Boston Rallies Against the Far-Right – The Future of Anti-Fascism?

By Members of Black Rose/Rosa Negra – Boston

Despite the efforts of the fascists and white supremacists to rebrand themselves after their attacks in Charlottesville, 40,000 counter-protesters turned out in Boston on Saturday to oppose their so called “free speech rally” in the Boston Common. The counter-protesters outnumbered the fascists about 1,000 to 1, a clear improvement since the previous such event in Boston on May 13, when similar forces were able to take to the streets without significant numbers in opposition. This time there were multiple counter-protests: Black Lives Matter organized a rally and march from Roxbury, multiple socialist organizations led a large demonstration in front of the State House, and many individuals also gathered directly around the area cordoned off by the police for the “free speech rally” to confront it directly. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh even got in on the action in Roxbury, despite having previously urged people to avoid the Boston Common rally point, and allowing the city to grant the rally a permit. Black Rose/Rosa Negra members were involved in a variety of different aspects of the counter-demonstrations.

After Charlottesville, several of the major speakers and organizations participating in the far-right rally backed out, including neo-Nazi Augustus Invictus, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and Alt-Right figure “Baked Alaska” (Tim Treadstone). Even with these high profile withdrawals, fascists were active in Boston before the march, and were spotted outside of Black Lives Matter direct action trainings the night before. But ultimately on the day of, only a couple dozen fascists successfully made their way onto the bandstand where the rally was to be held. Many were blocked by counter-protesters and several of those mulling around outside the cordon were chased off as the day went on. Although they were massively outnumbered the fascists still sought a propaganda victory. There was an attempt to stage the knocking over of an elderly Trump supporter to loudly blame it on anti-fascists in front of right wing media and any other reporters willing to grant them a platform. The police used this incident to surround and search the bags of anti-fascists.

The police remained firmly on the side of the white supremacists. Their entire infrastructure was erected in order to defend the fascists, and they proactively stepped in to escort them out of the rally. The police also beat kettled counter-protesters, mostly people of color, with clubs and used copious pepper spray. They later equipped themselves with gas masks, ready to deploy tear gas, before a large enough crowd turned them back. Their role as agents of white supremacist violence in a reciprocal relationship with white supremacist vigilantes was on full display, as it has been at similar rallies since Charlottesville. Regardless, much of the media has lauded the conduct of the police at the demonstrations.

Shutting the Fascists Down

The multiple different actions, with varying proximity to the fascist demo, allowed for the separation of time and space necessary for a diversity of tactics to be meaningfully implemented without imposing them on those wishing to participate in other ways. This means that there was adequate opportunity for those wanting to physically shut down and disrupt the demonstration, as well as for those who wanted to vocalize their opposition without physically putting themselves in the path of the fascists. In general there was little conflict between those participating in different ways and overall the different elements of the counter-demonstration were complementary. Only a small number of the fascist attendees were able to enter the bandstand, and those who did only lasted an about an hour before being escorted out by cops.

Antifa was not a fringe element at this action. Militant anti-fascism was generally accepted and black blocs even received applause from hundreds of people. Militant anti-fascist actions were not even primarily carried out by organized Antifa groups but predominantly by working class community members, particularly people of color, who simply did not accept the presence of fascists in their community. Anti-fascism should therefore not be seen as a narrowly defined organization, but as a broader practice of community defense. Organized anti-fascists also acted in solidarity with other parts of the demonstrations, serving as protection for vulnerable people, as well as giving out snacks and water (a necessity in the heat).  

The presence of thousands of people standing in solidarity with those on the front lines against the fascists was also crucial for disrupting the rally, simply putting more bodies in the way and illustrating popular opposition to fascism. With the mutual solidarity between those resisting fascism in different ways, anti-fascists were able to demonstrate that contrary to the “both sides” narrative that until very recently was being pushed by much of the media and political elite, that they are simply seeking to defend their communities from an emboldened fascist movement.

The Future of Anti-Fascism

This action in Boston demonstrates that even in deeply racist cities, anti-racist and anti-fascist action has a mass appeal. This even included general solidarity with more militant tactics. This should be seen in the context of Charlottesville, which has seemed to bring to light the real danger of white supremacist and fascist violence in a way the long list of white supremacist violence before did not. It is important, however, to note that despite the police violence and the militancy of working class people much of the media coverage has focused on and lauded the supposed nonviolent nature of the whole affair, including specific praise for the police, meaning this acceptance is not guaranteed to continue. This raises the potential for the cooptation of anti-fascist language by certain sections of the institutional left such as NGOs. This also makes emphasizing the role of the police in defending fascists and white supremacy as a whole an essential task as well as highlighting the necessity for community self defense projects as a central component of the anti-fascist struggle.

With 67 “America First” rallies being canceled in the aftermath of Charlottesville and Boston this is a major victory worth celebrating. But it is important that anti-fascism does not simply mean an opposition to racist rallies. Rather, it must be a daily practice of disrupting the ability of fascists to organize as well as building autonomous power within communities, especially communities of color, in order to increase the ability to defend people from the racist violence and overturn the white supremacist system as a whole. If anti-fascists are to be successful, they must be rooted in and accountable to their communities and those in danger of victimization by the forces of white supremacy both state sanctioned and individual.

The right appears to be fracturing somewhat, although the refusal of Trump to disavow them has prevented complete demoralization. It is important to continue to play up divisions within the right (the whole point of their actions in Charlottesville was to unite them after all) such as those that led to the Three Percenters giving a national stand down order after Charlottesville and to prevent the forces of reaction from forming into a more coherent coalition. It is important as well not to overstate our victory. The threat is not vanquished and white supremacist violence both by individuals and the state remains a real and pressing danger. However, we can and must build on our victories to defend ourselves and our communities and build a world in which fascism would have no room to rise in the first place.

If you enjoyed this article we recommend the interview “Antifa Means No Free Speech for Fascism” by historian and Black Rose/Rosa Negra member Mark Bray. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Antifa, The Anti-FascistHandbook.” See the Black Rose/Rosa Negra statement on Charlottesville “Mourn for the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living.