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A free speech clash on the Common leads to two arrests

A conservative group’s free speech rally on Boston Common Saturday triggered a counter-protest by a progressive anti-fascist group, with hundreds of screaming supporters separated by a line of police officers.

Boston Free Speech supporters promoted the afternoon rally as a gathering where “Libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, classical liberals, or anyone else who supports Trump or just hates leftists are encouraged to attend,” according to an online posting.

Boston Antifa — a local chapter of the liberal anti-fascist group — launched the counter-protest, calling on supporters to “fight hatred in Boston,” according to the announcement on Facebook.


Many attendees on the Antifa side, and some on the Boston Free Speech side, hid their faces with scarfs and masks. Both sides cited concern about harassment and doxxing, slang for posting personal information online.

Some got into heated personal exchanges.

“I suggest you get a job and then you move out to whatever country you want, since you don’t like it [here] so much,” said a man wearing a military uniform to a counter-protester who wore a black scarf over his face.

One person from each side was arrested after they got into a “physical altercation,” according to Officer Rachel McGuire, a police spokeswoman. They were identified only as a 19-year-old California woman and a 28-year-old New York man.

A Boston Free Speech protester, who stood quietly with a “free speech is how you stay free” sign, said he was concerned about a “slippery slope” of opposing political views being labeled as hate speech.

“It’s a new definition of free speech where if you don’t agree with that opinion, you start labeling it as hate speech,” said the 29-year-old man, who would identify himself only as Mike of Boston. “That’s not real free speech.”


Morgan Coe, 42, of Allston said he does not believe conservative ideology is “under attack.”

“Obviously, they will deny that,” said Coe, who attended with friends.

A 50-year-old veteran, who identified himself only by his first name of Paul, commended Boston police for keeping the peace.

“There are definitely clowns on both sides,” he said.

Nicole Fleming can be reached at nicole.fleming@globe.com.