Tens of thousands of counter-protest groups carrying signs with anti-Nazi slogans fled the streets of Boston on Saturday to stand up to a small group of right-wing protesters — a week after the tumultuous and deadly “Unite the Right”‘ rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia
The Boston Free Speech Coalition group took to Boston Common for the “Boston Free Speech Rally” — a gathering for those “willing to peaceably engage in open dialogue about the threats to, and importance of, free speech and civil liberties.”
Their group was met with by an estimated 40,000 counter-protesters including ANSWER Coalition Boston and the local chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) — who had announced plans to oppose the rally not long after it was organized in late July, NBC News reported.
Police vans later escorted the conservatives, who had abandoned plans to deliver speeches at the Boston Common bandstand, out of the area, ABC News reported.
Of the estimated attendees, Boston Police said 33 were arrested for charges including assault and battery on police officers, WCVB Boston reported. Police Commissioner William Evans told the local ABC station that three people were found wearing ballistic vests, and one of those vests was armed with a weapon.
“99.9 percent of the people here were here for the right reason, and that is to fight bigotry and hate,” Evans said, WCVB reported.
Despite much of the anger of counter-protesters being directed towards him, President Donald Trump had equally positive things to say.
“I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!,” President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday. “Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!”
He also took time to thank the police for keeping order during the protests — even against “anti-police agitators.”
“Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you,” he said. “Great job by all law enforcement officers and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.”
In a post on Facebook, the rally organizers Free Speech Movement — who identify as a mix of “libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and independents”— explained they are “dedicated to peaceful rallies” and are “in no way affiliated with the Charlottesville rally.”
“While we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech and defend that basic human right, we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry. We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence. We denounce the actions, activities, and tactics of the so-called Antifa movement. We denounce the normalization of political violence,” they wrote.
Saturday’s expected attendance by protesters grew substantially in the wake of the Aug. 12 rally by white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia that left Heather Heyer, 32, dead after a driver rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, according to The New York Times.
Authorities said two state troopers were also killed in a helicopter crash as they were responding to the rally. At least 26 people were taken to a local hospital from the rally and counter-protests, the Northwest Herald reported.
Trump had faced widespread criticism for his delayed response in condemning racists and hate groups by name. Though he condemned the hate groups by name on Monday — including “KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans” — the 71-year-old backtracked later in a news conference saying that “bigotry and hatred” was coming from “many sides” and that “both sides” were to blame — including the counter-protesters.
“There are two sides to a story,” Trump said on Tuesday during a spar with reporters at a infrastructure event.
“There were a lot of bad people in the other group too,” he said in reference to the counter-protesters. He also said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the protest.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump wrote. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”
“Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!” the president continued.
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Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer spoke out on CNN’s AC360 Friday, reversing his stance again moving the Robert E. Lee statue out of a city park and asking for its immediate removal.
“I think everything changed last weekend,” Signer told host Anderson Cooper. “I think that was one of those moments in the nation’s history where everything turns.”
“All of a sudden these statues of Civil War generals installed in the Jim Crow era, they became touchstones of terror — the twisted totems that people are clearly drawn to, trying to create a whole architecture of intimidation and hatred around them that was visited around our town, “he added. “It was evil.”