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Boston City Councilor and Suffolk County district attorney hopeful Ricardo Arroyo on Wednesday slammed law enforcement’s apparent lack of prior knowledge of plans for a white supremacist march through the city last weekend, a display that ultimately involved an alleged assault on a Black activist.
Even when authorities learned of Patriot Front members’ alleged attack on 34-year-old Charles Murrell III, as the group moved through downtown Boston with flags and a snare drum, the Boston Police Department’s response was “insufficient,” Arroyo said during an appearance on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.”
“There’s a very clear photo from a Boston Herald photographer (taken from) about three feet away from this assault,” said Arroyo, a Democrat who represents District 5 on the City Council. “Why is the Boston Herald photographer closer to this column marching through the city than the Boston Police Department?”
Arroyo’s criticism comes a day after city and law enforcement leaders said they were not aware beforehand that about 100 members of the white supremacist group were going to march through the heart of Boston, at times along the Freedom Trail, over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Now, police are investigating after Murrell, who uses any pronouns, was allegedly knocked to the ground by Patriot Front members on Dartmouth Street and suffered injuries to their right ring finger, head, and left eyebrow.
Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long said on Tuesday police officers did not witness the alleged attack. Authorities are working to identify the masked white supremacists involved by piecing together videos of the incident.
“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.”
In the meantime, Arroyo, late on Tuesday, filed a City Council hearing order to discuss Boston police and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center’s, or BRIC, response to the “growing presence of white supremacist hate groups in the City of Boston.”
Saturday’s display was the third public white supremacist demonstration in the city 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.”
“The reality is there’s this presence of white nationalist supremacists thinking about Boston as a part of their ideology and the way in which they preach about white supremacy,” Arroyo said on WBUR.
The hearing order asks for representatives of the Boston Police Department, the FBI, the state Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other agencies to attend.
“BRIC was established in 2005 explicitly to target acts of terrorism, and Boston residents deserve answers about their response to recent incidents in Boston and what is being done to address the lack of actionable intelligence prior to the Patriot Front’s march in Boston and the inadequate response that followed,” Arroyo said in a statement.
On Telegram, a social media messaging app, Patriot Front posted videos and photos of the march, asserting its members were able to “peacefully and orderly” parade through the city, despite “harassment from police and an isolated attempt to assault the column by a pedestrian.”
Other recent posts from the group indicate Patriot Front posted propaganda fliers in several towns in New England last month, including several in Massachusetts — Marlborough, Southborough, and Spencer; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
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.
Last month, the group made headlines 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.
Given the charges in Idaho, Arroyo questioned why there was not more federal law enforcement surveillance of Patriot Front members prior to the Boston march.
“If we know for sure and for certain that they were on their way as an organization to disrupt and cause a riot at an LGBTQ pride event last month, and they’re organizing a meeting in Boston, why isn’t there surveillance?,” Arroyo said.
Asked if he thinks the city was caught “flat footed” and if Boston officials had a legal right and obligation to keep tabs on Patriot Front prior to the march, Arroyo said, “Yes and yes.”
“The benefit of it in hindsight is that we can say it was a march and a rally with an assault, but you can’t say that we had any intelligence prior to that that they weren’t coming to do their worst,” Arroyo said later in the interview.
Acting Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden, who is running against Arroyo in the September primary election, said on Wednesday officials must focus on looking ahead and working collaboratively.
“It’s very easy for us to play Monday morning quarterback in situations like this,” Hayden said on WBUR, in a segment that aired before Arroyo’s interview. “This is a group that does operate covertly, secretively. They didn’t announce they’re coming here, and so I think that was part of the factors that played in here.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Hayden called Saturday’s display “repugnant.”
“As we explained to civil rights leaders today, investigators are poring over surveillance video to help identify Patriot Front marchers and pursue possible criminal charges,” he said. “If and when arrests are made we will prosecute to the fullest extent allowed by Massachusetts law.”
Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, told reporters on Tuesday his agency cannot simply “track or monitor domestic groups or police ideology” — that there is other criteria that must be considered.
“There has to be certain elements that are met for us to even open up an active investigation and that is the existence of a potential federal crime, (or) the threat or use of force or violence in conjunction with some sort of a social or political agenda,” he said.
Asked if Patriot Front crossed or met that threshold, Bonavolonta pointed to the ongoing investigation.
“As the facts and the evidence come to bear, we’ll see where we are with it and what decisions are made at that time,” he said.
Listen to the full WBUR segment:
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