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Boston police and federal authorities are investigating after a Black activist was allegedly assaulted by white supremacists who marched through downtown Boston on Saturday.
Mayor Michelle Wu, during a press conference outside Boston Police Headquarters on Tuesday, said the department’s Civil Rights Unit is probing what happened when 34-year-old Charles Murrell III was allegedly shoved and eventually knocked to the ground by members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front.
Wu, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, and other city and law enforcement officials met earlier in the afternoon with community leaders in a private meeting. Wu said the individuals involved with the alleged assault need to be “prosecuted within the fullest extent of the law.”
“We know these threats are continuing to escalate across the country, and that Boston must be the leading light in how we are acting in a coordinated way and tackling (this) and supporting our community members,” she said.
Boston police, the MBTA Transit Police, Massachusetts State Police, and the FBI, are in “constant communication about the impending actions of any known groups,” Wu said.
“We are working hard to make sure that if there are any federal charges we can bring, or if there are any state charges that can be brought, we will be looking at this,” Rollins said. “We don’t want to wait until there is violence. If there are threats, we will charge those as well.”
On Saturday, about 100 members of Patriot Front marched through downtown Boston, at times on the Freedom Trail, to the beat of a snare drum as they carried flags and a banner that read, “Reclaim America.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Patriot Front as a white nationalist hate group that was born out of Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi organization, following the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Most recently, the group made headlines last month when authorities in Idaho arrested 31 men with Patriot Front and charged them with misdemeanor conspiracy to riot after authorities learned the group was allegedly going to create a violent disruption at a Pride month event.
Saturday’s march was the third public white supremacist demonstration in Boston this year.
In January, neo-Nazis protested outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital in response to two doctors who have been working to create more equity in health care for people of color.
In March, members of the neo-Nazi group NSC-131 attended the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade with a banner reading, “Keep Boston Irish.”
“We are going to be thinking strategically about how we’re going to combat this so that communities feel safe,” Rollins said Tuesday. “We’ve said many times hate does not have a place in Boston or Massachusetts.”
According to The Boston Globe, Murrell, who uses any pronouns, told police they were walking on Dartmouth Street on Saturday when Patriot Front members shoved them.
Murrell shoved back and was then knocked to the ground and hit and kicked by a “larger majority of the group,” a police report obtained by the newspaper states.
Murrell was brought to Tufts Medical Center for injuries to their right ring finger, head, and left eyebrow.
On Monday, Murrell and Black community leaders condemned the alleged assault and called on city officials to act through supporting antiracist policies and creating a city race commission, according to the Globe.
Wu said Tuesday investigators are looking at videos from Saturday’s march in an attempt to identify members of the group, although authorities are facing the added hurdle posed by the white masks Patriot Front members wore to cover their faces.
The individuals were also wearing caps and sunglasses.
Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long said police officers did not witness the alleged attack.
“There’s a lot of video that’s been recovered,” Long said. “If we’re able to make identifications … we have mechanisms to try to identify those people. Whether they’re out of state or local people, they will be charged.”
Rod Webber, a local filmmaker and musician who has closely documented neo-Nazi and other far-right groups in recent years, described Patriot Front members as “fashionistas” obsessed with communicating their message through imagery.
“They’re looking to portray a certain image, and by getting that image across, they’re not only using it for recruitment, but to show solidarity and strength for the white race,” Webber told Boston.com on Tuesday. “Patriot Front specifically is about uniformity.”
Webber said based on his intel, the group selected Boston for its Fourth of July demonstration as part of a planned tour of historic sites in American history to coincide with the holiday weekend.
Webber caught up with the group at the Oak Grove MBTA station in Malden as its members were leaving the city.
In videos posted by Webber on Twitter, Webber and his wife, Lauren Pespisa, can be seen and heard taunting them.
The Patriot Front members eventually are seen leaving the station and running to their vehicles, with many attempting to cover their license plate numbers from Webber’s camera before driving away.
Videos and tweets contain graphic language:
“We had heard rumblings that they’d be coming through Boston and then down into Plymouth and Plymouth rock and then perhaps the Liberty Bell (in Philadelphia) and then (Washington) D.C.,” said Webber, who often exposes white supremacists online and led a counter-demonstration in March to denounce the neo-Nazi group that turned out at South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “But because of the sheer embarrassment that we caused them, they canceled everything else.
“You see, they didn’t do anything on July 4th proper,” Webber added. “And that’s why it’s so important to do what we’re doing. We make them look like fools and chickens, which is exactly what they are. The reality is, and in the research that we’ve done, a bunch of these guys are driving their moms’ cars.”
Webber said the individuals involved came from all over the country.
In Webber’s videos, the vehicles driven by Patriot Front members display license plates from a variety of states, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, among others.
A report from the Anti-Defamation League published in March found Massachusetts was the fourth most targeted state in the country by white supremacist propaganda in 2021, as distribution remained at historic highs nationally.
In total, there were 271 incidents of hateful propaganda reported across the commonwealth, with Patriot Front being among the most active groups responsible.
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