kevin cullen

When Harry Potter robes are preferable to white sheets

Police Commissioner Bill Evans says anybody getting anywhere near violent will be introduced to a holding cell without a view.
Police Commissioner Bill Evans says anybody getting anywhere near violent will be introduced to a holding cell without a view.(ARAM BOGHOSIAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/FILE)

I suppose we should take comfort in the knowledge that the young men who are organizing Saturday’s so-called Free Speech Rally on the Common are more prone to don Harry Potter robes than white sheets.

At least, that’s what the Boston Police Department has concluded after lengthy discussions with the organizers.

“They’re soft,” one detective told me. “It’s not them we have to worry about.”

After saying he didn’t want the rally to take place at all, Mayor Marty Walsh and his administration have crafted a reasonable compromise that respects the First Amendment while accommodating public safety concerns.

The police have no reason to not accept claims by organizers that they oppose violence and the openly racist and militaristic tactics employed by neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members last weekend in Virginia, but the Boston cops are under no illusions about the potential for violent confrontations.


There’s nothing to stop those who support the racists and Klansmen who marched through Charlottesville, Va., from showing up at the rally and starting trouble.

But, frankly, police are just as worried about so-called antifascist activists who believe they have an obligation to attack people they consider white supremacists.

One of the keynote speakers at Saturday’s rally is Kyle Chapman, a commercial diver and convicted felon from California who became a hero to the so-called “alt-right” movement last March when he was filmed cracking a counter-demonstrator over the head with a stick during a protest in Berkeley, Calif.

He’s been arrested several times at various rallies for fighting with counter-demonstrators.

But when he showed up last May at the first Free Speech Rally on the Boston Common, Chapman was not dressed for battle as he often is.

Instead of a hard baseball batting helmet, he was wearing a soft baseball hat that proclaimed “Taxation Is Theft.”


In a 12-minute speech, Chapman kept his hands to himself and directed most of his animus at the Federal Reserve and George Soros, the latter whom he claims funds Antifa, the so-called antifascists who are spoiling to fight with people like Chapman.

“We need to crush ’em,” Chapman said of Antifa, which he dismissed as “trust fund commies.”

Police Commissioner Bill Evans says anybody getting anywhere near violent will be introduced to a holding cell without a view.

Unlike Charlottesville, where white supremacists were walking around with Tiki torches and assault rifles, Boston police will confiscate anything resembling a weapon.

At the last Free Speech Rally on the Common, there were isolated confrontations between Antifa activists and young men who belonged to various white nationalist groups.

But there were only two arrests: a woman from California and a man from New York.

This time, there will be a more concerted effort to use barriers to keep those attending the rally separated from counter-demonstrators who want to show their opposition to white supremacists and their solidarity with the people of Charlottesville, where a woman was killed and others injured when a white supremacist drove into a group of counter-demonstrators.

“We will keep the groups apart,” said Boston police Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy.

Various social media showed the police did a good job doing just that in May, but there will be far more public scrutiny this time around in the wake of Charlottesville.

Maybe too much. Some police commanders I talked to said they worried that what is expected to be an intense media presence could attract even more troublemakers trying to get their 15 minutes.


But that, like having to tolerate people whining about how tough it is to be a white guy in America, is one of the prices of living in a constitutional democracy.

On Boston Common three months ago, Kyle Chapman declared that the beginning of the end of this republic took place in 1913, when the 16th Amendment established the federal income tax.

People have a right to say such pap, as much as you and I have the right to ignore it.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.