One of the organizers involved with August’s controversial Free Speech rally on Boston Common is suing Mayor Marty Walsh for slander, claiming that the mayor’s description of the event falsely characterized him as part of a hate group.
The suit was filed Monday in Berkshire Superior Court by Attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo, on behalf of Brandon Navom, a North Adams native who now lives in Lowell. Navom is suing Walsh for $50 million in damages, according to the complaint.
“My reputation has been ruined and I will suffer emotional and economic loss the rest of my life because of Mayor Marty Walsh’s high profile defamatory comments,” the suit reads.
Navom claims that because his name was on the promotional material and on a list of speakers, he was attacked by an “internet hate mob,” which harassed both him and his former employer, leading to him being fired from his job as a software consultant. Navom did not end up participating in the Boston rally.
Before the August rally, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups descended on Charlottesville, Va. in an event that turned deadly. Among concerns that the Boston rally could also lead to violence, Walsh said in a press conference that Boston does not want hate groups here.
“We reject your message, we reject racism, we reject anti-Semitism, we reject the KKK, we reject neo-Nazis, we reject domestic terrorism, we reject hatred and we will do every single thing in our power to keep hate out of our city,” Walsh said in August.
According to the suit, Walsh referred to the Boston event speakers as white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of hate groups though they were not connected to such groups. The Boston Free Speech group did confirm that Augustus Invictus, who was connected to the Charlottesville rally and has ties to alt-right groups, was initially invited.
“The information available to anybody who had time to do the most cursory of Google searches at the time of mayor’s comments would have indicated that none of the speakers were white supremacist or affiliated with a hate group,” the suit reads, “and there is no doubt that Mayor Marty Walsh was aware of such information but made his defamatory statements nonetheless with malice and for political gain.”
Del Gallo, who is a progressive that was an invited speaker at the Boston Free Speech Rally,” according to a release from his office., said that the statements were made for political gain in the upcoming mayoral election.
“While such posturing for an election with such false claims of a gathering of white supremacist, put on by white supremacist, and featuring white supremacist speakers and other hate group members as speakers might help Mayor Marty Walsh at the polls by whipping up public indignity, it put the city of Boston through needless expense and wrongfully tarnished the reputation of Brandon Navom,” he said in a statement.
Walsh’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The ACLU of Massachusetts, along with the New England First Amendment Coalition and others, sent a letter on Tuesday to Walsh and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans asking for a meeting concerning press access to public events, sparked by the August rally.
Officials had set up a barricade around the Free Speech Rally participants, meaning that “journalists couldn’t hear what the rally participants were saying, interview the participants or document in any meaningful way what occurred on the Bandstand,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, in a statement.
The groups are asking city officials to revise press access procedures for public demonstrations on the Common, to allow close-up access by credentialed journalists and to ensure that no member of the press is given less access than any member of the public.
“While we appreciate the need for safety, security measures must not infringe on First Amendment rights,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a statement. “Changes need to be made so the press has access to public demonstrations and can adequately cover them. Journalists must not be excluded again.”