Organizers of the free speech rally set for Boston Common this weekend said that the event will go on, despite controversy.
John Medlar, an organizer for the event with Boston Free Speech, also called the Boston Free Speech Coalition, said that the group has been told they will get their permit to gather on Boston Common this Saturday, Aug. 19. The Boston Parks Department issued a permit to the coalition on Wednesday.
Medlar, a 23-year-old student at Fitchburg State University, described the group as a grassroots collective of young citizens “concerned about the political violence that has arisen in this country.”
“We want to promote good arguments from both the left and right,” he said. “We want to promote people getting together around the shared constitutional values that form the basis of our society.”
Medlar met with the Boston Police Department on Wednesday morning to discuss details for the rally, which has quickly garnered controversy following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.
The group maintained that they are not associated with the event in Charlottesville and that this rally is not intended to promote white supremacy.
“The point of rally is to promote speaking and listening to each other as an alternative to violence,” Medlar said. “We’re not trying to spread hate – quite the opposite. We’re trying to de-radicalize the fringes.”
A BPD spokesperson confirmed that officers met with an event organizer on Wednesday, adding that “the department will be prepared to provide appropriate coverage to ensure for the safety of all.”
Medlar said that he was told BPD will provide physical barriers to separate protesters from counterprotesters, that the department has an emergency evacuation plan “if anything goes terribly wrong” and that officers will be searching bags to ensure that no one brings weapons of any sort.
That includes sticks and flagpoles, he said, though he added that people can still bring flags.
“Make no mistake: we do not welcome any hate groups to Boston and we reject their message," Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement. "This morning, the Boston Free Speech Coalition met with the Boston Police Department to work on a safe pathway forward and agreed to specific stipulations for a rally on Boston Common this Saturday. We have made it clear that we will not tolerate incitements to violence or any threatening behavior. I ask that everyone join me in making Boston a more inclusive, welcoming, love-filled city for all.”
When asked if he knows of any attendees planning on bringing Nazi or Confederate flags, Medlar said “that is going counter to our message that our group is attempting to promote.”
Multiple controversial speakers initially listed on a poster promoting the rally have since dropped out of the event. Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media and founder of a far-right men’s organization called Proud Boys, said on his Twitter that he will not be attending.
Despite a post from the Boston Free Speech Facebook account saying that Baked Alaska is attending, Medlar said that he is not.
“I think that one of our people tried to invite Baked Alaska without consulting the rest of us – that was a mistake,” he said.
Still, Medlar confirmed that other controversial speakers were initially invited, like Augustus Invictus, who attended the Charlottesville rally and reportedly has proclaimed himself a god who kills goats and drinks their blood, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Invictus is no longer attending, but Joe Biggs, formerly of InfoWars, is still confirmed as a speaker.
“They were invited in the first place because, in our talks with them, we believe that they believe as strongly in free speech for all Americans as we do,” Medlar said. “That’s not just a white thing, that’s for all races, colors and creeds.”
Medlar added that even someone “as controversial as Augustus” identifies as libertarian.
Shiva Ayyadurai, who is running for Senate in Massachusetts as a Republican, challenging Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Warren, will also be speaking at the rally, Medlar said. Ayyadurai confirmed he will be speaking at the event, saying, "Come to the event, that’s the best thing to do. If you come, you’ll understand why," when asked for the reason behind his appearance.
If white supremacists attempt to co-op the event, Medlar said, “they will essentially be removed.”
The Boston rally was planned as far back as May, soon after the group finished their first rally here.
The reason for that pre-emptive planning, Medlar said, is because the group “assume[s] free speech issues will crop up. There’s no shortage of them.”
“We knew that whatever was going to happen, there was going to be relevant issues for us to rally for. Charlottesville completely caught us by surprise,” he added. “It threw everything off.”
The rally will take place regardless of the controversy that preceded it. Medlar hopes people will be “pleasantly surprised” by the event.
“We hope that we show them we are ideologically opposite of what rumors on the internet have been painting us out to be,” he said. “We hope, in coordination with the Boston Police Department and the city of Boston, we will be able to get this done, do it right, cleanly, in an organized fashion, and hope everyone goes home completely unharmed.”