The far right pollutes Boston Common

May 17, 2017

Alpana Mehta and Michael Fiorentino report on a mobilization of right-wing bigots in Boston--and discuss the challenges ahead in building the left-wing resistance.

AS MANY as 300 far-right goons descended on the Boston Common on May 13, cynically waving the banner of "free speech" as a cover for propagating their vile message of white supremacy.

The large turnout--certainly one of the biggest in Boston in recent memory--shows that the far right has found an effective model for mobilizing that has now leapfrogged across the country, from Berkeley to Boston. This represents a real danger that can't be ignored.

Unfortunately, the small size of the counterdemonstration in Boston--and the disorientation that marked the organizing for it--reveals significant challenges for the left to overcome in order to build an effective anti-fascist opposition.

No one can take seriously the far right's claim to be standing up for their rights. An article in The Goldwater made its intentions clear: "Organizers have encouraged people to bring heavyweight flag poles, weighted gloves, pepper spray. Attendees should also bring helmets, shin guards, goggles, respirators, and other body armor. The event is not to seek violence but to show MA that Boston is not filled with whining liberal faggots."

Far-right demonstrators rally on the Boston Common
Far-right demonstrators rally on the Boston Common

The far-right organizers who called the event were inspired by the recent violence in Berkeley, California, and wanted to send a message to their troll army that they could mobilize openly in any city, even one with a liberal reputation like Boston.

The rally drew in the reactionaries of all kinds, from open white power thugs to the paranoid, law enforcement-backed Oath Keepers militia. Even the bizarre but dangerous Proud Boys cult planned on making a day out of it.

IN A sign of their growing confidence, far rightists previously infiltrated a Boston-area meeting dedicated to organizing a response to their hate rally. Two of their members entered our meeting space, while our security team successfully kept out two others, including neo-Nazi celebrity Sam Hyde.

The right wingers posted audio of the meeting on Facebook, as well as video footage that showed numerous left activists, including the authors of this article. The bigots posted names and personal phone numbers in a clear attempt to intimidate our side.

Unfortunately, these developments aren't unique to Boston. The far right is gaining considerable ground under Trump--who is no stranger to violent rhetoric himself, having urged supporters at campaign rallies on numerous occasions to brutalize protesters.

While the bigots' rampages in Berkeley have received the most coverage, there have been similar demonstrations in New Orleans, Austin and elsewhere. The number of their active foot soldiers is still relatively small, but prominent white nationalists like Richard Spencer have a real following, and their rallies today number in the hundreds, rather than dozens, as in the past.

In fact, on the same day as the white supremacists rallied in Boston, Spencer led a procession of torch-bearing racists in Virginia to protest the dismantling of a monument to the slave-owning Confederacy.

At their demonstrations, the far right is seeking to do several things--develop a broader audience led by hard-line right-wing organizations; build up new organizers who can lead their own forces into violence; and legitimize their method of provocations.

This rise of the far right is cause for serious concern. The left needs a strategy to counter their political momentum while simultaneously building up our forces for a whole series of struggles against the Trump agenda.

THERE IS huge potential in Boston for building a strong opposition to the far right.

The city saw some of the largest and most militant Black Lives Matter demonstrations during the wave of protests against police murder at the end of 2014. Boston had large turnouts for the big mobilizations against Trump and his administration--the Women's March, the airport uprisings against the Muslim travel ban and more.

There are many thousands of people in Boston and the surrounding area who not only despise Trump, but want to show it. And if they despise Trump, they also despise the far-right monsters who have taken Trump's "victory" as a green light to organize.

Unfortunately, though, the counterdemonstration against the racists in Boston was confined to a segment of the radical left, numbering around 150 at most.

The counterprotest was dominated by the "Antifas" current of activists and their sympathizers, with their focus on a physical confrontation with the far right to the exclusion of other goals. Unfortunately, as was the case in Berkeley last month, the shortcomings of this strategy become obvious when the anti-fascists are outnumbered. There were only a few clashes between the two sides because of a huge police presence, but the physical danger was real.

The Antifas see themselves as acting on behalf of those who could be victims of the far right. Because of this, their strategy drives away those who would like to show their opposition to the right, but who don't want to be involved in a physical fight, for any number of reasons, ranging from fear of violence to vulnerability to state repression.

As members of the International Socialist Organization, we proposed, in the organizing meetings and discussions before the far-right rally, a different direction for a counterdemonstration.

Our goal was to mobilize the largest possible turnout of people opposed to the far right so that, first and foremost, we could prove on May 13 that the bigots are a small and hateful minority. Our side can do more than just physically challenge the far right--we can project our political message of an alternative to their hate and scapegoating.

If we are in a position to confront the fascists, it should be from a position of strength, where our numbers are great enough to drown out the fascists' hate speech and otherwise demoralize them, without depending on winning a physical fight.

We hoped that the endorsement of unions, such as the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Boston Public Library Professional Staff Association, would contribute to a wider turnout against the far right, mobilizing union members and involving others who want to turn the tide on Trump and his ilk.

Unfortunately, there was not enough support for our proposal. In the event, the counterdemonstration mobilized around the Antifas remained small and made up of only the existing left. The unions that had given their initial endorsements pulled back when it became clear that the counterdemonstration would be focused on physical confrontation alone.

Those of us who did counterprotest rightly stood up against the far-right menace. But this was a missed opportunity to confront the reactionaries with our greatest strength: in numbers.

This experience has to be discussed by the left in Boston and elsewhere, because we face a daunting challenge. Even if the counterprotest was the same size as the racists, this is far short of what is needed--and far short of what is possible in Boston.

The far right has tasted success now and isn't going away. The left needs to be able to rise to the challenge and mobilize a larger movement to drive them back.

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