One week after Heather Heyer was killed and dozens injured when white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, a so-called free speech rally in Boston is expected to draw an overlapping crowd, including members of the Ku Klux Klan.
If social media responses are any indication, counter-protesters are poised to outnumber these demonstrators by a huge margin when the groups converge Saturday on the Boston Common.
Thousands have indicated they plan to attend counter-protests to denounce white supremacy in the city; an organizer told the Boston Globe she expects 20,000 to 30,000 people. The Boston Free Speech Coalition’s event, on the other hand, has fewer than 300 confirmed attendees on Facebook; Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has predicted fewer than 100 participants, although an organizer claimed there may be up to 1,000.
Those attendees will reportedly include members of the KKK, Thomas Robb, national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, told the Boston Herald, noting that Klan members were also present in Charlottesville.
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The demonstration comes after President Donald Trump bolstered the white nationalist movement Tuesday by appearing to equate racist violence in Charlottesville with the actions of what he called the “alt-left,” despite reports that antifascist protesters saved lives in Charlottesville.
“It is more important than ever that we stand up to Marxism and support our President Donald Trump,” Kyle Chapman, one of the scheduled Boston speakers, wrote in a public Facebook post Wednesday. “It’s estimated 10,000 #AltLeft Terrorist [sic] will be counter protesting and potentially attacking us. We knew this time was coming. It’s time to honor our ancestors. This event is for the Brave. Cowards stay home.”
Chapman, founder of the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights—which the the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes as an “alt-right ‘fight club'”—is known by supporters as “Based Stickman” after a video went viral of him breaking a wooden post over an Antifa activist’s head in Berkeley. On Wednesday, prosecutors in Alameda County filed a felony charge against Chapman for possession of a leaded stick during the March clash between Trump supporters and antifascists.
“There is NO WHITE SUPREMACY RALLY IN BOSTON!” organizer John Medlar posted publicly on Facebook. “The rally I’m helping to organize is about promoting Free Speech as a COUNTER to political violence like the horrible things we’ve seen happen in Charlottesville.”
The same organization held a similar rally in May, which attracted a few hundred demonstrators but relatively little public notice.
A photo of Medlar discovered by Rewire from that earlier event shows him wearing, cape-style, the “national flag of Kekistan,” a white nationalist meme intended to mimic the German Nazi flag.
“Alt-righters are particularly fond of the way the banner trolls liberals who recognize its origins,” according to the SPLC.
The Kekistan banner is one of many symbols that appeared on a poster for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
In the photo from May, which was posted by Chapman, Medlar stands surrounded by members of the Proud Boys, a self-described “western chauvinist” organization to which Charlottesville rally organizer Jason Kessler at one point belonged. Medlar did not respond to Facebook messages seeking comment.
Augustus Invictus, a Holocaust denier who was among the speakers in Charlottesville, was uninvited from the Boston event, but said he may show up anyway. Tim Gionet, known as “Baked Alaska,” another Charlottesville speaker, was also expected to appear in Boston, but has reportedly cancelled.
Still on the schedule is Joe Biggs, who worked at Infowars and helped promote the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that falsely claimed a Washington, D.C. pizzeria was the site of a Hillary Clinton-linked pedophile ring. The conspiracy inspired a man to open fire at the pizzeria last December.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks hate groups, has drawn a distinction between the rally last weekend in Charlottesville and this weekend’s event in Boston.
“Unlike Charlottesville, the Boston event, as currently planned, is not a white supremacist gathering,” the ADL wrote on Monday, before news broke the KKK would be attending the Boston event. “It has been organized under the auspices of the alt lite, which embraces civic nationalism, rather than the alt right, which advocates white nationalism.”
Many “alt lite” adherents “are in step with the alt right in their hatred of feminists and immigrants, among others,” the ADL wrote.
The rally comes amid mounting public protest over Confederate monuments. In response to the white supremacist rally to defend the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, the city’s mayor has called for its removal. “Freedom fighters” in Durham, North Carolina, toppled a Confederate statue there Monday, while Baltimore’s mayor had that city’s Confederate monuments removed in in the early hours of Wednesday.
Boston has its own Confederate monument: a memorial to Confederate prisoners erected in 1963 on Georges Island in Boston Harbor. It has been boarded up for two months as officials decide what to do with it.
In the wake of Charlottesville, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh sent a strong message to hate groups, declaring, “Boston does not want you here.” But on Wednesday, the city granted a permit to the “free speech” organizers, allowing them to rally from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday with tight controls on items that can be carried onto the Common. About 500 Boston police will be deployed in the area.
With the issuing of the permit, “we see the state once again facilitating the voices and the policies of white supremacy,” Kim Barzola, an organizer with ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) Coalition told Rewire in an interview.
Barzola said the counter-protesters will seek to highlight local and institutionalized examples of white supremacist violence, including mistreatment of prisoners and police killings.
“What we wanted to point out was the ways in which white supremacy affects us every single day,” she said. “There’s the acute violence that we saw in Charlottesville, but then there’s the slow picking-away at our right to exist and to live.”
Barzola’s rally begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Massachusetts State House, which sits across the street from the Boston Common. Black Lives Matter groups and others have organized a second counter-protest that begins with a two-mile march from Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood to the Common.
“The individuals and institutions most effective in harming Black and Brown people do not carry torches or wear white hoods,” a statement from the organizers of that rally read. “Instead, they aggressively patrol our neighborhoods, enforce laws unequally, systematically impose poverty, and suppress the voices and needs of oppressed communities.”
Rewire will be on the ground at the Boston Common, live-streaming the rallies on Facebook.