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Thousands expected at Boston ‘free speech’ rally and counter-protest

City officials expect a gathering of thousands of participants and counter-protesters on Boston Common on Saturday afternoon for a “free speech” rally set to include speeches from several far-right political figures – prompting fears that the event could turn violent.

More than 500 police officers will be on hand for the rally, slated from noon until 2 p.m., according to a permit granted earlier this week. The gathering comes just one week after a chaotic rally of far-right political groups including neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Klan members in Charlottesville, Va. left dozens injured and one woman dead after a neo-Nazi plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Organizers in Boston said today’s gathering is not in solidarity with white nationalists, but police have installed new surveillance cameras around Boston Common and have put restrictions on the rally – such as a ban on backpacks, sticks and other potential weapons – in hopes of preventing violence. Local activist groups have planned a massive counter-protest and march.

“We don’t want a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said at a news conference on Friday. “Boston is too united. We have a city that doesn’t tolerate hatred and bigotry.”

Last week’s gathering in Virginia was ostensibly in protest of the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. In the days since, cities across the nation have announced the removal of dozens of Confederate monuments, sparking anew the long-heated debate over what, if anything, should be done with the hundreds of statutes, streets, and schoolhouses named after or in honor of those who fought to maintain slavery.

Thousands of protesters are expected to attend rallies calling for the removal of Confederate monuments at cities across the country this weekend, including Dallas and New Orleans. Meanwhile, supporters of the Confederate monuments are also organizing, with rallies being planned in Hot Springs, Ark.

Plans for the Boston rally, which organizers said is not about white supremacy or Confederate monuments, were nearly scrapped following the violence in Charlottesville. Several speakers pulled out of or were uninvited from the event, but John Medlar, a Boston-area college student and the rally’s lead organizer, said that the rally would go on.

Still expected to speak at the rally are Joe Biggs, formerly a writer for the conspiracy-theory website Infowars, and Kyle Chapman, a far-right activist charged with beating counter-demonstrators with a wooden pole during a clash at Berkeley earlier this year. Members of the Ku Klux Klan told the Boston Herald that they expect several of their members to attend.

“There have been questions about why we granted a permit for the rally,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said on Friday. “The courts have made it abundantly clear. They have the right to gather, no matter how repugnant their views are. But they don’t have the right to create unsafe conditions. They have the right to free speech. In return, they have to respect our city.”

Meanwhile, organizers of a planned counter protests say they are expecting tens of thousands of attendees at a march planned to coincide with the rally.

“We’re expecting about 20,000 to 30,000,” Boston activist Monica Cannon, who is among those spearheading the counter-protest, said during a news conference Friday. “We’ve had people reach out from the Jewish community, the Asian community. We have people coming from all over the country.”

Source: Washington Post

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