The march was aimed at countering a Free Speech rally which marchers fear would be a platform for white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

Counterprotesters stand on the periphery of a Free Speech rally staged by conservative activists on Boston Common on August 19, 2017 in Boston.
Counterprotesters stand on the periphery of a Free Speech rally staged by conservative activists on Boston Common on August 19, 2017 in Boston. (AP)

Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

An estimated 15,000 counter-protesters marched through the city to historic Boston Common, where many gathered near a bandstand abandoned early by conservatives who had planned to deliver a series of speeches. Police vans later escorted the conservatives out of the area, and angry counter-protesters scuffled with armed officers trying to maintain order.

In total, about 27 arrests were made during protests surrounding the rally, largely for disorderly conduct, some for assault and battery, the police commissioner said.

“I want to thank all the people that came out to share that message of love, not hate – to fight back on racism, to fight back on anti-Semitism to fight back on the white supremacists that were coming to our city, the Nazi's that were coming to our city, I want to thank everyone that came here today,” Boston Mayor Marty Wals said.

Organisers of the conservative event, which had been billed as a "Free Speech Rally," had publicly distanced themselves from the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others who fomented violence in Charlottesville on August 12. A woman was killed at that Unite the Right rally, and scores of others were injured, when a car ploughed into counterdemonstrators.

"Well, we don't know if they are White Supremacists," police commissioners William Evans said. "I can tell you we did stop three individuals who ... every one of them had a ballistic vest on, and when we got the vests back to the station, one of them had a gun on them. So, I think there were people who came here to cause some harm. But we were lucky to get those three out of here and confiscate the vest."

He added, "So, between the bottles and everything else again, I am just fortunate that none of my officers got hurt, none of the public got hurt, and overall it was a good day for the city in saying that we won't tolerate hatred and bigotry in our city."

Fear of white nationalists

Opponents feared that white nationalists might show up in Boston anyway, raising the spectre of ugly confrontations in the first potentially large and racially charged gathering in a major US city since Charlottesville. But only a few dozen conservatives turned out for the rally on historic Boston Common and left early.

One of the planned speakers of the conservative activist rally said the event "fell apart."

Congressional candidate Samson Racioppi, who was among several slated to speak, told WCVB-TV that he didn't realize "how unplanned of an event it was going to be."

Some counter-protesters dressed entirely in black and wore bandannas over their faces. They chanted anti-Nazi and anti-fascism slogans, and waved signs that said: "Make Nazis Afraid Again," ''Love your neighbor," ''Resist fascism" and "Hate never made U.S. great." Others carried a large banner that read: "SMASH WHITE SUPREMACY."

Members of the Black Lives Matter movement later protested on the Common, where a Confederate flag was burned and protesters pounded on the sides of a police vehicle. 

"I came out today to show support for the black community and for all minority communities," said Rockeem Robinson, 21, a youth counsellor from Cambridge.

He said he wasn't concerned about his personal safety because he felt more support on his side.

Katie Griffiths, 48, a social worker also from Cambridge, who works with members of poor and minority communities, said she finds the hate and violence happening "very scary."

"I see poor people and people of colour being scapegoated," she said. "Unlearned lessons can be repeated."

Trump supporter chased

TV cameras showed a group of boisterous counter-protesters on the Common chasing a man with a Trump campaign banner and cap, shouting and swearing at him. But other counter-protesters intervened and helped the man safely over a fence into the area where the conservative rally was to be staged. Black-clad counter-protesters also grabbed an American flag out of an elderly woman's hands, and she stumbled and fell to the ground.

Yet Saturday's showdown was mostly peaceable, and after demonstrators dispersed, a picnic atmosphere took over with stragglers tossing beach balls, banging on bongo drums and playing reggae music.

President Donald Trump tweeted after the event, "Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you." followed shortly by, "Great job by all law enforcement officers and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh."

Free speech

The Boston Free Speech Coalition, which organised the event, said it has nothing to do with white nationalism or racism and its group is not affiliated with the Charlottesville rally organizers in any way.

Dating to 1634, Boston Common is the nation's oldest city park. The leafy downtown park is popular with locals and tourists and has been the scene of numerous rallies and protests for centuries.

Police tussle with counterprotesters near a Free Speech rally staged by conservative activists, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Boston.
Police tussle with counterprotesters near a Free Speech rally staged by conservative activists, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Boston. (AP)

Rallies also were planned in cities across the country, including Dallas, Atlanta and New Orleans.

Hundreds of people gathered at City Hall in Austin, Texas, Saturday morning, holding signs in support of racial equality. The Austin American-Statesmen reported organizers for the Rally Against White Supremacy estimated about 1,200 people were in attendance.

In Laguna Beach, California, a small anti-racism rally was held one day before the group America First! planned to hold a demonstration in the same place that's being billed as an "Electric Vigil for the Victims of Illegals and Refugees."

Organisers said they held a separate gathering in order to avoid a confrontation. Several hundred people showed up Saturday. They held signs with a variety of messages, from "Black Lives Matter" to "Respect Earth." One said: "Make America Human Again." Participants also were urged to tie coloured ribbons around trees and lamp posts to symbolise unity.

Source: AP