Boston, where officials had pledged to enforce a policy of zero tolerance for violence, had been facing dueling demonstrations, but a rally to promote “free speech” was brief and unamplified beyond the small bandstand where it was held. The event, whose participants appeared to number only in the dozens, was undercut by police planning and starved by an enormous buffer zone between the handful of protesters and the overwhelming numbers of their opponents.
Organizers of the speech rally had said they were appealing to “libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, classical liberals, Trump supporters or anyone else who enjoys their right to free speech.”
“All of us here, in many ways, are true patriots because, in spite of that noise out there, we’re here to stand up for something very fundamental, which is called free speech,” Shiva Ayyadurai, an entrepreneur who is running a long-shot Republican Senate campaign, told the rallygoers, according to a video posted on YouTube.
But thousands of others, fearing that the free speech event would be a platform for neo-Nazis and white nationalists, joined a robust counterprotest.
“This city has a history of fighting back against oppression, whether it’s dumping tea in the harbor or a bunch of dudes standing around with bandannas screaming at neo-Nazis,” said a 21-year-old protester who identified himself only as “Frosty” and wore an American flag to obscure much of his face.
Some counterprotesters shouted down their opponents — “No Nazis! No K.K.K.! No fascist U.S.A.!” — as state troopers used their bikes to keep rival demonstrators apart.
“We didn’t want for what happened in Virginia to happen here,” William B. Evans, Boston’s police commissioner, said at a news conference after Saturday’s main protests. “We didn’t want them at each other’s throats.”
The free speech rally, which had been scheduled to run from noon until 2 p.m., concluded by about 12:50 p.m. Mr. Evans, who said the event ended early by mutual agreement between the authorities and the event’s organizers, said the police had helped the demonstrators get into police wagons as part of a prearranged “exit strategy.” It was then, he said, that “we had some kids block the street, it got a little confrontational, but they were given every opportunity to move.”