BOSTON (CBS) — Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Thursday that he and the city were somewhat “forced” to grant the controversial Boston Free Speech Rally a permit to operate on Boston Common Saturday.
Walsh made the comments as concern grew that some of the alt-right and fringe right-wing figures responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend might make their way to Boston’s rally.
The violence at the “Unite The Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville left anti-fascist protester Heather Hayer dead and 19 others injured.
The Boston Free Speech Rally received a permit from the city on Wednesday. It will take place from 12-2 p.m. Saturday at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common.
“We were, in some ways, forced to give this permit, because of free speech,” said Walsh Thursday morning at an event in Roslindale. “Not that we want to take anyone’s free speech away, but this is hate. So we’re asking you not to spread hate, and the peaceful rally that we’re going to have, it’s going to be about remembering the victims of what happened in Virginia, and also fighting against racism.”
Organizer John Medlar told WBZ-TV Wednesday that people had the wrong impression of his event.
“Contrary to a lot of the rumors out there, the purpose of the rally is to denounce the kind of political violence that we have seen, a sort of rising tide throughout the country, and particularly most recently in Charlottesville,” said Medlar, who added he “absolutely” disavows white nationalists.
However, Medlar admitted the group has invited several controversial alt-right speakers. On Nightside with Dan Rea Wednesday night, he spoke about some of the speakers who were invited to the rally–including prominent alt-right figures like holocaust denier Augustus Invictus.
“Why would you invite a speaker who was a holocaust denier?” asked Rea.
“Because we’re not inviting him to speak about the holocaust,” answered Medlar. “We’re inviting him to speak about first amendment issues … some people can be wrong on some issues and right on others.”
Invictus backed out, but there are a number of other right-wing speakers expected, including Joe Biggs, one of the figures behind the “pizzagate” conspiracy, and Kyle Chapman, who once smashed an anti-Trump protester over the head with a stick in California.
“We would not be having him here if we felt that he was a risk, if we felt that he was going to be spreading hatred,” Medlar said of Chapman, who goes by the nickname “Based Stick Man” as a result of that encounter with the protester, for which he was arrested.
Biggs and Chapman were listed on the Second Boston Free Speech Rally Facebook page as being headliners of the rally, along with Senate candidate Shiva Ayyadurai and Libertarian Congressional candidate Samson Racioppi.
“I’m not a white Supremacist. I’m not a neo-Nazi. I’m not a member of the KKK,” Racioppi said.
According to Medlar, Boston Police will provide barricades around the bandstand, and will be checking attendees for weapons. Anyone can be searched. Participants are allowed to bring signs, as long as they aren’t attached to sticks or poles.
Racioppi is not concerned about violence breaking out at the event. “I think there are going to be way more good people at this event than are being portrayed by what we’re seeing in social media,” Racioppi said.
He says after what happened in Charlottesville it’s more important than ever not to let the extremists silence the rest.
“If I feel that these people really are extremists and that they’re spouting hate speech, I’m siding with the protesters as long as the protesters are also not extremists,” Racioppi said.
Mayor Walsh said the city will shut it down if there is any suspicion or act of violence.
Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans said officers will keep order, regardless of the nature of the rally.
“They’re claiming they’re all about free speech, but it’s not my role to determine who or what they are,” said Evans. “I know we got a job to do, and that’s to keep people safe in the city.”
“We’d rather this rally not happen in our city,” Walsh said. “We’d rather they not be here with their message. But as of right now they’re coming, and we’ll see what happens.”
Counter-protest organizer Monica Cannon said the speakers, as well as the imagery on flyers for the event, show Medlar is not accurately representing the Free Speech Coalition putting on the rally.
“I feel like that language is just a mask-over for the fact that they are actually neo-Nazis and racists and white supremacists,” Cannon said. “If you pay attention to the flyers that they’ve transmitted all over social media, they are specifically inviting neo-Nazis, Trump supporters, and those who are racist and white supremacist.”
On the Facebook page for the rally, the group wrote that they are still “offering our platform for ‘left’ groups to join us and have open slots for speakers if any “left” groups would like to furnish some.”
“With all due respect, we don’t need him to give us a voice–we have one,” said Cannon. “Our goal is to show unity, and that we’re standing unified against any type of racism that tries to enter into the city.”
Earlier Thursday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and other state leaders formally denounced the deadly violence that took place last weekend at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The joint proclamation came as concern mounted that some fringe elements from Charlottesville could make their way to Boston, even as organizers called the rally an event for unity and say they stand against bigotry.
During the signing ceremony, there was a moment of silence at the State House for those injured and killed protesting the Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rally.
Baker said he needed to send a very strong message.
“Over the course of the past several days, the House and the Senate and the administration have had several conversations about how we might send a message to the people of Massachusetts and to the folks in Charlottesville, Virginia and to the folks in D.C. about how we feel about the events that took place over the previous weekend there,” the governor said.
Copies of the proclamation were being sent to the mayor of Charlottesville, as well as President Donald Trump, whose response to the tragedy has been criticized by many on the left and right.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports