The “Free Speech” rally planned for Boston on Saturday, August 19, is garnering a lot of attention and sparking considerable anxiety, due in large part to the violence and chaos that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounding the Unite the Right event.
There are significant differences between what happened in Charlottesville and what’s scheduled for Boston. Unlike Charlottesville, the Boston event, as currently planned, is not a white supremacist gathering. It has been organized under the auspices of the alt lite, which embraces civic nationalism, rather than the alt right, which advocates white nationalism. The exception in this case is scheduled speaker Augustus Invictus, who was actively involved in the Charlottesville planning and works closely with the alt right.
The alt lite, sometimes referred to as the New Right, is a loosely-connected movement whose adherents generally shun white supremacist thinking, but who are in step with the alt right in their hatred of feminists and immigrants, among others. Many within the alt lite sphere are virulently anti-Muslim; the group abhors everyone on “the left” and traffics in conspiracy theories.
But while the alt right and alt lite are theoretically distinct, there is crossover between them. There are a number of people and groups who walk the line between alt right and alt lite, to the extent that it’s not always easy – or even possible -- to tell which side they’re on. The Proud Boys, an alt lite, right-wing activist group founded by Gavin McInnes and dedicated to “Reinstating a Spirit of Western chauvinism,” is a good example of a group toeing that line. McInnes renounced the Charlottesville event as “racist,” but a number of Proud Boys were spotted at Unite the Right, including rally organizer Jason Kessler.
On Monday, McInnes announced that his group “disavowed” the event altogether, tweeting, “I am not going to the Boston rally anymore.” Also on Monday, Cassandra Fairbanks, far-right troll and alt lite activist, announced on Twitter that she was bowing out of Boston. “I'm not going to speak at the Boston free speech rally,” she tweeted on Monday morning. “The threats keep escalating and people are unhinged [right now].”
The “Boston Free Speech” rally, which organizers are pitching to “libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, classical liberals, Trump supporters or anyone else who enjoys their right to free speech,” is the latest in a series of broader efforts among some right-wing types to take their ideological battles into the streets. Much of the rhetoric used by these individuals is an attempt to undermine social norms and “political correctness” and appeal to classic forms of bigotry, including misogyny and Islamophobia.
Boston mayor Marty Walsh said he would prefer the organizers and their followers steer clear of Boston altogether. “We don’t need them here. We don’t need that message here. The message should be about unity,” Walsh told reporters Monday. “We don’t need them here spewing that type of hate. We don’t want them here, we don’t need them here, they shouldn’t be here.”
Meanwhile, supporters of the Boston event are angry that their “free speech” event is being unfairly targeted, as they see it, by “fascists” on the left who are determined to deprive them of their First Amendment rights.
Recent events of this nature have garnered large contingents of counter demonstrators including those from the extreme left, and there have been some violent confrontations. Given the heightened tensions in the wake of Charlottesville, the Boston event could certainly see clashes between attendees and counter-protesters, who appear prepared to come out in force. As of Monday, August 14, at least 1,600 people had signed up to counter-protest the Boston Free Speech rally with Stand for Solidarity, a coalition of local groups, according to its Facebook page.
It’s important to note that not all of the speakers who are scheduled to appear at the Boston Free Speech rally are members of the alt lite, but they have chosen to align themselves with members of that movement for the purposes of this event.
Speakers who are currently on Saturday’s agenda:
UPDATE: Augustus Invictus reports he was "uninvited" by rally organizers and does not plan to attend.
Augustus Invictus (born Austin Mitchell Gillespie) is a far-right activist, attorney, and speaker from Orlando, Florida. He is a member of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, the “military wing” of the Proud Boys. He is also the Sergeant at Arms for the Florida American Guard, a group led by Brien James, one of the founders of the Vinlander Social Club (VSC), a hardcore, frequently violent racist skinhead gang. (James has said he is no longer a white supremacist, but American Guard does have known white supremacist members). At the alt right’s June 25th rally in DC, Invictus claimed that while he is not part of the alt right, he stands with the alt right on the issue of free speech. Infighting on the right, he says, just takes energy away from fighting the "real enemy," which includes the federal government, the lobbyists, and people like George Soros and the Clintons. He was a scheduled speaker at the recent alt right “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Brandon Navon is a software engineer who has lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In 2013, he ran for City Council in Lowell, Massachusetts during the preliminary election but was eliminated after finishing in the 21st spot out of 22 candidates. He has identified as a libertarian and attended the Libertarian Party’s nation convention in 2016. In the 2012 presidential campaign, he was a Ron Paul delegate. On his Facebook page, Navon propagates the conspiracy theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich was murdered for political reasons.
Dina Hollister is the administrator of the Proud Boys’ Girls Facebook page (where women gather to support and talk about Proud Boys). The Proud Boys' motto is: "We are Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world. The West is Best."
Jeremy Herrell is an ardent Trump supporter based in New Hampshire. In videos, he rails against liberals and progressives. He describes himself as “the Hip Hop Patriot” and has produced two songs: “Build the Wall” and “MAGAlikeamofo.” Herrell has been interviewed on Facebook by The Red Elephants, a fledging news organization that attempts to unite all Trump supporters across the spectrum (mainstream, anti-government, alt lite and alt right), seeking to recapture the “like-minded collaboration there once was during President Trump’s campaign.” He broadcasts a live-streaming show on Facebook called “Live in America,” where he discusses politics. On Facebook, Herrell has been promoting MOAR, or the Mother of all Rallies, a pro-Trump event scheduled for September 16, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Joe Biggs was a contributor to Alex Jones’s InfoWars until he left in 2016 to “pursue other interests.” While working with Jones, Biggs was one the chief promulgators of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which imagined a child sex trafficking ring out of the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. Biggs is currently the Chief Operating Officer at Rogue Right Media, which publishes “news” stories about subjects ranging from the low-testosterone epidemic plaguing American men (also one of Jones’s favorite topics) to periodic “censored news” updates on “stories the mainstream media is hiding from you.”
On August 5, Biggs was a featured speaker at the Make Men Great Again gathering in Huntington Beach, California, alongside alt right and alt lite figures Augustus Invictus and Kyle Chapman (Based Stickman). “There is a cancer growing at the heart of western civilization,” declared promotional material for the event. “That cancer is a lack of respect for masculinity's role in shaping a succesfull [sic] society. The spread of socialist ideaology [sic] and the destruction of the nuclear family have followed the downfall of men.”
In 2012, Biggs published a number of tweets promoting date rape and sexual violence, the least offensive of which was: “Every kiss begins with…Roofies.” Biggs admitted to writing the tweets, but said they were “a cry for help,” during a “dark time in my life.” The revelations may have cost Biggs a reporting job at the pro-Trump Right Side Broadcasting Network.
Kyle Chapman, also known as Based Stick Man or the Alt Knight, gained hero status in the world of right-wing activism when, armed with a stick and wearing a helmet, he confronted anti-fascist (antifa) demonstrators in Berkeley. He has called on members of his recently formed group, the Fraternal Order of the Alt Knights, (described as the “military wing” of the Proud Boys), to battle left-wing groups.
Shiva Ayyadurai is an Indian-born American scientist and a Boston-area political neophyte who has for many years made a widely disputed claim that he invented e-mail. In March 2017, he formerly declared his intention to run for the United States Senate in 2018 and is a favorite on the far right.