This weekend, Boston Common was the site of a controversial Boston Free Speech rally, organized by the Boston Free Speech Coalition, on August 19. An organizer and spokesman for the group is John Medlar, a 23-year-old Fitchburg State University student from Newton.
Medlar worked all week in the Boston media to distance his group from the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and alt-right protesters who went to Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12. That rally, which protested the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, led to the violence that killed one woman when a car drove into a group of counter-protesters.
Although the city of Boston had hoped that Medlar would reschedule the event in light of Charleston, the group was granted a permit on August 16.
Here’s what you need to know about Medlar and his group.
1. Medlar’s Group Says It Would not Provide a Platform for ‘Racism or Bigotry’
Medlar and the Boston Free Speech Coalition spent the past week distancing themselves from the organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charleston. On August 15, the group posted on Facebook that it is not affiliated with those groups and doesn’t offer its platform to “racism or bigotry.”
“While we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech and defend that basic human right, we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry. We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence,” the statement on Facebook read. “We denounce the actions, activities, and tactics of the so-called Antifa movement. We denounce the normalization of political violence.”
The group added that they are a “coalition of libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and independents and we welcome all individuals and organizations from any political affiliations that are willing to peaceably engage in open dialogue about the threats to, and importance of, free speech and civil liberties.”
Boston Free Speech’s rally was the second rally of its kind this year at the Common’s Parkman Bandstand. There was a rally on May 13, which attracted counter-protesters and there were a few confrontations. The Boston Herald noted that two people were taken away in handcuffs. Medlar told the Boston Globe that he was involved in organizing that event, although police said Boston Free Speech was not the main organizer.
2. Fitchburg State University Distanced Themselves From Medlar & Says It Had no Involvement
Since Medlar is a film student at Fitchburg State University, the school’s president, Richard S. Lapidus, released a statement distancing themselves from the student.
“It has come to our attention that one of our students may be an organizer of the proposed Boston Free Speech rally planned for this weekend on Boston Common,” the statement read. “Another student expressed in a recent letter to me, ‘I am hoping the upcoming rally will indeed call for freedom of speech, but not use it as a guise to take away the freedoms of others.'”
Lapidus added, “The university does not have any involvement in the Boston Free Speech event. Nor is there a recognized Fitchburg State campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty.”
The Telegram notes that Medlar also leads the university’s Young Americans for Liberty group, which Lapidus says is also not recognized. The Young Americans for Liberty is a group that supports libertarian ideas and has several chapters at universities across the country.
Although Lapidus said the university doesn’t recognize Medlar’s chapter, it is listed on the Young Americans website.
3. Medlar’s Rally Lost 2 of Its Key Speakers – Augustus Invictus & Gavin McInnes
Medlar’s rally was without two major speakers. Augustus Invictus, who runs The Revolutionary Conservative and was an organizer of the Charlottesville rally, and Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of Vice and the founder of Proud Boys, both dropped out.
Medlar told MassLive that the speakers pulled out because of the “panic and confusion” and “high emotions” after Charlottesville.
However, The Boston Globe reported that there was tension between Invictus and Boston Free Speech. The Orlando-based activist told the Globe that the group wasn’t happy about his calls for a “second American civil war.”
“We do not support him due to his willingness to support violence, as well as his Holocaust denial,” one member of the group who only told the Glove his name is “Louis,” said. “So he has been disinvited, and he has pulled out.”
Medlar admitted that the list of speakers kept changing because of the uncertainty that hovered around the event before they finally got a permit. The decision to uninvite Medlar also turned off some speakers.
He also posted on his Facebook page that he reached out to Black Lives Matter Boston to ask if they would like to have a speaker. “As strong believers of free speech, we fully support your tight to counter-protest the various other speakers at this rally. Stay safe and have fun on Saturday,” Medlar wrote to them.
In an interview with WCVB before the rally got a permit, Medlar said Boston Free Speech does “feel responsible and we do have a duty to see this through and to make sure that it is as organized, as clean and coordinated and, most importantly, as safe as possible.”
4. Medlar Says No Weapons Were Allowed at the Rally – Including Flagpoles
“They will not be allowing people to bring weapons of any kind, anything that could be used as a weapon, so blunt instruments like flagpoles,” Medlar told CBS Boston. “They will be allowing people to bring flags, just not attached to any pole or stick.”
Medlar also told WCVB that he is dissuading people from bringing “overly inflammatory symbols.”
5. Mayor Marty Walsh Advised People to Stay Away From Boston Common
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh advised Bostonians to stay away from Boston Common on Saturday. During a press conference with Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Barker, Walsh said he spoke with the Southern Poverty Law Center about dealing with white supremacists. They recommended against telling counterprotesters to confront them.
“They say that interacting with these groups just gives them a platform to spread their message of hate,” Walsh said, CBS Boston reports. “They recommend that people should not confront these rallies. So we’re urging everyone to stay away from the Common.”
Walsh said 500 police officers were there and hundreds more could be called should anything happen.
“There have been questions about why we granted a permit for the rally tomorrow,” Walsh said. “The courts have made it abundantly clear. They have the right to gather, no matter how repugnant their views are. But they don’t have the right to create unsafe conditions. They have the right to free speech. In return, they have to respect our city.”
“The police are going to be there in full force,” Medlar told CBS Boston. “They’re going to have physical barriers around the Parkman Bandstand separating the rallygoers from counter-protesters to make sure that everyone stays safe. They’re going to be escorting people in and escorting people out. If things get out of hand, they will evacuate people.”
A group called Fight Supremacy was there to counter-protest the Boston Free Speech Rally. Over 12,000 Facebook users checked off that they are going to be there. However, CBS Boston points out that the counter-protesters did not have a permit.