The Boston Protests Revealed the Limits of Trumpism - 2017-08-21
The "free speech" rally in Boston this past weekend was organized by a half-dozen young people, college-aged and libertarian-minded. If on campus they were familiar figures—their designated spokesman was a film major and the leader of his college's chapter of Young Americans for Liberty—then off campus, as the rally they organized drew widespread attention, they were out of their depth. The young organizers had secured a few well-known figures from the alt-right to speak at the rally. There was Kyle Chapman, the muscular ex-con who became famous after wearing a gas mask to an alt-right rally in Berkeley and hitting a counter-protester in the face with a stick. There was Joe Biggs, the conspiracist radio host. And there was Augustus Invictus, who ran a long-shot bid for the U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016, and whose campaign there was undermined by revelations that he had denied the reality of the Holocaust and, as part of a pagan ritual, had filmed himself stabbing a goat to death and drinking its blood. Before the rally, Invictus was disinvited. The others came.
After Charlottesville, it was obvious that the Boston rally would be a national event. I met the organizers briefly on Thursday, on Boston Common, where they were busy disavowing the more obviously noxious parts of the movement. They said that they had been meeting with officials from the Boston Police Department, which had allowed the event's permit to stand on the condition that no backpacks or sticks would be allowed. The organizers had issued a statement on the rally's Facebook page telling members of the Ku Klux Klan not to come (there had been a rumor that some might show up) and asking those people who did attend not to bring provocative signs or materials. They spoke out against the Charlottesville rally and the people who had demonstrated there. They seemed eager to show an ideologically neutral commitment to the principle of free speech, despite the fact that their most prominent speakers came from the alt-right. At the last minute, the organizers had invited leaders of a local Black Lives Matter group to address the rally, though none accepted.
Well before noon on Saturday, the appointed time of the rally, its basic shape was obvious. A few dozen enthusiasts stood inside a gazebo in the center of Boston Common. They were surrounded by a vast, empty perimeter maintained by the police. Outside the perimeter, some forty thousand counter-protesters, by the police commissioner's estimate, had gathered. The counter-protesters outnumbered the protesters by something like four hundred to one. Inside the gazebo, the rally proceeded, though the scale of the counter-protest and the police presence meant that it ended early. (Chapman, for instance, did not get a chance to speak.) Decorum was kept. There were no deaths or significant injuries, and no property damage. There was also no obvious point. Free speech is a great principle and a fine slogan, but it did little to distinguish the protesters from the vast crowds of Bostonians opposing them, who were also speaking freely. The alt-right, like every political movement, votes with its feet. Fewer than a hundred people attended.