After Charlottesville violence, Boston braces for demonstrations
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Boston is bracing for possible clashes between conservative activists and counterprotesters as thousands of people descended on the city Saturday. 

A protest billed as a free speech rally was scheduled to begin at noon on Boston Common, a central park in the city's downtown area.  

The rally comes a week after violence erupted in Charlottesville, Va., as white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue from a public park. 

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One activist was killed and 19 others were injured in the college town, after a car plowed through a crowd of counterprotesters. The alleged driver of that car, an Ohio man with ties to neo-Nazi groups, has been charged with second-degree murder.

The Boston Free Speech Coalition, the group that organized Saturday's rally, had until recently planned to include speakers with ties to white nationalism.

It has since publicly distanced itself from the racist groups that incited violence in Virginia last weekend, advising hate groups on Friday not to join their rally.

"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," the group said in a statement posted on Facebook Tuesday.

"We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence. We denounce the actions, activities, and tactics of the so-called Antifa movement. We denounce the normalization of political violence."

But the planned rally on Saturday is expected to draw scores of counterprotesters, who argue that the Free Speech Coalition is giving a platform to hate groups. 

In a news conference Friday, city and state officials said they have been preparing for the rally since the Charlottesville protests and planned to deploy a broad range of tactics to keep the peace. 

Boston Police Chief William Evans said that his department would rely on both undercover and uniformed officers to keep an eye on the free speech rally and counterprotests, and warned that police would "not tolerate any misbehavior, any violence, any vandalism whatsoever."

He said that he had also been in contact with Harold Shaw, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston field office, ahead of Saturday's demonstrations.

The Boston Police Department is accustomed to large-scale demonstrations, he said. But he also voiced concern that current political and social climates fuel the potential for violence.

"I just think the rhetoric has really brought this to a different level, and that’s what we’re worried about," he said. "I’ve never seen so many people looking – almost looking – for confrontation."

Hours ahead of the free speech rally's noon start, crowds of counterprotesters began gathering around the city.