Following the fatal violence at a white supremacist gathering in Virginia, public safety officials in Boston are preparing for weekend demonstrations on Boston Common. But they admit they're unsure just what to expect, partly because city officials have been unable to contact organizers of a controversial rally planned for Saturday.
"All we know is what we're seeing on social media," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said at a Monday press conference during which he and Gov. Charlie Baker denounced the message of hate groups.
The rally, organized by a group called Boston Free Speech, got the attention of local officials because it promoted speakers who were also in Charlottesville last weekend.
"As the police said, as Commissioner [William] Evans said, they're working trying to find out who this group is, what they're all about," Walsh added. "And we're certainly going to encourage them not to march in our city."
As Boston officials look for information about the organizers, they're asking reporters what leads they have.
WBUR's Bruce Gellerman has been looking into the planned rally and speakers, and joined WBUR's Morning Edition to discuss what he's found.
Bob Oakes: So an unusual step, asking reporters what information they have.
Bruce Gellerman: Very strange. I've never heard that from any official ever.
Alright, so tell us what you found.
Well it's been frustrating to say the least. I kind of feel like I've been walking on a wet sponge as I've been trying to report this story — everything about it feels squishy. You know, I live by an old journalism adage that says: "If your mother says she loves you, you check it out." But every step I've taken trying to track down the facts of this one, even the simple stuff, has been really tough.
Well, you just heard Steve Brown's story about Boston Mayor Walsh saying the organizers of the Free Speech Rally hadn't filed for a permit. But in The Boston Globe they reported the name of a 23-year-old guy from Cambridge who said he had applied. I tried to check it out, I tried to check him. I called him several times, got no answer. I called the Parks Department, which issues these kinds of permits and wound up getting a call from the mayor's office. They said they'd get back to me but the never did.
So we don't know about the permit regarding the rally on Boston Common.
Right, something that simple. But it gets even a lot stranger. A flier promoting the rally appears on what purports to be the Boston Free Speech Facebook page. It lists several people as speakers and yesterday on Radio Boston, host Meghna Chakrabarti spoke with one of the people, Shiva Ayyadurai.
He's one of the Republicans running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Elizabeth Warren.
That's right. He's got four degrees from from MIT, including an Ph.D., and he's from India. He said he sent Warren a DNA kit, challenging whether she's a Native American Indian. Anyway, Meghna spoke with him:
Meghna Chakrabarti: Just so I can get some clarity here, who specifically invited you to speak this weekend on Boston Common?
Shiva Ayyadurai: I think one of the organizers from there called my assistant. You know, I get a lot of calls as a public figure, and I was just very happy to attend a free speech event.
So he says he didn't even know who invited him. It was tough to find an answer even to a simple question like that.
So we don't even know who's planning the rally?
I don't, and couldn't find out. But let me give you another example. The rally Facebook page responded to my message asking for information and they sent me a press release condemning the Charlottesville, Virginia, violence. They flatly deny any association with groups that organized that event and they say they're going to hold a moment of silence this Saturday. But another person on their Facebook flier listed as a speaker was Augustus Invictus.
Invictus, who ran in the Republican primary against Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio last year?
That's right. You might remember he got about a thousand votes and during the campaign he said he once killed and drank goats' blood in a pagan ritual. He runs the website The Revolutionary Conservative. He denies he's a racist, but says he opposes "feminism, deviancy and the futile denial of biological reality." He says "leftism is an ideology of death and must be defeated." So I called him up and asked him who invited him to the Boston Free Speech Rally.
Augustus Invictus: I know who invited me. I couldn't tell you however who is organizing the event. I was invited by someone who was in contact with the organizers and I can't give his name because he's a private citizen, but he just made the connection.
It's bizarre, Bob. He couldn't or wouldn't say. And then he told me he had been disinvited.
Augustus Invictus: I found out from yet a fourth person that my appearance was cancelled because of the threats of violence by the left. The right doesn't threaten rallies to shut them down. The right never threatens violence. The right only responds with violence when attacked.
And then he told me he just might show up anyhow in Boston and speak this Saturday because of the statements Mayor Walsh made during yesterday's news conference.
So that's not everyone?
No. There's a guy named Joe Biggs. He was also noted as a speaker on the free speech facebook page. Biggs is a decorated combat war veteran. He was a reporter for Infowars, that's the Alex Jones, kind of far right, conspiracy theorist online blog. And I spoke with Biggs and he couldn't tell me who invited him to the rally.
Joe Biggs: One of the Twitter accounts called Proud Boys USA or something. I saw the flier and I go man, I was like I'd love to go speak at that. I was like I've always wanted to go to Boston, I've never been there before. So they're like well **** man we'll add you onto the thing as a speaker.
Biggs disavowed any support for racists, telling me that his wife was from Guyana. But on his Twitter feed last Saturday he said: "There's nothing wrong with white people being proud of being white." He says he's just all about free speech.
He mentioned the Proud Boys USA when he spoke with you?
Yeah, that's right. That's a group that calls themselves "Western chauvinists." They're led by a guy named Gavin McInnes. I tried to reach him, couldn't. He was named as a speaker at the Boston free speech rally website. He co-founded Vice Magazine and he has a reputation for vulgar, sexist rants. I think he'd make Lenny Bruce blush. But McInnes now says he's not coming to Boston. He accused city officials of trying to incite a riot to discredit right wing activists who planned to rally in Boston.
So kind of strange and frustrating story that you are going to keep on top of this week, Bruce?
The audio atop this post includes the above transcribed conversation with Bruce Gellerman, as well as a story from WBUR's Steve Brown about the city's preparations for the weekend demonstrations.