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Unmasking hate after an ugly appearance in Boston

The fascists who marched through Boston on Saturday don’t want you to know who they are.

US Attorney Rachael Rollins, left, looked on as Boston Mayor Michelle Wu spoke to reporters on Tuesday about white supremacist activity in the area over the weekend.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

At least they’re still scared to show their faces.

One hundred members of a white supremacist pity party called Patriot Front marched through downtown Boston on Saturday, but their ethno-pride went only so far: They covered up their faces with gaiters (in matching Klan-white), sunglasses, and baseball caps.

When brave antifascist activist Rod Webber met the group at the Oak Grove T stop in Malden as they were returning from Boston, he took video of them racing back to their cars to cover up their license plates, looking like fools as Webber taunted them.

If there’s a bright side to actual, preening nazis marching through Boston to the beat of a snare drum on Fourth of July weekend, carrying shields and a banner that read “Reclaim America,” it’s that these cowards agree with the rest of us that they should be ashamed of themselves.

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“Deep down inside I think they recognize that actually there is a lot of opposition to their hateful messages,” said Oren Segal, vice president of the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League. “I view [covering their faces] as a reminder of their weakness.”

It’s pretty slender consolation, but we’ll take what we can get, right?

Because boy, this moment is looking pretty grim.

This is the third time white supremacists have demonstrated in Boston this year. And Patriot Front in particular has stepped up its activity in Massachusetts and a handful of other states in the past couple of years. The group, which pushes lies about white purity, the scourge of immigrants, and Jews controlling everything, is all about guerilla propaganda, with devotees spreading racist stickers, leaflets, and stencils in the hopes of recruiting new members and terrorizing others, Segal said.

Saturday’s march, too, was a propaganda operation.

“They want to spark interest in who they are, increase traffic to their website, perhaps recruit people who might be open to their ideas,” Segal said. “They also want to serve as a reminder, intentional or not, of the underbelly of hate in this country.”

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As if we needed one. These days, there are few things more American than a bunch of white supremacists marching on the Freedom Trail — save a mass shooting at an Independence Day parade.

The uniformed fascists are but the most extreme manifestation of a sick ideology that has found fertile ground from rural county governments to the halls of Congress and former president Donald Trump’s White House. There’s a straight line between theocratic extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar. and Trump, and the woeful, wannabe Wehrmacht in their khakis and blue shirts. The House committee investigating the insurrection of Jan. 6h has uncovered clear connections between those leading the coup attempt and white supremacist extremists.

Patriot Front targets historical sites in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington in an attempt to claim patriotism and American history for those who share their bigoted views.

“They’re trying to co-opt these symbols of America, of American freedom, American exceptionalism, and they are saying ‘We are the rightful owners of this history, this history is white,’” Segal said.

It’s a more nakedly racist version of what legislators and white parents are doing all over this country, forcing schools to teach a sanitized version of American history that centers white heroism and downplays slavery and bedrock racism.

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Marching in blue states also has greater shock value, which could raise the group’s profile. And it’s easier to shock if they show up unannounced, so that their opponents have no time to organize counter-demonstrations.

The fact that they were able to do that in Boston is the most distressing part of last weekend’s gambit. How is it possible, in 2022, that 100 extremists were able to catch police and other officials, including the mayor, entirely by surprise? Especially since, a few weeks earlier, 31 members of the same group were charged with conspiracy to riot for planning to disrupt a Gay Pride event in Idaho?

Boston is beyond lucky that the masked marchers mostly controlled themselves on Saturday — though they did allegedly assault a Black man outside Back Bay station.

That luck won’t hold forever. Especially if Patriot Front can build enough support so they finally take the masks off.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her @GlobeAbraham.