Thousands of counterprotesters gather in Boston amid tensions over Charlottesville

Thousands of counterprotesters gather in Boston amid tensions over Charlottesville
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A conservative rally in Boston disbanded less than an hour after it began Saturday, as thousands of counterprotesters remained on the city streets.

City and state officials had voiced concern just a day earlier that the so-called "Free Speech Rally" and accompanying counterdemonstrations could ignite violent clashes, especially after mayhem broke out at a white nationalist protest in Charlottesville last week. 

While there appeared to be some minor clashes between the two protesting groups, the demonstrations remained mostly peaceful. Reporters filming from the ground captured footage of some protesters and counterprotesters being escorted away by police.

CNN reported that police had arrested at least eight people during the demonstrations. 

Hundreds of uniformed and undercover police officers were deployed on Saturday to manage the growing crowds as thousands of people joined demonstrations. 

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The free speech rally was set to begin at noon, but counterprotesters began gathering around the city hours ahead of the scheduled demonstration on the Boston Common.

The Boston Free Speech Coalition, the group that organized the rally, had initially planned to host speakers with ties to white nationalism at the Saturday event.

But amid growing public furor over Charlottesville, the group publicly distanced itself from the white nationalists and neo-Nazis that fomented violence in the usually quiet college town, telling hate groups to exercise their free speech rights elsewhere. 

The free speech demonstration, however, still attracted scores of counterprotesters, who dwarfed the dozens of rallygoers. 

In a news conference on Friday, Boston Police Chief William Evans said that his department was prepared for the rally and counterdemonstrations. But he also expressed concern that the nation's current political climate could increase the risk of violence on Saturday.

"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."