Activist Charles Morrell III told police he was thrown to the ground and kicked by members of the group outside the Back Bay train station, according to a police report. A photo by a photographer from the Boston Herald who circulated on social networks shows a walker pushing Morrell against a telephone pole with a shield. The police report says Morrell was treated for injuries to his right ring finger, head and left eyebrow at Tufts Medical Center.
Police spokesman Andre Watson said the group did not have a permit, which he said is not uncommon for protests.
The march was organized by the Patriot Front, an extremist group linked to neo-Nazis. U.S. attorney Rachael Rollins linked the march to other white supremacist protests this year, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
While First Amendment considerations limit law enforcement’s ability to prevent such occurrences, Rollins said his office “will think strategically about how we’re going to address this, so that communities feel empowered.” security”.
Over the holiday weekend, community leaders including Wu condemned the protest. “To the white supremacists who walked through downtown today: When we walk, we don’t hide our faces. Your hatred is as cowardly as it is disgusting, and it goes against everything Boston stands for,” Wu wrote on Twitter.
A national group with a chapter in New England, the Patriot Front has its roots in the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which made a woman dead and introduced much of the public to the far-right movement that had spread online.
After the Virginia rally, the group that would become the Patriot Front split from Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi group, and attempted to cultivate an image that could appeal to a wider range of people, Morgan Moon said, researcher at the Anti-Defamation League who focuses on the group.
According leaked internal messages published by the activist group Unicorn Riot and public interviews given by leaders of the Patriot Front, the group believes that the United States belongs – or should belong – to white people and that black people, homosexuals and the Jews are the enemies of the nation.
Its propaganda aimed at the public lightly disguises these opinions. “They are taming their racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric and acting under the guise of patriotism and patriotic nationalism,” Moon said. “It’s strategic. This is for recruitment purposes and to attract a wider audience.
The Patriot Front did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Public demonstrations are a key part of its strategy. The Patriot Front organized a similar march in Philadelphia on July 3. Its leader, Thomas Rousseau of Texas, said the events around Independence Day are important to the group and urged members to attend, researchers said.
Saturday’s turnout represented a significant proportion of the Patriot Front’s total membership, researchers said, and likely drew members from other regions. According to the leaked documents, which Moon says are authentic, about a dozen members live in Massachusetts.
The group often brings in members from various regions for high profile events. Last month, when Idaho police arrested 31 Patriot Front members planning to disrupt a Pride event, only two were locals, Moon said. (Rousseau was arrested in Idaho and participated in the Boston march.)
“Part of their strategy is to inflate their numbers, they inflate their presence by Thomas Rousseau demanding that people drive across the country to witness a flash mob,” said a researcher linked to antifa groups who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from white nationalists. Activists recorded video of Rousseau and another Texas Patriot Front leader at the march in Boston.
Carla Hill, director of research at the Anti-Defamation League, estimated that the Patriot Front had a total of around 250 members nationwide. “In New England, they have to leverage a large geographic area for the numbers to show up,” she said.
The numbers may be relatively low, but some observers worry that the group has become more organized in recent years.
“They show they could be an effective paramilitary force,” said an independent researcher who focuses on extremist groups and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss which groups he considers dangerous. “We have just seen during the hearings of January 6 that [Donald] Trump was trying to use the Proud Boys in a coup.
He acknowledged that his interpretation of the importance of the march could be considered “extreme”, but was concerned about the group’s ability to plan the Boston march. undetected event and escape without consequence.
“These guys came here with a famous leader [Rousseau], carrying shields” and other materials carried in a rental truck, he said. “Then they assaulted someone on the sidewalk and ran away.”
On Saturday afternoon, people called 911 to report the march to law enforcement. It was unclear exactly when police first learned of it, but Wu said “we didn’t have any information in advance.”
In Idaho, law enforcement officials detected Patriot Front plans in advance, which helped them intercept the group and led to charges of conspiracy to start a riot.
Rollins declined to call the lack of advance detection here a law enforcement failure, but added, “We don’t want this to happen again.”
Local law enforcement agencies have intelligence gathering capabilities. The Boston Regional Intelligence Center, for example, is a Boston police operation that works with federal law enforcement agencies. Among other activities, he tracks down extremist groups.
At a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is in constant contact with federal and local agencies about these groups, adding, “We take these things very seriously.”
Boston FBI Bureau Chief Joseph Bonavolonta described the challenges that hamper intelligence operations.
“We cannot follow or monitor national groups or police ideology,” he said at the press conference. “There must be certain elements that are present for us to even open an active investigation and that is the existence of a potential federal crime, [or] the threat or use of force or violence in conjunction with some sort of social or political agenda.
Michael Cox, executive director of the Black and Pink Massachusetts prison abolition group, said that every time a group such as the Patriot Front shows up in Boston, it puts “everyone on pins and needles.”
“It’s disgusting, it’s scary,” he said.
Globe correspondent Simon Levien contributed to this report.