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‘Free-speech’ rally set for Boston has some concerned

A vigil in support of peaceful anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville, Va., was held on Boston Common on Sunday.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/Globe Staff

The City of Boston is making preparations for a conservative rally scheduled for Saturday on Boston Common, following the eruption of violence in Charlottesville, Va., that has raised troubling questions about the rise of extremists’ views across the country.

After a woman was killed when a car rammed a crowd of counterprotesters and others were injured, Twitter and Facebook exploded with postings about a rally next weekend in Boston that they say might attract white supremacists. Organizers were spreading information about the rally on Facebook, urging supporters to gather from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday on the nation’s oldest park for a Boston Free Speech rally.


An Associated Press reporter saw at least one person on the ground receiving medical treatment immediately after the incident.
An Associated Press reporter saw at least one person on the ground receiving medical treatment immediately after the incident.

The mayor and Boston police sought on Sunday to reassure residents that violence would not be tolerated in the city.

“I don’t want that type of hate” coming into our city, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said when asked about the upcoming rally. “We don’t need that. We’ve worked real hard’’ to make Boston a tolerant city.

The police department’s Boston Regional Intelligence Center is on alert and State Police and local police pledged to be ready should any problems arise.

“We want to be clear that incidents of violence [or] inciting violence are not going to be tolerated at any events in Boston,’’ said Officer Rachel McGuire, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department.

McGuire said the intelligence unit was aware of a planned Boston Free Speech rally “a while back.’’

State Police will monitor intelligence from a number of sources, including social media, about the rally and assess any credible public safety threats, according to spokesman David Procopio.

Councilor Tito Jackson, who is running for mayor, also said he condemns any event that allows “hatred, anti-Semitism, homophobia” in Boston.

“We will stand loud and proud and ensure the voices of who we are in Boston are heard,’’ said Jackson.


Governor Charlie Baker said through a spokesman that he is saddened and disturbed by the tragic events in Charlottesville, and believes “hatred, bigotry and violence as well as those who promote it have no place in our Commonwealth or country.”

Alexander Sender, a 23-year-old Cambridge resident who is a member of the New Free Speech Movement, which is organizing Saturday’s rally, said he has received a city permit to hold the event. But city officials said that although the group has filed an application for a permit, it has not received a final approval to rally Saturday.

Monica Cannon, who is helping to organize a counterprotest Saturday, said her group will be on the Common to speak up for civil rights.

“We watched what happened in Charlottesville and how people were treated,’’ Cannon said. “Not in our city. You don’t get to come here or think it is OK without being approached with resistance.”

Cannon said protesters heading to the counter-rally, which will include Black Lives Matter groups from Boston and Cambridge, plan to meet in front of the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center and then march to the Common.

She said fliers advertising the event on social media include names of speakers whose Twitter feeds include extremist views.

Another member of the New Free Speech Movement described the group as “Libertarian and traditional conservative leaning.” He would only identify himself as Louis, citing threats that group members have received.

Louis said his free-speech group is in no way affiliated with the Charlottesville rally organizer Jason Kessler, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist blogger.


“We have nothing to do with him,’’ said Louis. “The rally in Charlottesville was organized specifically by white nationalists. There is no link whatsoever with the group.”

Kessler did not respond to the Globe’s request for comment.

Gavin McInnes, one of the scheduled speakers for Saturday’s rally, said his group — known as Proud Boys — opposes “the kind of people who were in Charlottesville, and the Proud Boys made damn sure we had nothing to do with it,’’ he told the Globe in an e-mail.

“The rally on Saturday in Boston couldn’t be farther from the rally we just saw,’’ McInnes said. “We are socially liberal, fiscal conservatives who think America has a lot to be proud of. . . . We are pro-gay, multicultural, pro-Israel, pro-family and anti-Nazi. The alt left will try to twist this into being about bigotry but that’s a lie.”

Other speakers either did not respond to a Globe inquiry or declined to comment.

The rally and counter-rally have raised concerns with organizers of the New England Cosplay Community, which is planning its sixth annual picnic Saturday at the Common’s Parkman Bandstand. The group, whose members dress up in costumes depicting their favorite comic book or TV characters, has a permit to hold its event at the Parkman Bandstand Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. — at the same time and place where the Free Speech rally is scheduled to be held, according to the event’s page on Facebook.


Ashley Linkevich, a board member, said she is concerned that the rallies might “frighten our attendees.”

The Free Speech group, which held a rally on the Common in May, began planning a second rally shortly thereafter, Louis said. He said the group had initially eyed this past Saturday, but moved the date because of the rally in Charlottesville, he added.

He and Sender — both white males in their 20s — said the group is all about freedom of expression. Louis said the group values the right to extreme views, which, he added, are healthy for social advancement. Both disavow the use of violence to hurt or intimidate people.

Sender said the rally will probably attract people from both sides of the political spectrum, noting tensions have been building up over time.

“The purpose of it’s just to do free speech,’’ he said. “That’s all it’s ever been.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.