A week after racist thugs armed with clubs fought police and civil rights supporters in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday’s events in Boston came as a welcome relief.

A rally that was supposed to involve some of the same groups behind an ugly melee on Aug. 12, fizzled in the face of a massive counterprotest Saturday. Fewer that 50 people showed up to attend the actual rally, while a reported 40,000 showed up to oppose them.

It was good to see so many people stand up for equality only one week after Heather Heyer lost her life in Charlottesville for doing just that. Thanks to the counter protest, the world could clearly see that we are not the nation of torch-bearing extremists that had filled their television screens repeatedly over the previous week.

But those of us cheering the counter-protesters’ cause should not forget something: The people who came to the rally in Boston also had rights.

They had the right to peacefully assemble. They had the right to speak.

If those rights were not actually denied in Boston, they were at least eclipsed by the massive response. The protesters didn’t get their chance to speak.


Freedom of speech belongs to everyone, not just those in the majority at a particular time and place. In fact, popular opinion never needs to be protected, only unpopular opinion does.

And there were some very unpopular views that were supposed to be aired Saturday. The speakers list included Kyle Chapman, a street-fighting, right-wing organizer who believes that white males to be the biggest victims of racial discrimination in America, and Joe Biggs, a former writer for the “Infowars” program, who promoted the fact-free “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory (alleging that Democrats connected with Hillary Clinton were running a child-sex ring).

But organizers claimed that the Boston rally was supposed to be about free speech, not white supremacy. Explicitly racist groups had been disinvited and some other speakers pulled out. All the remaining speakers publicly disavowed racism. Before the any speeches could be made, however, the rally was shut down in the face of the overwhelming response.

Many will see that as a good outcome, but objecting to what someone has to say before they have had a chance to say it is dangerous. In part because, as Charlottesville showed, there are extremists who want to provoke over-reactions that help them sell the idea that they are being persecuted. The image of the defeated protesters being ushered out of the Boston Common by police will play well with those who believe that they are not free to express their beliefs.

Nevertheless, if a huge crowd of peaceful counter protesters in Boston looked like an out-of-scale answer to a tiny rally, it was a completely appropriate response to the events a week earlier in Virginia, in which a Nazi sympathizer intentionally drove his car into a crowd, killing Heyer and hurting 19 others.

Pro-equality, anti-racist protesters should continue to demonstrate and rally for their views. But they don’t need to silence the opposition. They just need to be willing to talk back.

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