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Boston Prepares For 'Free Speech' Rally


Boston is prepared for protests today. There's the so-called free speech rally planned with scheduled speakers that include members of far-right groups and a counterprotest march that's expected to outnumber the turnout of the original event. Local police have restrictions on the protesters, like what kind of things they can carry, including guns, where they can go, trying to prevent the kind of violence that occurred during last week's white supremacist march in Charlottesville. Jack Lepiarz from member station WBUR is on Boston Common, where the two protests are going to converge. Jack, thanks so much for being with us.

JACK LEPIARZ, BYLINE: Scott, my pleasure.

SIMON: These events don't start until noon. What are you seeing right now?

LEPIARZ: Well, it's still really quiet here, Scott. There are few people starting to gather. The self-described free speech rally is going be let into this area around a bandstand around a gazebo starting at about 10 o'clock Eastern Time. There are also a couple of counterprotesters who are already here. A lot of them with signs, one of them with vuvuzelas - you may hear that in the background during this interview - but also, all around this scene, a lot of fencing.

Where I'm standing right now is probably about 30 to 50 feet away from that bandstand. And there's a fence around the bandstand. There's an open area around the bandstand then a fence then about 30 to 50 feet of absolutely no one allowed in there. And then there's another fence, which is where I'm standing, which is where counterprotesters will be held at a distance. Essentially, police have said they do not want any violence here. They don't want any chance that things can get out of hand.

SIMON: This kind of thing can be overlooked in the welter of events. But what points do the groups who are assembling there want to make today?

LEPIARZ: Well, the free speech rally has been in the works at least for months now. They had a similar rally in May. And what they want to stress is, you know, this is not about white nationalism. This is not white supremacism. This is not neo-Nazism. They have stressed that if they see people in Klan hoods or people giving a sieg heil salute that they will boot them. I talked to one. He said, we have the permit here. You know, this is about free speech. We have the permit. If we see that, we'll boot them out. The counterprotesters, though, say this could very well become a platform for those types of groups. And they're uncomfortable with any of those groups coming here to Boston.

SIMON: Any crowd estimates you know about Jack?

LEPIARZ: So the free speech ralliers (ph) have said that they expect somewhere in the range of - I've seen as low as 200. I've seen as high as a thousand. The counterprotest, I've seen anywhere from about 10,000 to 30,000. So a lot more of them.

SIMON: And the police presence, I guess we should underscore, seems to be - it seems to be considerable, let me put it that way.

LEPIARZ: Yeah. Boston police have said they plan to have 500 police officers out here uniformed and plain clothed. State police also have 100 troopers on standby here as well as the fencing and the concrete barriers, I should add, around anywhere - around the common that a car could drive in.

SIMON: Boston is used to crowds. They know how to handle crowds.

LEPIARZ: We've had some practice here.

SIMON: OK, WBUR's Jack Lepiarz, who is in Boston, thanks very much for being with us.

LEPIARZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.