Mayor Michelle Wu and other officials said Tuesday they’re closely monitoring hate groups in the region after the white supremacist Patriot Front marched through downtown Boston over the weekend.
Wu, speaking to reporters outside Boston police headquarters after a closed-door meeting with law enforcement officials, said the Patriot Front members who allegedly assaulted a Black activist during the march must be prosecuted to “the fullest extent of the law.”
“There’s an ongoing investigation by the [Boston police] Civil Rights Unit and gathering information,” Wu said, adding that even though the assailants wore masks to shield their identity, “there’s much footage that’s being reviewed so that that follow-up can take place.”
Massachusetts US Attorney Rachael Rollins also briefed reporters and said officials are taking “these threats and this behavior” seriously.
“We are going to be thinking strategically about how we’re going to combat this, so that communities feel safe,” Rollins said. “We’ve said many times, hate does not have a place in Boston or Massachusetts.”
Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long told reporters that city officers did not witness the attack Saturday on the Black man during the Patriot Front march.
“In terms of the investigation, obviously there’s a lot of video that’s been recovered,” Long said. “If we’re able to make identifications [of the suspects] ... we have mechanisms to try to identify those people. Whether they’re out of state or local people, they will be charged” with crimes.
Long, at one point, was challenged during the briefing by someone who asserted Long was lying when he told reporters that police didn’t witness the alleged attack. The man clarified that he was referring to a separate, later incident involving Patriot Front members in Malden.
“Just to clarify one thing, a liar I’m not, OK?” Long responded. “You don’t know me, I’m not a liar. So what I will say is, my understanding is, in Boston, they did not witness it.”
Also during the briefing, Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston office, was asked about the criteria for launching formal investigations of hate groups such as the Patriot Front.
“Very definitively on the federal level, there has to be the existence of a federal crime, and a threat or use of force in conjunction with a social or political agenda,” he said. “Now as far as propaganda, it depends on what that propaganda entails.”
He said that in many cases, even vile hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.
“If it rises to a level where there is a threat or use of force or violence, that is where we can and have gotten involved in and initiated investigations,” Bonavolonta said.
Asked if the Patriot Front had crossed the necessary threshold for being investigated, he said, “Well, as you heard, this is an active and ongoing investigation. We are obviously coordinating fully with the Boston PD” and other federal officials.
“And as the facts and the evidence come to bear, we’ll see where we are with it and what decisions are made at that time,” he said.
Since as many as 100 members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front marched through downtown Boston Saturday, allegedly assaulting a Black man along the way, there has been a steady stream of condemnation from Wu, civil rights activists, and other leaders.
Wu was quick to address the marchers Saturday, calling their hate “cowardly” and “disgusting” on Twitter.
The marchers on Saturday were dressed alike in khaki pants and navy T-shirts, with their faces covered by white neck gaiters, sunglasses, and baseball caps as they walked in step with a snare drum. Some held shields; others carried Patriot Front flags and a banner that said: “Reclaim America.”
The demonstration turned violent when members of the group allegedly assaulted a 34-year-old Black activist as they marched through Copley Square. The assault is under investigation by the Boston Police Department’s Civil Rights Unit. No arrests had been made as of Monday, according to police.
Investigators have not yet determined whether the white supremacists are from Massachusetts or out of state. “That’s all part of the investigation,” said police spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Patriot Front as a Texas-based white nationalist hate group that split from the fascist organization, Vanguard America, following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
When the group left Boston Saturday they boarded an Orange Line train and got off at Oak Grove Station in Malden. There they headed for vehicles with licenses plates from Massachusetts, Texas, and other states.
Between November 2017 and December, the Anti-Defamation League documented more than 600 incidents in Massachusetts involving Patriot Front, including distribution of Patriot Front propaganda and acts of vandalism.
In the ADL’s latest report about the distribution of white supremacist propaganda, the organization said that last year Patriot Front was responsible for more than 82 percent of incidents nationwide. Its propaganda efforts were most active, the ADL said, in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and Maryland.
Patriot Front activities in 2021 included destroying Black Live Matters statues and murals, stealing and burning yard signs and flags celebrating diversity and the LGBTQ community, and distributing propaganda at Jewish institutions, the ADL said.
In June, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 men associated with the Patriot Front who were packed into a U-Haul truck, allegedly en route to cause a violent disruption at an LGBTQ+ Pride celebration. Authorities charged them with misdemeanor conspiracy to riot.
Local Black leaders gathered on the steps of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square Monday to denounce Patriot Front.
Led by the Rev. Kevin Peterson, the community leaders condemned the organization and asked city and state officials to show their support for antiracist policies and the creation of a city race commission.
“We call on [Wu] to move beyond symbols, rhetoric, and words that may soothe our hearts, and address this racism with substantive policies,” said Peterson, the founder and director of the New Democracy Coalition.
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Tonya Alanez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.