After chaos erupted in Charlottesville at a rally organized by the alt-right with one woman dead and dozens injured, fears are spreading that another event scheduled for this weekend in Boston could lead to similar violence.
Officials in Boston are preparing for the “Free Speech Rally” scheduled on Boston Common this coming weekend that some residents worry will attract hate groups and possible face-offs with counterprotesters.
“Our message to hate groups, especially any planning to come to the city this weekend, is that Boston does not welcome you here, Boston does not want you here,” Mayor Walsh said at a press conference on Monday. “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.”
Gov. Charlie Baker also spoke out at the press conference, reiterating that “there is no place here for that type of hatred, period, that we saw in Virginia,” he said, adding that “What happened in Charlottesville, simply put, was an act of terrorism.”
The Boston rally, organized by a group called Boston Free Speech, is set for Aug. 19 from 12 to 5 p.m. The group said on their Facebook page that they are “not in any way associated with the organizers of the Charlottesville rally.”
In another post, the group mentioned that Baked Alaska, the online persona of a man known for organizing the “Deploraball” and tweeting anti-Semitic comments, has been confirmed as an attendee. (Baked Alaska was reportedly at the Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rally and was sprayed in the eyes with an unknown substance there. Supporters claim he may have been attacked with a chemical agent and could face permanent eye damage.)
Mayor Marty Walsh also confirmed that the Boston rally is being planned by a different group than the one responsible for the white nationalist rally in Virginia. Still, he encouraged them not to come to Boston so soon after the Charlottesville incident as “the emotions and the wounds and the pain is very fresh from what happened in Virginia.”
“We are a city that believes in free speech,” he added, “but we will not tolerate incentives to violence.”
Walsh said he learned of the Charlottesville incident and a possible upcoming rally in Boston as he bounced between community events throughout the weekend, one of which included thanking veterans for their service in East Boston.
“Those veterans didn’t have to be asked twice to condemn swastikas and all that they stand for, but our president had to be shamed into doing the same thing two days later,” Walsh said, referring to President Trump’s initial silence about the incident.
State and local police are currently gathering information about the group. The State Police Division of Homeland Security have been been in touch with the Boston Police Department about the upcoming rally. Dan Bennett, secretary of public safety for the state police, said that 2,000 troopers are ready to work with Boston officers if need be.
“We have great teamwork every time there’s either a demonstration or a celebration in Boston,” he said. “We’re 100 percent confident Boston police and state police will make it a safe day on Saturday.”
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said that there have been no permits issued at this time to the group reportedly in charge of the planned Boston rally for use of Boston Common.
Boston Free Speech’s Facebook and event page have been inundated with comments and threats from people calling members “Nazis,” as well as people urging that no one on any side start violence.
The group has maintained that the rally is about protecting free speech on all sides. In a response to one commenter who asked, “Do you want people [carrying] Nazi signs at your rally?” the group said, “No we don’t. They have the right to speak their mind but we do not support it.”