A free-speech rally, minus the free speech

A free-speech rally, minus the free speech, by Jeff Jacoby.

Participants in the “Boston Free Speech Rally” had been demonized as a troupe of neo-Nazis prepared to reprise the horror that had erupted in Charlottesville. They turned out to be a couple dozen courteous people linked by little more than a commitment to — surprise! — free speech. …

One of the rally’s organizers, a 23-year-old libertarian named John Medlar, had insisted vigorously that its purpose was not to endorse white supremacy. “The rally I’m helping to organize is about promoting Free Speech as a COUNTER to political violence,” he had posted on Facebook. “There are NO WHITE SUPREMACISTS speaking at this rally.”

Indeed, nothing about the tiny rally, whose organizers had a permit, seemed in any way connected with bigotry or hatred. One of the speakers was Shiva Ayyadurai, an immigrant from India who is seeking the Republican nomination in next year’s US Senate race. As Ayyadurai spoke, his supporters held signs proclaiming “Black Lives Do Matter.”

But he and the others who gathered at the Parkman Bandstand had never stood a chance of competing with the rumor that neo-Nazis were coming to Boston. That toxic claim was irresponsibly fueled by Mayor Marty Walsh, who denounced the planned rally — “Boston does not want you here” — even though organizers were at pains to stress that they had no connection to Charlottesville’s racial agenda and intended to focus on the importance of free speech.

What happened on Saturday was both impressive and distressing.

A massive counter-protest, 40,000 strong, showed up to denounce a nonexistent cohort of racists.

You would never have guessed that from watching the accounts on the nightly news.