Conservative activists and leftist counter-protesters prepared for a confrontation on Boston Common that could draw thousands a week after a demonstration in Virginia turned deadly.
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Thousands of leftist counterprotesters marched peacefully through downtown Boston on Saturday as their march began, chanting anti-Nazi slogans and waving signs condemning white nationalism ahead of a rally being staged by conservative activists a week after a Virginia demonstration turned deadly.
Police Commissioner William Evans said Friday that 500 officers — some in uniform, others undercover — would be deployed to keep the two groups apart on Saturday. 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.
Organizers of the midday event, billed as a "Free Speech Rally," have publicly distanced themselves from the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others who fomented violence in Charlottesville on August 12. A woman was killed at that Unite the Right rally, and scores of others were injured, when a car plowed into counter-demonstrators.
Opponents feared that white nationalists might show up in Boston anyway, raising the specter of ugly confrontations in the first potentially large and racially charged gathering in a major U.S. city since Charlottesville.
Events also were planned Saturday for Atlanta and Dallas.
Counter-protesters from Black Lives Matter and other groups denouncing racism and anti-Semitism planned to march from the city's Roxbury neighborhood to the Common, and another group planned to rally on the steps of the Statehouse overlooking the sprawling park.
The permit issued for Saturday's noon-2 p.m. event on Boston Common came with severe restrictions, including a ban on backpacks, sticks and anything that could be used as a weapon.
The Boston Free Speech Coalition, which organized the event, said on Facebook that it's not affiliated with the Charlottesville rally organizers in any way. "We are not associated with any alt-right or white supremacist groups," it said this week, insisting: "We are strictly about free speech."
Black Lives Matter said Friday that members from around the U.S. planned to march Saturday in Boston.
Walsh said the city would do whatever is necessary to head off violence initiated by either side. "If anyone gets out of control — at all — it will be shut down," he said.
"We will not tolerate any misbehavior, violence or vandalism whatsoever," said Evans, Boston's top cop.
Dating to 1634, Boston Common is the nation's oldest city park. The leafy downtown park is popular with locals and tourists and has been the scene of numerous rallies and protests for centuries.