Thousands take to streets in Boston protest against hate speech

BOSTON, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Thousands of people in Boston protested a "Free Speech" rally featuring right-wing speakers on Saturday, with hundreds of police mobilized to prevent a recurrence of violence that left a woman dead at a Virginia white-supremacist protest last week.

In historic Boston Common park alone, hundreds of protesters who believe the event could become a platform for racist propaganda dwarfed the few dozen rally participants.

RELATED: White supremacist protesters violently clash with counterprotesters

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Charlottesville violence erupts as protesters and counterprotesters clash
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Charlottesville violence erupts as protesters and counterprotesters clash
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A White Supremacist kicks back a smoke bomb thrown by counter protestors during clashes at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A White Supremacist tries to strike a counter protestor with a White Nationalist flag during clashes at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
People receive first-aid after a car accident ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A vehicle plowed into a crowd of people Saturday at a Virginia rally where violence erupted between white nationalist demonstrators and counter-protesters, witnesses said, causing an unclear number of injuries. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: Police, medical personnel, and other protestors attend to the injured people after a car rammed into a crowd of anti-White Supremacy protestors in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A woman who was injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally is helped in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts?
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Rescue workers transport a victim who was injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A woman is received first-aid after a car accident ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
People receive first-aid after a car accident ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A woman is received first-aid after a car accident ran into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A White Supremacist helps a friend after he was punched in the face during clashes with counter protestors at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A counter protestor strikes a White Nationalist with a baton during clashes at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: White Supremacists and counter protestors clash at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A man is seen with an injury during a clash between members of white nationalist protesters against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Virginia State Police move in as members of white nationalist protesters clash against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
People struggle with a Confederate flag as a crowd of white nationalists are met by a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Justin Ide
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: White Supremacists rush forward with shields and sticks during clashes with counter protestors at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A white supremacists stands behind militia members after he scuffled with a counter demonstrator in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacists stands with militia members after he scuffled with a counter demonstrator in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacists stands behind militia members after he scuffled with a counter demonstrator in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 12: White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' take refuge in an alleyway after being hit with pepper spray after the 'Unite the Right' rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-facist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Lee Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Members of white nationalists are met by a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Members of white nationalists clash against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacists carries the Confederate flag as he arrives for a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Virginia State Troopers stand under a statue of Robert E. Lee before a white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacist holds a flag during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A member of a white supremacists militia stands near a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Virginia State Police officer aims during clash protests in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: White Supremacists and counter protestors clash at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - August 12: A White Supremacist with a White Nationalist flag during clashes with counter protestors at Emancipation Park where the White Nationalists are protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
First responders stand by a car that was struck when a car drove through a group of counter protesters at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Justin Ide
Rescue workers transport a victim who was injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Rescue workers assist people who were injured when a car drove through a group of counter protestors at the "Unite the Right" rally Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A man who was hit with pepper spray reacts during a clash between a crowd of white supremacist protesters against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Justin Ide
White supremacists clash with counter protesters during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A white supremacist militia member stands in front of clergy counter protesting during rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A counter protest yells at white supremacists during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A Virginia State Trooper stands guard at the crime scene where a vehicle plowed into a crowd of counter protesters and two other vehicles (rear) near the "Unite the Right" rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
White supremacists stand behind their shields at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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The number of protesters was poised to swell exponentially as a march with thousands more people bore down on the park.

Some 500 police officers placed barricades to prevent vehicles from entering the park, the nation's oldest. To keep the two groups separate, they also built a cordon around the site of the rally.

Last weekend's clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman was killed in a car rampage after bloody street battles, ratcheted up racial tensions already inflamed by white supremacist groups marching more openly in rallies across the United States.

White nationalists had converged in the Southern university city to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee, who led the pro-slavery Confederacy's army during the Civil War, which ended in 1865.

A growing number of U.S. political leaders have called for the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy, with civil rights activists charging that they promote racism. Advocates of the statues contend they are a reminder of their heritage.

Duke University removed a statue of Lee from the entrance of a chapel on its Durham, North Carolina campus, officials said on Saturday.

Organizers of Saturday's rally in Boston have 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 of a few dozen people who planned to join the Free Speech rally. "This is not about Nazis. If there were Nazis here, I'd be protesting against them."

Last weekend's violence sparked the biggest domestic crisis yet for U.S. President Donald 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.

Two male rally participants wearing Trump's red "Make America Great Again" campaign hats attempted to enter the protest pen that police had set up to keep the two sides separated. They were swarmed by black-clad protesters, some with their faces covered, as the crowd screamed "go home" and "no hate" at them.

Beyond the Boston rally and march, protests are also expected on Saturday in Texas, with the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter holding a rally to remove a "Spirit of the Confederacy" monument from a park and civil rights activists in Dallas planning a rally against white supremacy.

Boston authorities had roadblocks in place to avert car attacks like the deadly one carried out in Charlottesville by a man said to have neo-Nazi sympathies against counter-protesters and a similar spate of attacks by Islamist extremists in Europe, most recently Barcelona.

 

PROTESTERS REJECT PLEA

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had asked protesters to avoid Boston Common, saying their presence would draw more attention to the far-right activists. He joined the crowd of thousands assembling in Boston's historically black Roxbury neighborhood early on Saturday.

"These signs and the message so far this morning is all about love and peace," Walsh told reporters. "That's a good message."

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

"Ignoring a problem has never solved it," 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.

Antonio Vargas, a 20-year-old student at Gordon College, joined the protest march.

"I believe in equality," Vargas said. "I believe race shouldn't define the pattern of your life or the result of your life.

"There also is a time to stand up and not be silent." (Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Von Ahn)

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