BOSTON – Supporters of a small, conservative "free speech rally" held Saturday in Boston said that despite being outnumbered by tens of thousands of counterprotesters, their event was a success.
Demonstrators protesting against racism and white supremacy had descended upon historic Boston Common, dwarfing the rally's few dozen attendees and leading to what appeared to be an abrupt end of the event. Less than an hour after rallygoers arrived, they were escorted out of the area by police, as boisterous counterprotesters scuffled with officers.
But event organizers, speakers and participants say coverage of the event has been mischaracterized and that it accomplished its purpose — to talk about the importance of free speech.
"We were there to discuss the spectrum of American views," said Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, who gave the keynote at the rally.
Ayyadurai, a Cambridge technology entrepreneur who is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, added that the crowd was a politically and racially diverse group of mostly students.
In the days leading up to Saturday's long-planned event, organizers publicly distanced themselves from the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left a woman dead and many more injured.
Addressing concerns that a similar event might come to Boston, Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh had denounced "hate groups" that would potentially attend Saturday's gathering.
But when asked about the atmosphere at the Parkman Bandstand on the Common where supporters gathered Saturday, participants described the opposite of what opponents had feared.
"I was holding one of the 'Black Lives Do Matter' signs," said attendee April Sutherland, 25, of Seattle. Photos show the signs being held up as Ayyadurai is speaking. "It was powerful to have our voices heard. The police were very good at escorting us out (and) we were met with people who were so encouraging. Forty thousand people were objecting to something they didn't realize was a lie."
Melissa Smith, 32, of Brookline, said she participated in the rally because free speech is important to her.
"(The event) was very successful," she said.
Despite multiple confrontations, fights breaking out and objects getting thrown at police, authorities touted the events as mostly peaceful, reporting a total of 33 arrests for disorderly conduct, assaulting a police officer and other offenses. Those arrested are expected in court this week. Officials say about 40,000 people attended.
The counterdemonstration received praise from Walsh, who said Boston "stood for peace and love" and President Donald Trump, who said the people in Boston were "speaking out" against bigotry and hate. Trump added in a Twitter message that "Our country will soon come together as one!"