Metro

KEVIN CULLEN

It’s unpopular, but essential, to defend unpopular speech

A sparse crowd showed up for the Aug. 19 rally on Boston Common.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File
A sparse crowd showed up for the Aug. 19 rally on Boston Common.

As Bob Mueller continues to peel back the onion surrounding Donald Trump, Trump supporters will take to the streets to defend him, even in deep blue Boston.

On Nov. 18, a small group will show up at Boston Common for the third time in six months to exercise their First Amendment right to rail about the threat posed by anti-Trump commies.

They say this is about free speech. But nothing’s free. Policing a similar rally in August cost taxpayers $235,361 in police overtime.

Advertisement

The cost could be considerably higher if there are confrontations like those in August, when tens of thousands of counterprotesters swamped self-proclaimed free speech advocates and a small number of the counterprotesters attacked police.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

After that debacle, some people patted themselves on the back and said it showed Bostonians would not sit back and let hate invade their streets. But the whole thing seemed overwrought, the threat posed by the speakers and the virtue of the resistance overstated.

The context of that day: It was just a week after self-admitted white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched, carrying weapons, in Charlottesville, Va., where one racist allegedly murdered a counterprotester by plowing his car into her.

In the wake of that tragedy, and the disgust rightly felt at seeing gun-toting racists march openly in an American city, the idea that the same crowd was heading north for Boston Common became an accepted fact when it was anything but.

The resulting overreaction, branding it a gathering of Nazis, gave the rally organizers the one thing they crave most: attention.

Advertisement

The rallying cry against the rally was that hate speech was not welcome in Boston. On a moral level, that’s swell, but there’s also this pesky safeguard of democracy called the Constitution.

The end result, trying to balance free speech with public safety, was a mess.

The people who organized that August rally couldn’t organize a card game. To prevent violent confrontations, police cordoned them off in a slice of the Common, but the speakers weren’t amplified so hardly anyone could hear them.

In what I think was a mistake, the cops kept the press back, so reporters couldn’t hear what was said at the rally, hence no independent account of the speeches.

I listened to what speakers at the earlier rally, in May, had to say, and while one guy advocated violence against antifascist protesters, most of it sounded like the same right-wing tripe you hear on talk radio shows: Trump’s great, taxes suck, freedom isn’t free, blah blah blah. If you don’t want to hear such partisan nonsense, you can turn the radio off.

Advertisement

It’s just as easy to figuratively do the same when the same group with a new name, Resist Marxism, shows up at the Common in three weeks, bearing Make America Great Again caps and a persecution complex.

Resist Marxism was denied a permit for Nov. 18 because the city had already granted a permit for a day of fun and fund-raising for Camp Harbor View, the summer camp for underprivileged kids. The city offered a permit for the next day, but Resist Marxism saw this as yet another communist plot, another establishment insult, and insist they’ll gather without a permit.

But, lacking a permit, they won’t be able to amplify the speeches, which will leave them exactly where they were in August: unreconstructed and unheard.

Here’s how to spend Nov. 18: go to the Common, throw a few bucks at Camp Harbor View, one of the greatest things in the city, and leave the Resist Marxism crowd to whine in peace.

As that great Marxist, Groucho, once observed, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.”

Bob Mueller is using the law against people close to Donald Trump. That same law protects the rights of Trump supporters to say things you don’t like. Free speech ain’t cheap, but the Constitution is priceless.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com