Boston Free Speech Rally

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Boston Free Speech Rally
Boston Free Speech rally attendees in the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common
DateAugust 19, 2017
VenueBoston Common
LocationBoston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Coordinates42°21′18″N 71°03′56″W / 42.35500°N 71.06556°W / 42.35500; -71.06556

The Boston Free Speech Rally[1] took place at the Boston Common on August 19, 2017.[2][3][4] The organizers and participants were characterized as adherents of the alt-lite, a loosely organized right-wing political movement. Around 50 people attended the rally, and they were met by tens of thousands of counterprotesters.[5][6]


The rally was organized by John Medlar and others in the Boston Free Speech Coalition.[7] It was intended to feature Kyle Chapman, Joe Biggs, Shiva Ayyadurai, and Samson Racioppi as speakers,[8][9] as well as Gavin McInnes, conservative activist Cassandra Fairbanks and Holocaust denier Augustus Sol Invictus.[10]

Though the rally itself had been planned weeks in advance, it was ultimately eclipsed by the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12.[6] More than 30 people were injured at the Charlottesville rally following violent clashes between protesters and counterprotesters,[11][12] and a woman was killed and 35 others were injured after a white supremacist rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters.[13] The events in Charlottesville drew concern among Boston officials that the Free Speech Rally might see similar violence; as such, Invictus, who had attended the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, was asked by rally organizers not to appear "from a PR standpoint", and McInnes and Fairbanks withdrew as speakers.[9][10]


A large group of people stand outdoors in the Boston Common
Counterprotesters gather in the Boston Common to oppose the rally

The city deployed more than 500 police officers to the event, which was held at the Parkman Bandstand.[14] Police erected barricades and blocked streets near the rally, and weapons of any kind were banned.[8][15][16]

The rally ended early, and all rally attendees left by 1:00 pm.[17] Most of the planned speeches did not take place.[18] Police maintained a gap of 35–40 yards between the rally and counterprotesters; due to this and lack of any amplification, only those within the bandstand could hear the speeches.[19][20] Samson Racioppi, who was scheduled to speak, said "I really think it was supposed to be a good event by the organizers, but it kind of fell apart".[21] No members of the press were allowed to report from the bandstand.[22]

Meanwhile, whereas the rally drew only a handful of attendees, between 30,000 and 40,000 people participated in the counterprotest march from Roxbury to the Boston Common. The event was largely peaceful, with no injuries reported as of the afternoon of August 19.[17][23] 33 people were arrested, largely for disorderly conduct. There were a few arrests for assaults on police officers.[24] During a news conference in the afternoon of August 19, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said that some rocks and bottles filled with urine had been thrown at police officers but that overall there was "very little injury and property damage".[21]


According to The Boston Globe in February 2021, "Even though few came to support the Free Speech Rally, it fueled the alt-right movement in Boston".[25] The organizers of the rally ultimately joined Resist Marxism, a far-right organization founded by Kyle Chapman. Following bad publicity stemming from the revelation of internal conversations showing the group using racist and antisemitic slurs and rhetoric, and fantasizing about attacking leftist activists, Resist Marxism disbanded.[25][26] Many of its members ultimately joined Super Happy Fun America, which has been described as a "front" for Resist Marxism.[25][27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glum, Julia (August 19, 2017). "Boston Free Speech Rally Ends Early After 15K Counter-Protesters Drown It Out". Newsweek.
  2. ^ Sanchez, Ray (August 19, 2017). "Thousands march in Boston in protest of controversial rally". CNN. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  3. ^ DeCosta-Klipa, Nik; Dwyer, Dialynn; Waller, John (August 15, 2017). "What we know about the 'free speech' rally on Boston Common". Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  4. ^ Keneally, Meghan; Katersky, Aaron (August 18, 2017). "Boston ready for 'free speech' rally but 'we don't want hate groups'". ABC News. Archived from the original on August 18, 2017. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  5. ^ Owen, Tess (August 19, 2017). "How Boston's massive "free speech" rally fell apart". Vice News. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Boston "free speech" rally ends after counter-protesters take to streets". CBS News. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  7. ^ Irons, Meghan E. (August 15, 2017). "Who is the Boston Free Speech Coalition behind Saturday's rally?". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Malone, Scott (August 18, 2017). "Roadblocks, Weapons Bans as Boston Braces for 'Free Speech' Rally". Reuters. Archived from the original on September 7, 2017. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  9. ^ a b Levenson, Michael (August 14, 2017). "Speakers at 'free speech' rally dropping out". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Janik, Rachel (August 15, 2017). "Holocaust denier Augustus Invictus announces another campaign for the U.S. Senate". Southern Poverty Law Center. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017.
  11. ^ "Hospitals: 30 treated after Aug. 12 car attack". The Daily Progress. August 21, 2017. Archived from the original on August 21, 2017. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  12. ^ Yan, Holly; Sayers, Devon M.; Almasy, Steve (August 14, 2017). "Charlottesville white nationalist rally: What we know". CNN. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  13. ^ Duggan, Paul (December 11, 2018). "James A. Fields Jr. sentenced to life in prison in Charlottesville car attack". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ Pratt, Mark (August 18, 2017). "Boston Braces for Free Speech Rally: 'We Will Not Tolerate Violence'". Time. Archived from the original on August 18, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  15. ^ "Boston Free Speech Rally Permit Approved". CBS Boston. August 16, 2017. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  16. ^ "After Charlottesville, Boston aims to avert violence at 'Free Speech' rally". CNBC. Reuters. August 19, 2017. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  17. ^ a b Lowery, Wesley; Pazzanese, Christina (August 19, 2017). "Boston 'free speech' rally ends early amid flood of protesters; 27 people arrested". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  18. ^ Betancourt, Sarah (August 19, 2017). "Trump attacks Boston counter-protesters as 'anti-police agitators'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  19. ^ Healy, Beth (August 19, 2017). "'Free speech' rally speakers, little heard, end event quickly". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on August 20, 2017. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  20. ^ Caban, Antonio (August 21, 2017). "Boston 'Free Speech' Rally Organizer John Medlar Criticizes Rally Setup And Promises Future Events". WGBH. Archived from the original on March 18, 2019. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  21. ^ a b Jacobo, Julia; Shapiro, Emily; Shiff, Blair (August 19, 2017). "Dozens arrested, few injured as 40,000 protesters descend on Boston". ABC News. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  22. ^ Swasey, Benjamin (August 19, 2017). "'Free Speech' Rally Is Ended Early As Protesters Descend On The Common". WBUR. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  23. ^ "Boston march against right-wing rally draws thousands". BBC News. August 20, 2017. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  24. ^ Boston Police Department [@bostonpolice] (August 19, 2017). "#BPDUpdate: BPD reports additional arrests from today. New total for arrests = 33" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  25. ^ a b c Lum, Shelby (February 21, 2021). The history of Super Happy Fun America in Boston (Video). The Boston Globe.
  26. ^ Barnes, Luke (May 18, 2018). "Exclusive: Leaks show how Boston 'free speech' group acts as a front for far-right organizing". ThinkProgress. Archived from the original on May 18, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  27. ^ Sommer, Will (June 5, 2019). "Boston's Straight Pride Parade Is Even Worse Than You Think". The Daily Beast. Retrieved May 5, 2020.

External links[edit]