Boston protest: Thousands take to streets to march against right-wing 'Free Speech' rally

Boston protest: Thousands take to streets to march against right-wing 'Free Speech' rally

Boston protest: Thousands take to streets to march against right-wing 'Free Speech' rally

Updated 20 August 2017, 12:40 AEST

Tens of thousands of people in the US city of Boston protest against a "Free Speech" rally featuring right-wing speakers, with hundreds of police mobilised to prevent violence.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Boston to protest against a "Free Speech" rally featuring right-wing speakers, a week after a woman was killed at a white supremacist demonstration in Virginia.

Key points:

  • Protesters opposed to the "Free Speech" rally outnumbered rally participants
  • Police used barricades to prevent vehicles from entering the area
  • Similar anti-racism protests are expected in Houston and Dallas

Organisers of the rally had invited several far-right speakers who were confined to a small pen that police set up in the historic Boston Common park to keep the two sides separate.

The city largely avoided a repeat of last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, where one woman was killed in a car rampage after bloody street battles.

The Boston rally never numbered more than a few dozen people, and its speakers could not be heard over the shouts of an estimated 40,000 counter-protesters.

Protesters surrounded people leaving the rally, shouting "shame" at them and occasionally throwing plastic water bottles.

Police escorted several rally participants through the crowds, sometimes struggling against protesters who tried to stop them.

Officials had spent a week planning security for the event, mobilising 500 police officers, including many on bikes, and placing barricades and large white dump trucks on streets along the park, aiming to deter car-based attacks like those seen in Charlottesville and Barcelona.

Confederate flag burned, 33 people arrested

Some of the counter-protesters dressed entirely in black and wore bandanas over their faces.

They chanted anti-Nazi and anti-fascism slogans, and waved signs that said: "Make Nazis Afraid Again", ''Love your neighbour", ''Resist fascism" and "Hate never made US great". Others carried a large banner that read: "Smash white supremacy."

"I came out today to show support for the black community and for all minority communities," said Rockeem Robinson, 21, a youth counsellor from Cambridge.

He said he was not concerned about his personal safety because he felt more support on his side.

TV cameras showed a group of boisterous counter-protesters on the Common chasing a man with a Trump campaign banner and cap, shouting and swearing at him.

But other counter-protesters intervened and helped the man safely over a fence into the area where the conservative rally was to be staged.

Black-clad counter-protesters also grabbed an American flag out of an elderly woman's hands, and she stumbled and fell to the ground.

Members of the Black Lives Matter movement later protested on the Common, where a Confederate flag was burned and protesters pounded on the sides of a police vehicle.

In total, 33 people were arrested on the day, largely for scuffles in which some protesters threw rocks and bottles of urine at police dressed in riot gear, Police Commissioner William Evans said.

"There was a little bit of a confrontation," Mr Evans said.

"Ninety-nine point nine per cent of the people who were here were here for the right reasons."

Ahead of the rally, organisers denounced the white supremacist message and violence of Charlottesville and said their event would be peaceful.

"The point of this is to have political speech from across the spectrum, conservative, libertarian, centrist," said Chris Hood, an 18-year-old Boston resident who stood among a crowd at the Free Speech rally.

"This is not about Nazis. If there were Nazis here, I'd be protesting against them."

US President Donald Trump complimented Boston police, tweeting: "Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you."

He also complimented Boston's Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh.

Mr Walsh joined the crowd of thousands assembling in Boston's historically black Roxbury neighbourhood early on Saturday (local time).

"These signs and the message so far this morning is all about love and peace," he said.

Last weekend's violence sparked the biggest domestic crisis yet for Mr Trump, who provoked ire across the political spectrum for not immediately condemning white nationalists and for praising "very fine people" on both sides of the fight.

White nationalists had converged in Charlottesville to defend a statue of Robert E Lee, who led the pro-slavery Confederacy's army during the Civil War.

More rallies planned in other US cities

Monica Cannon, an organiser of the "Fight White Supremacy" march, said it was a necessary move.

"Ignoring a problem has never solved it," Ms Cannon said in a phone interview.

"We cannot continue to ignore racism."

The Free Speech rally's scheduled speakers include Kyle Chapman, a California activist who was arrested at a Berkeley rally earlier this year that turned violent, and Joe Biggs, formerly of the right-wing conspiracy site Infowars.

Republican Senate candidate Shiva Ayyadurai spoke at the rally, surrounded by supporters holding "Black Lives Matter" signs.
"We have a full spectrum of people here," Mr Ayyadurai said in a video of his speech posted on Twitter.

"We have people from the Green Party here, we have Bernie [Sanders] supporters here, we've got people who believe in nationalism."

Protesters also began gathering on Saturday evening in Texas, with the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter holding a rally to remove a "Spirit of the Confederacy" monument from a park.

In Dallas, where a General Lee statue was vandalised overnight, about 1,000 people gathered near City Hall to demonstrate against white supremacy.

A man who appeared waving a Confederate flag was quickly surrounded by at least 100 demonstrators chanting: "Shame on you."

Police officers escorted the man out of the plaza a few minutes later as the crowd cheered.

Reuters/AP