Scores of right-wing protesters clashed with hundreds of counter-demonstrators Sunday on Boston Common as some participants tore down barricades and fought with one another amid a heavy police presence that was intended to keep the two protests apart.
Though hundreds of uniformed officers and metal barricades blocked off large sections of the Common around the Parkman Bandstand, both sides managed to confront one another repeatedly and got into heated and at times violent encounters over the course of several hours. Police said they made two arrests.
Sunday’s dueling protests came after Super Happy Fun America, a regional group that organized the 2019 “Straight Pride Parade“ in Boston, announced it would hold a noontime “Rise Against Tyranny” demonstration that railed against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, according to a flyer for the event.
The group has come under scrutiny in the past year after two of its leaders were arrested and charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. The protest Sunday included opposition to “vaccine passports, unconstitutional mandates, and massive layoffs,” the statement said.
A counter-demonstration, dubbed “Mask Up Against Hate,” was also held on the Common to oppose the group. Organizers of Super Fun Happy America said the group is conservative, but reject claims they are tied to the far right.
There were no reports of injuries among demonstrators or officers at the scene, according to Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a Boston police spokesman. Details were not immediately available on the two arrests made during the protests.
Elizabeth Birdsall, 39, who was among the counter-demonstrators, said she was helping to push back against those who want to make Boston “less safe and less equal.” She held a sign reading, “No Hate in Boston.”
“We heard there was going to be a rally of anti-vaxxers and white supremacists and so forth, and we wanted to help drown that out,” Birdsall said, “and support safety and equality for everyone in Boston.”
The scene Sunday was at times chaotic, including when some participants in the protest organized by Super Happy Fun America marched around a line of police officers and got into violent shoving matches with counter-demonstrators shortly before noon a short distance from the Parkman Bandstand.
Counter-demonstrators, including musicians playing instruments, marched around the bandstand — and many of the police barricades — to get closer to the right-wing protests, which had moved farther from the bandstand and closer toward Tremont Street.
Wearing a tri-corner hat, John Hugo, with the Super Happy Fun America group, decried coronavirus vaccines in a speech to supporters. He also voiced support for police.
As he spoke, counter-demonstrators played music and made loud noises over speakers to try to drown out his words.
One protester held a sign that read “No Mandates Freedom of Choice.” Another said she opposed COVID vaccine mandates for children.
More than 750,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, while the worldwide death toll has surpassed 5 million. Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, have said the vaccines are safe and effective. They’ve decried the politicization of the vaccines and urged eligible groups to get the shots.
Danforth Nicholas, 45, of Cambridge said he joined the counter-demonstration Sunday to show support for “the vaccine and for science.”
“I’m really tired of tying nationalism and misinformation to patriotism,” Nicholas said.
Even before members of Super Fun Happy America unloaded their gear for the event from a van, Quincy police officers formed a line between them and a larger number of counter-protesters. The van was moved farther away from the counter protest and behind several lines of barricades and police.
A member of Super Happy Fun America criticized police for not doing enough to protect them, and yelled at Quincy officers: “We used to be your biggest supporters — now we’ll be your biggest critics!”
The two sides continued to confront one another over the next few hours.
In one encounter, a right-wing demonstrator was sprayed with a chemical irritant during a confrontation with a counter-protester. And at another point, demonstrators from both sides wrestled over segments of metal barricades meant to keep them apart. Officers in helmets and body armor carrying shields and batons were deployed to prevent the violence from escalating.
During another encounter shortly after 1 p.m., the two sides got within arms-reach of each other and got into heated arguments before heavily armored police moved in between them.
Boyle said police deployed officers to separate the two sides, and allow the protesters associated with the right-wing group to leave the area.
A Somerville resident who gave her name as Zeph said the large size of Sunday’s counter-demonstration sent the message that many people in the area reject hate speech.
“People don’t get to say hateful things without somebody else standing up and saying, ‘No,’ " Zeph said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.