Boston nazi hunt a major disappointment for many
Tens of thousands of anti-racist protesters flooded Boston Common on Saturday, many with hopes of punching nazis, but there weren’t nearly enough faces to go around.
In the wake of last weekend’s showdown in Charlottesville, Virginia between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators, international eyes were on the Common, where a so-called “Free Speech” rally was expected to be met by scores of counter-protesters. The fighting in Charlottesville ultimately led to the tragic death of counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer, and there was an expectation that Boston could also see violence.
Some nazi haters showed up for a rift, as did the Boston Police Department. Still, few so-called alt-righters, let alone straight-up nazis, came out in the sunlight. Aside from a few trolls peppered throughout the vicinity, roughly two dozen showed up to the park’s bandstand. They were surrounded by a police-enforced buffer zone that kept anyone from joining the group, let alone hearing anything that was said.
“I feel like we were stood up,” said James Hilliard, a 22-year-old student from Allston. Hilliard was waiting for something to happen in the shade next to the Earl of Sandwich about 100 feet away from the cloistered bandstand.
The crowd was thick with various small groups of activists in full-body black bloc garb, complete with bandanas and masks in some cases. These are the protesters who are often shown on television news starting street fights, but in Boston there was barely anyone to brawl with.
“I came here to tell fascists and racists that they aren’t welcome,” said one of the few masked demonstrators who was actually willing to speak to reporters.
The “Free Speech” crowd seemed to get the message, as their rally was cordoned off by fences forming inner and outer boundaries. The only way in and out was through a phalanx of police in riot gear.
Meanwhile, counter-protesters continued to flow into the Common, with little else to do but wonder where the white supremacists were hanging out.
At one point in the early afternoon, a near skirmish took place by the Frog Pond, when a masked medic attempted to grab an American flag out of the hands of two elderly misplaced Trump supporters. (Ed. note: Activists contend that it was not a medic but rather a random provocateur who grabbed the flag, and say that police used the incident as an excuse to search the bags of several counter-protesters and to trash their water station).
One of the supporters, a senior lady, ran after the masked kid and tripped over her own flag. A younger Trump supporter came to her rescue and berated the medic who walked away before the situation escalated.
Meanwhile, another counter-demonstration march started earlier on in Roxbury, more than two miles away from the Common. By the time that crowd made it downtown, most of the “Free Speech” folks had been escorted out of the park like rock stars ducking paparazzi.
Without a larger riot on their hands, the significantly staffed force was available to help the speakers escape, leading through the Boston Common parking garage and to the edge of the park, where arrest wagons and police chauffeurs awaited.
This dispatch was produced in collaboration with DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.
Zack is a veteran reporter. He writes for DigBoston and VICE, and formerly reported for the Boston Courant and Bulletin Newspapers.