On Saturday, hundreds gathered in the Boston Common either for or against the “Rally for the Republic” event. Dozens of attendees were met by hundreds of counterprotesters, who argued that the event was giving a platform to white supremacists.
According to the rally’s website, the event is meant to “defend freedom of speech, support the Constitution, honor the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation” and “celebrate America.”
The rally, which began at noon and lasted an hour and a half, featured a number of speakers who said they were there to protect their first amendment right to free speech. The event was organized and attended by members of several groups, including Resist Marxism and Boston Free Speech.
Many of the event’s hosts and attendants were the same people who organized and participated in the “free speech” rally in the Common in August, which was shut down after only 45 minutes due to the attendance of over 40,000 counter protesters. The event was advertised by known white nationalists, according to The Boston Globe, although two of the speakers with controversial ties were disinvited or cancelled their appearance.
The city of Boston denied a permit for the rally due to a previously scheduled event, but offered to grant one for Sunday. However, organizers refused due to scheduling commitments and decided to hold the rally anyway.
Among the counterprotesters was the Boston College chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDS), who organized a group of students to attend the counterprotest with students from the Boston University chapter of YDS.
“YDS decided to counterprotest today because we believe that we have a responsibility to express vocal opposition to white supremacy especially under the guise of ‘free speech,’” said YDS president Andrew Vaccaro, MCAS ‘20.
Vaccaro continued, “Today’s rally was a classic example of a deeply fascist ideology dressed up to look professional and peaceful, but the core of their message came through at times when one of their speakers talked about impending ‘bloodshed.’ It’s so important to show opposition to these ideas and YDS was there to help drown them out with our voices.”
Many counterprotesters carried signs with phrases such as “Fascism Kills”, “Defend Boston”, and “Nazis Fuck Off.” They also chanted “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!”. Counterprotesters included some Antifa members who dressed in black and covered their faces.
Rallygoers wore American flag clothing, “Make America Great Again” hats, and held signs reading “Boston Stands for Freedom and Liberty.” They gathered on the bandstand to listen to speakers, while counterprotesters were kept at a safe distance by police.
Although violence did not break out, there were several instances of rallygoers and counterprotesters engaging in aggressive verbal exchanges. At one point, a man attempted to climb onto the bandstand and was removed from the area by police.
Rinaldo Del Gallo, a Pittsfield attorney, was one of the first speakers. Wearing a Bernie Sanders shirt, Del Gallo identified himself as a democratic socialist and supporter of Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and the Green Party. He said that although he disagreed with the other rallygoers on many issues, everyone has a first amendment right to freedom of speech.
“You may be against this speech today, but tomorrow they’ll go against your speech,” Del Gallo said. “I’m here to protect all of it.”
Del Gallo is currently suing Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the city’s police commissioner, and the head of the parks department for $500 million, claiming that the city prevented him from speaking at the Boston Free Speech rally in August, and restricted his First Amendment rights, according to Masslive.
“It’s important that people have the right to speak,” said Del Gallo, directing his comments at the crowd of counterprotesters. “I stand with you on such issues as protecting the rights of the transgender. I stand with you for immigrants, that’s why I support sanctuary cities. But I also represent the rights of people to speak and I believe in freedom of expression. That’s why I’m here marching with these people.”
Many of the rally speakers criticized groups like Antifa, who showed up in large numbers to counterprotest. Antifa is a radical leftist, anti-facist group focused on fighting the far right. Its members are mostly “communists, socialists and anarchists who reject turning to the police or the state to halt the advance of white supremacy,” according to The Washington Post.
Libertarian Congressional candidate Samson Racioppi was one such speaker. He encouraged everyone to be proud of their beliefs or race whatever it is, and called the Antifa protesters “cowardly” for trying to suppress free speech.
The events most controversial speaker, Kyle Chapman, was one of the last to speak. Chapman became a popular figure among the far right after assaulting an anti-Trump protester at a UC Berkeley protest that he refers to as the “Battle of Berkley.”
“We are on the side of God. They are on the side of evil,” Chapman said. “Right now everyone take a minute and feel your ancestors and God, looking down on us and knowing that we are fighting for good. We are participating in the perpetual battle of good versus evil that has been going on since the dawn of time.”
Chapman continued, “Without this spirit, we lose. Without bleeding, we lose. Without sacrifice and bloodshed we lose. All of you have to accept the persecution, the bloodshed, the violence you will face for fighting for your freedoms.”
Vermin Supreme, a political performance artist and activist, who is known for running for political positions across the U.S with a boot on his head, was in attendance at the counterprotest. When asked why he was present he said he was there to “heckle and have fun.”
A number of Supreme’s fans were in attendance to counterprotest. However, one rally speaker identified Supreme as a personal mentor and called him onto the stage to speak, which he refused to do. Supreme said in an interview that he had known some of the rallygoers from when he taught them for an after school program many years ago, and that although he disagreed with them, he was happy to have constituents from across the political spectrum.
Despite several of the speakers claiming that they had no affiliation to white nationalist or white supremacist groups, counter protesters were not convinced. Some expressed the belief that the Free speech rally was just another way of presenting a white supremacist and hate speech oriented agenda.
“The organizers and a lot of their speakers have connections with white nationalist groups,” said John, a social worker and counter protester with the Progressive Labor Party. “There’s a split in their movement about how to approach people, some of them want to take pride in what happened in Charlottesville and some of them want to hide from it and rebrand as sort of a normal right-wing movement, but it’s the same folks.”
According to Boston College YDS president Andrew Vaccaro, the violence in Charlottesville was on the minds of counterprotesters as they gathered in Boston.
“One got the sense that these rallies were deeply disturbing to the community and that this city will not stop coming together to counter white supremacy,” said Vaccaro. “People are sick of these rallies taking place in Boston and many are frustrated that they continue to use our local resources, especially the army of police summoned to protect them and the way they deal with counterprotesters.”
“Our response to their arguments is that hate speech is unacceptable,” Vaccaro continued. “We will not compromise on human dignity for the sake of some pedantic argument about what vitriol they should be able to spew outside of the confines of their basement.”
Maura Donnelly, Liam Madden, and Nick Wilson contributed to this report.