For a country searching for answers after Charlottesville, the people of Boston provided some.
In Boston, the “Free Speech Coalition” holding the rally claimed it wasn’t promoting white supremacy, Nazism, or racism, yet two of the four headliners were racist extremists. Kyle Chapman, who became a celebrity thanks to a viral video showing him smashing a post on an anti-fascist protestor, founded the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights—a “New Alt-Right Fight Club ready for street violence,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The other notorious speaker was Joe Biggs, who used to work for the racist and antsemitic website Inforwars. It’s no wonder that white supremacists showed up to cheer them on. In essence, the “Free Speech Coalition” attempted to use the concept of free speech as a cover for political racism that celebrates violence.
Opponents of hatred showed up. The overwhelming majority of the 40,000 people were counter-protestors, who compelled the organizers to cut short their rally. It was a mostly peaceful day, with only 33 arrests. Unlike in Charlottesville—when “law enforcement allowed the violence to unfold largely unchecked,” according to an analysis by the Huffington Post—Boston had an adequate numbers of police and they kept the two groups separated.
This isn’t to say that the effort of the Boston Police Department—which has a long history of brutality and discrimination against African-Americans—was ideal; on Saturday, they clashed with Black Lives Matters Protestors. Yet they generally kept the peace and provided a space for all to express their views, as abhorrent as some were. Authorities drew a bright line between expression and violence, and allowed a small group of racists to reveal themselves and face the court of public opinion.
The Boston example sent a clear message to hate groups. ACT for America, the nation’s largest anti-Muslim hate group, cancelled its plans for “America First” rallies in over 60 cities on September 9th.
Bostonians showed why our elected representatives must uphold the founding principles of our nation. On August 13, Human Rights First urged President Trump to reject unconditionally white supremacists who claim that they are acting under his name to “Make America Great Again.” It is becoming clear, however, that he will not do so in any real way.
The appalling failure of presidential moral leadership may have been a tipping point for many members the Republican Party. Unwilling to be seen as complicit with a president who refuses to condemn white supremacist violence, many have spoken out against both the violence and Trump’s equivocating response.
Let Boston be an example of how we as a nation move forward. Now is the time for the unified voice of congress to follow words with actions, and to demonstrate that the values of inclusion and non-discrimination are core American ideals worth fighting for. And that while free speech will be protected, violence will not be tolerated.
Congress can start by demanding that Trump follow Steve Bannon’s ouster by firing Sebastian Gorka, given the latter’s ties to far-right antisemitic groups in Hungary, and his proud wearing of a medal signaling affiliation with a successor organization to one the U.S. State Department says was “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany during World War II.”
As a co-equal branch of government, Congress has several means by which to compel Trump to take action on Gorka. Among these, Human Rights First has recommended that members of the Senate place holds on political appointees until Gorka is dismissed.
A second area for action is hate crime prevention. In particular, we urge support for legislation like S. 662, the NO HATE Act, and other efforts to improve hate crime prevention, response, and data collection. The NO HATE Act builds the capacity of states to collect and report accurate data and establish hotlines to improve responses to hate crime.
This is a moment of reckoning for our country and for members of Congress across the political spectrum. If the president will not safeguard American ideals, it is incumbent upon our other elected leaders—Republican and Democrat alike—to give meaning to the view that racism and antisemitism violate our most firmly held beliefs. History is watching.