BOSTON (AP) — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans in a public rejection of white nationalism upstaged a small group in Boston that planned a “free speech rally” a week after a violent clash rocked Virginia and reverberated across the U.S.
Counter-protesters marched through the city on Saturday to historic Boston Common, where conservatives had planned to deliver a series of speeches but soon left. Police vans later escorted the conservatives out of the area, as boisterous counter-protesters scuffled with police.
Opponents feared that white nationalists might show up in Boston anyway, and turned out in force, some dressed entirely in black with bandannas over their faces. Officials said the rallies — the largest of about a half dozen around the country on Saturday — drew about 40,000 people.
Counterprotesters chanted slogans, and waved signs that said: “Make Nazis Afraid Again,” ”Love your neighbor,” ”Resist fascism” and “Hate never made U.S. great.” Others carried a large banner that read: “SMASH WHITE SUPREMACY.”
Chris Hood, a free speech rally attendee from Dorchester, said people were unfairly making it seem like the rally was going to be “a white supremacist Klan rally.”
“That was never the intention,” he said. “We’ve only come here to promote free speech on college campuses, free speech on social media for conservative, right-wing speakers. And we have no intention of violence.”
One of the planned speakers of the conservative activist rally said the event “fell apart.”
Congressional candidate Samson Racioppi, who was among several slated to speak, told WCVB-TV that he didn’t realize “how unplanned of an event it was going to be.”
Rockeem Robinson, a youth counselor from Cambridge, said he joined the counterprotest to “show support for the black community and for all minority communities.”
Members of the Black Lives Matter movement held a protest on the Common, where a Confederate flag was burned and protesters pounded on the sides of a police vehicle.
Boston Commissioner William Evans said 33 arrests had been made by Saturday night — mostly for disorderly conduct while some were for assaulting police officers.
The police department tweeted Saturday afternoon that some protesters were throwing bottles, urine and rocks at them.
#BPD is asking individuals to refrain from throwing urine, bottles and other harmful projectiles at our officers.
— Boston Police Dept. (@bostonpolice) August 19, 2017
President Donald Trump applauded the people in Boston who he said were “speaking out” against bigotry and hate. Trump added in a Twitter message that “Our country will soon come together as one!”
I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
Saturday’s showdown in Boston was mostly peaceable, and after demonstrators dispersed, a picnic atmosphere took over with stragglers tossing beach balls, banging on bongo drums and playing reggae music.
Rallies in other cities around the country, while smaller, also were forceful.
Counterprotesters marched through New Orleans, some of them carrying signs that read “White People Against White Supremacy” and “Black Lives Matter.” And in Atlanta, a diverse crowd marched from the city’s downtown to the home of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Meredith Dubé brought her two daughters, 2-year-old Willow Dubé and 12-year-old Rai Chin to the Atlanta rally. Dubé is white and her daughters are mixed race. She said it is essential to show children at an early age that love is more powerful than hate.
In California, a rally was held near the famed Venice beach boardwalk in Los Angeles and an anti-racism rally was held in Laguna Beach one day before the group America First! planned to hold a demonstration in the same place that’s being billed as an “Electric Vigil for the Victims of Illegals and Refugees.”
Mayor Toni Iselman told the crowd that “Laguna Beach doesn’t tolerate diversity, we embrace diversity.”
In Silicon Valley, more than 500 people gathered in Mountain View in response to a far-right “March on Google” to rally against the technology company’s firing of a white male software engineer over his claim that women were biologically unsuited to tech jobs. Organizers postponed the right-wing march, alleging threats from leftists.
In Dallas, a scuffle broke out between people at a rally against white supremacy and supporters of Confederate monuments as the event was ending. Police officers had to subdue the crowd.
The rally, which authorities estimated 2,300 people attended, was at City Hall plaza, near a Civil War cemetery that houses a memorial to Confederate soldiers. Only a few hundred people remained when tempers flared and officers on horseback broke up the two sides.
The Rev. Michael W. Waters, one of the speakers at the rally, said: “Now is the time to do what is right in the city of Dallas. Now is the time to bring these monuments down.”
Photos from the rally and counter-protest: