On Saturday the Neo-fascist group known as the Proud Boys held a “Free Speech” rally in Washington DC. The event did not go as they had planned.
Counter-protesters outnumbered members of the far-right Proud Boys group and their supporters. The event had a large police presence and took place just a few blocks from the White House. Officials reported a few scuffles between the opposing camps, but there was no outbreak of violence.
The rally called “Demand Free Speech” was held at the Freedom Plaza in DC. It was organized by the Proud Boys, who gathered together about 200 people to denounce what they see as “anti-conservative bias on the part of major social media companies.”
Hundreds of counter-protesters lined the streets separated from the Proud Boys by a heavy metal barrier and police. The counter-protesters held their own rally at the adjacent Pershing Park.
“I’m a native Washingtonian, and what we’re not going to do is allow the alt-right or the Proud Boys or the right wing to come to our city and amplify hate, bigotry, and racism,” said NeeNee Taylor, the direct- action captain for Black Lives Matter DC. “White supremacy is not going to be allowed here in DC. Defending free speech is not killing someone in Charlottesville.”
The counter-protest was organized by All Out DC, an activist collective, the counterprotest response to the far-right rally across the street “highlighted the struggles of people with marginalized identities including immigrants, Native Americans and trans women of color with speeches, chants, and performances by local artists.”
“The people holding the free speech rally were kicked off social media for bigotry,” said counterprotester and All Out DC member Laura Crain. “They are weaponizing the concept of free speech and we oppose the hateful, bigoted rhetoric they espouse.”
“This is how you shut down Nazis,” said counter-protester and DC resident Rachel Gregory. “They don’t go away when you ignore them. As a white person, I can pass anywhere. That’s why I need to use that privilege,” she said.
“The left must be made to fear you…[with] massive brutal retaliation for the slightest of perceived insults,” disgraced writer and former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos told an audience of about 200 people.
Far-right political commentator and founder of the Proud Boys Gavin McInnes took the stage to predict the re-election of President Donald Trump. “They can’t fight, they can’t argue, they can’t even get a job,” said McInnes, who has since left the Proud Boys. “They can’t arrest us all. Let’s fight. Let’s step into the fray.”
Asked exactly what kind of speech was unfairly censored online and off, event organiser David Sumrall of Houston, Texas, claimed that Laura Loomer – a far-right provocateur who was banned from Twitter after tweeting Islamophobic falsehoods about US representative Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee and one of two Muslim women elected to Congress – “lost her voice” for “talking down on sharia [Islamic] law”.
Other right-wing personalities who had been advertised as speakers, including former Trump adviser Roger Stone and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, did not show up.