Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their "free speech rally" in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism a week after racially tinged bloodshed in Virginia.
Police confined a small group of "Free Speech" protesters to the Parkman Bandstand on historic Boston Common as they blocked off the massive counter-protests, CBS Boston reports. The permit issued for the rally came with severe restrictions, including a ban on backpacks, sticks and anything that could be used as a weapon.
An estimated 15,000 counter-protesters marched through the city to the Common. Police vans later escorted the conservatives out of the area, and angry counter-protesters scuffled with armed officers trying to maintain order.
The Boston Police Department announced at 1:30 p.m. that the "Free Speech" rally had ended.
Police in riot gear appeared to scuffle with a large crowd of counter-protesters, working to push them back in the area of Boylston and Tremont Streets. At least one person was arrested Saturday afternoon, police said.
The organizers of the midday event had publicly distanced themselves from the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others who fomented violence in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. A woman was killed at that Unite the Right rally, and scores of others were injured, when a car plowed into counter-demonstrators.
John Medlar of the Boston Free Speech Coalition, which organized the event, is a 23-year-old student at Fitchburg State College. He told CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan that his group would not tolerate hate speech.
"Reasonable people on both sides who are tolerant enough to not resort to violence when they hear something they disagree with, reasonable people who are actually willing to listen to each other, need to come together and start promoting that instead of letting all of these fringe groups on the left and the right determine what we can and cannot say," Medlar said.
Some counter-protesters dressed entirely in black and wore bandannas over their faces. They chanted anti-Nazi and anti-fascism slogans, and waved signs that said: "Love your neighbor," ''Resist fascism" and "Hate never made U.S. great." Others carried a large banner that read: "SMASH WHITE SUPREMACY."
TV cameras showed a group of boisterous counter-protesters on the Common chasing a man with a Trump campaign banner and cap, shouting and swearing at him. But other counter-protesters intervened and helped the man safely over a fence into the area where the conservative rally was to be staged. Black-clad counter-protesters also grabbed an American flag out of an elderly woman's hands, and she stumbled and fell to the ground.
Police Commissioner William Evans said Friday that 500 officers would be deployed to separate the two groups.
Boston's Democratic mayor, Marty Walsh, and Massachusetts' Republican governor, Charlie Baker, both warned that extremist unrest wouldn't be tolerated in this city famed as the cradle of American liberty.