Mayor Michelle Wu said that Boston “must be the leading light” in coordinating efforts to stop hate in its tracks after a known white supremacist group demonstrated in the heart of downtown Boston and left one Black man injured.
“We know these threats are continuing to escalate across the country, and that Boston must be the leading light in how we are acting in a coordinated way and tackling and supporting our community members,” Wu said outside Boston Police Department headquarters while flanked by local, state and federal law enforcement officials and elected leaders Tuesday afternoon.
The FBI and Boston Police had no forewarning of Saturday’s demonstration of the Patriot Front, according to Joseph Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, and Boston Police Superintendent Gregory Long.
That no one knew about Patriot Front — widely recognized as a white supremacist organization — coming to Boston that day “speaks to their ability to organize. It speaks to their willingness to travel great distances … And it speaks to their discipline of how they want to come to a particular place and project their message of hatred,” said Robert Trestan, the New England Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League.
“There are no other white supremacist groups in the country right now that could assemble that many people without anyone knowing,” he added.
Bonavolonta said there is “a very clear definition and distinction of what the federal government can and cannot do when it comes to domestic terrorism investigations” that comes down to two main elements: “we cannot track or monitor domestic groups or police ideology” and that opening a federal investigation requires “existence of a potential federal crime, the threat or use of force or violence in conjunction with some sort of social or political agenda.”
The police are reviewing “a lot of video” from the violent confrontation that left local artist Charles Murrelle suffering from lacerations to his ring finger, head and eyebrow at the hands of members of the the Patriot Front — widely described as a white supremacist organization — and are attempting to identify individual members who may have participated in the assault, Long said.
“This is a clear Civil Rights violation and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” City Council President Ed Flynn said in a statement texted to the Herald. “Hate has no place in Boston.”
U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said that law enforcement will be reconvening to discuss ways that they can all be “more proactive” in responding to possible threats, but what makes it difficult for law enforcement is that the First Amendment protects the speech of Patriot Front so law enforcement can only really step in for threats.
She said law enforcement will monitor possible threats from extremist groups while acting “within the bounds of the Constitution.”
Rollins said that Saturday’s demonstration played in front of a backdrop of a national climate that “is really scary in this moment to a lot of impacted communities.”
That includes the June 27 death of unarmed Jayland Walker, 25 — who was shot at least 60 times by police in Akron, Ohio, in an event that began as a routine traffic stop, according to reports — as well as the mass shooting during an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Ill., she said.
She added that the Patriot Front demonstration was the third white supremacist-related event in Boston in 2022, following a smaller demonstration outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Jan. 22 where people held signs saying the hospital kills white people and a white Nationalist Social Club display during the St. Patrick’s Day parade where members held a banner to “keep Boston Irish.”
“We’ve said many times, hate does not have a place in Boston or Massachusetts,” Rollins said. “We are working hard to make sure that if there are any federal charges we can bring, or if there are any state charges that can be brought, we will be looking into this.”
The press conference was delayed nearly an hour and 20 minutes as some stakeholders were late to arrive for a community briefing that ran before the public statements, Wu said.
She described that meeting as an “extremely in-depth conversation with community members about where we are, about recent incidents in the city and the national trends that we are seeing with white supremacist groups and the public safety threat that this represents.”