health officials, they will gladly come out to support BLM protests, antifa, all of these riots that go around. That’s more important than the social distancing,” Kirkland said in the phone interview. “The argument is moot at this point. If you’re going to support thousands of people marching for the other causes, then we can come together to celebrate our nation.”

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One speaker at the gathering said of Trump, who has himself flouted health guidance: “He’s learning as he’s going, and I think he is getting better as he goes along. I hope he gets reelected.”

Kirkland said the event was not a political event to support Trump but was held to celebrate the things “that make us one people, make us American.”

Craig Walker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.




John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.