Officials from Boston claim they didn’t know about the Patriot Front’s march through Boston on Saturday. Local anti-fascist organizers confronted marchers who also attacked Charles Murrell, a local Black artist. We speak to Reverend Kevin Peterson (Boston civil rights activist), who advises Murrell. Phillip Martin, an investigative journalist, has documented the rise to neo Nazism in Massachusetts. Michael Edison Hayden is with the Southern Poverty Law Center. Peterson is calling for an internal investigation into the Boston police over its response to Saturday’s violence. The New Democracy Coalition, Peterson’s group, also calls for Michelle Wu, Boston Mayor, to create a race commission to examine what constitutes reparations for Black people.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Boston, where Mayor Michelle Wu joined federal officials Tuesday to respond to the march through downtown Boston Saturday led by a hundred members of the white supremacist Patriot Front carrying shields and a banner that read “Reclaim America.” Officials claim the Boston Regional Intelligence Center had no warning they were coming. Local antifascist activists confronted marchers. Mayor Wu stated that the Boston police Civil Rights Unit was investigating how Patriot Front members attacked Charles Murrell (a local Black artist and musician) while police watched.
Charles Murrell posted online about the attack, writing, quote, “Just another day in the office. Yesterday, as I was walking to the office, I noticed a group of white men dressed in masks and carrying military weapons marching on the sidewalk. I was walking by Copley Hotel. It was strange that a protest was taking place on the sidewalk, and not on the street. When I tried to get my phone to record the masked mob, this happened (see photos),” he said. He went on, “Now, fake bot accounts are in my DM and on my social media pages trying to instill fear into myself and community. These are likely the same masked men. To be honest, I agree with this. Things have not changed much. Secondly, this is why I do the work that I do with passion,” Charles Murrell wrote.
Charles is not available for interviews while he seeks advice from a lawyer, but he spoke out Monday.
CHARLES MURRELL: I find it shocking that a healer would have to pour into my cup in this manner. But in this incident, I will continue to pour into other people’s cup as a way to pour into my own cup.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by three guests. Reverend Kevin Peterson is a long-standing civil rights activist, founder and adviser to Charles Murrell. He is currently in Boston. Phillip Martin is an award-winning journalist who is also a senior investigative journalist in Cambridge. GBH News Center for Investigative Journalism, where he wrote a recent article. piece headlined “It is happening here: Massachusetts has a growing neo-Nazi movement.” And still with us, Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who focuses on internet radicalization and far-right extremism.
We are glad to have you as part of our family. Democracy Now! Reverend Peterson, let’s begin with you. Explain — I’m sorry we can’t have Charles Murrell on today, but you are his close friend and adviser. Can you tell us about Saturday?
REV. KEVIN PETERSON: I’m not sure if I can tell you more about what happened beyond what you’ve already said, but we do know that Mr. Murrell is currently traumatized. He is particularly interested in racial healing in the city. He uses it through the arts. He believes this is a chance to redirect the trauma he experienced by engaging these children of his. KKK On Saturday, you can use that experience to engage Mayor Wu in terms of changing the narrative and changing the city’s environment.
Boston is not like other American cities in terms of endemic racism. Boston was founded during slavery. The legacy of slavery, systemic oppression and racism towards Black people persists into 2022. The Boston City Council has apologized for its complicity and continued systemic oppression.
Mr. Murrell’s experience is reflective of that systemic oppression, that this environment in Boston, I believe, provided a way through which — or rationale through which the children of the KKK They came to Boston to spread their hate and toxin.
AMY GOODMAN: How did the police respond to Reverend Peterson’s attack? Where were they when Charles was attacked?
REV. KEVIN PETERSON: Well, Mr. Murrell’s narrative is that the police were in close proximity to him. And in fact, Mr. Murrell suggests that he engaged the police for help, but that help at that point wasn’t forthcoming. So, we have at this point different narratives coming from the administration, from the police, from Mayor Wu, and Mr. Murrell’s account. I’m confident to say that I’ve had a number of conversations with Mr. Murrell, and he’s clear that the police were present, he asked for help, the police officer, or one of them, claimed that they were overwhelmed and they couldn’t respond to the assault that took place on him. That’s disturbing.
Even more alarming is the fact this organized group of white supremacists includes the children of the KKKThe group marched through the streets in brazen activity, with little supervision from law enforcement. This made thousands of Black citizens more vulnerable to racial violence than they would have. In fact, Mr. Murrell was the victim of this racial violence.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re showing video from Twitter of these people, who have khaki pants, which of course reminds me of the University of Virginia “Unite the Right” rally —
REV. KEVIN PETERSON: It does.
AMY GOODMAN: — and dark shirts, either long-sleeve or short-sleeved, and then white masks over their faces, and baseball caps. Phillip Martin, you’re with GBH News. You wrote an extended piece in May called “It is happening here: Massachusetts has a growing neo-Nazi movement.” Now, the mayor, Michelle Wu, said they had no idea these people were coming this weekend. This is the third march in this year. Describe how you see this movement growing. What’s happening? Why Boston?
PHILLIP MARTIN: First of all, Amy, thank-you for having me here.
And I find it — I’m a bit incredulous that the Boston [inaudible]Others seem to have been surprised at the surprise of the mayor. This was an acknowledgment that it was a [inaudible] demonstration. They shouldn’t have been surprised [inaudible]Participating in flash [inaudible]Exiting freeways with banners and holding signs over freeways. This group and another group have been accused of assaulting people across the state, including Brockton, not too long ago. NSCFor a long time, -131. And so, I can see this as a — without question, they did not know about this, it seems, but to be taken by surprise is — I mean, I’m incredulous over that, given the growing activity of these organizations over the past few years.
You have correctly cited it with the Unite the Right rally you mentioned. That’s where the Patriot Front began, by this individual, Thomas Rousseau. And what’s happening in Boston is not that dissimilar from what’s happening around the country. But a Unicorn Riot treasure trove of documents revealed that Massachusetts, New England are the areas that they consider prime recruiting grounds, despite the region’s reputation for liberalism. Reverend Peters just pointed out that there are multiple contradictions which make their presence here. [inaudible] this community, though there’s also, I should point out, massive pushback against these groups, against Patriot Front, by people on the ground — Jewish organizations, Black organizations, anti-fascists, academics, others. They are not receiving a warm welcome.
That’s the reason I believe they decided to descend on the area over the weekend. They got the attention they desired. They are in direct competition with NSC-131, but also in collusion. NSC-131 has had a presence in the area, protesting at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in January, taking part in a demonstration at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March, where they displayed a Boston is — “Return Boston to the Irish” sign, or something to that effect.
This, Amy, is a growing movement that has been going on for a while. It is a growing movement. As those who study fascism will tell you, these groups used to have two or three people at rallies a year ago, three or four years ago. Now they can get 30 people at rallies. These people are mostly from this area. However, the 100 people who came to Boston over the weekend were clearly from other parts of the country. And it’s believed that Thomas Rousseau was among them.
AMY GOODMAN: Rousseau was one of them, which brings us back to Michael Edison Hayden. Michael, you’re with the Southern Poverty Law Center. Your last visit was to give us some background information about the Patriot Front. So, talk more about who Rousseau is, how this group was founded, what it’s doing, why in Boston, and before that, what, there were protests in Philadelphia, these historic American cities.
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: [inaudible] —
AMY GOODMAN: Michael —
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: I like that — yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Oh, sure. Yeah, I like that phrase, “children of the KKK.” That was great. You know what? I think they are not. KKK yet, but they — in its heyday, but, boy, do they want to be.
You may also be aware of Vanguard America, which marched at Unite the Right. James Fields was the one who killed Heather Heyer. He marched with that group. They tried to rebrand under this veneer of patriotism to try to pull away from the Republican Party shtick to make a more commercial version of what is essentially neo-Nazism.
They have been able to build a movement in the country. They’ve had people across the country. They’ve been able to organize marches in areas where there are between 30 and 100 people.
But yeah, they did something also on July Fourth last year, or in the July Fourth weekend, regarding — like in Philadelphia, for example. They chose these historical places in the United States. You know, their slogan is “Reclaim America,” and it’s this idea of restoring America to their imagined past, this — well, certainly America does have a deeply racist past, but they envision this perfect version of the United States that is going to come from their activism, that’s going to be essentially just a white supremacist ethno-state.
AMY GOODMAN: How do they organize online?
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Yeah, I mean, they — you know, they’re all over Telegram. They were using Discord. They were creating little cells and communicating with each others through Discord. They don’t often reveal their names to one another until they get to know each other in person. They are trying to lock down their communications, but, quite frankly, they’ve been poor at it, because they are frequently getting ID’d by anti-fascist activists all over the country and also by our organization.
AMY GOODMAN: And their connection to January 6th, the Patriot Front members marching, part of President Trump’s insurrection?
MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: No, they — so, they are superficially anti-Trump. They’re superficially anti-Republican Party. They operate in a way that is somewhat in line with the Republican Party. For those who believe Trump is too close to Jewish people, the Patriot Front can help you recruit. It is their — they do essentially the same things. You know, you see Stephen Miller’s America First Legal is going to be attacking all kinds of things that he describes as “woke.” What does that really mean? It’s LGBTQ+ rights, stuff like, you know, this critical race theory bogeyman that they keep trotting out, whatever else. It’s sort of the same stuff that Patriot Front is talking about, but this is for people who are further along the line of radicalization and don’t want to associate themselves with the Republican Party. They are in sync with them and work parallel to them.
AMY GOODMAN: Phillip Martin of GBH News, you report on this, that members were present in D.C. during insurrection.
PHILLIP MARTIN: That’s right. This is, of course, before they branded themselves — rebranded themselves as Patriot Front. And they had members of NSC-131 present. They, of course —
AMY GOODMAN: What does ”NSC” stand for?
PHILLIP MARTIN: Nationalist Social Club. The code 131 is an alphanumeric anti-communism code. They consider, of course, anyone anti — they consider anyone communist, whether they be a liberal, a moderate, a so-called RINO The Republican Party has people who support equality. The concept of communism [inaudible]They have included into their talking points, which sees anyone who opposes fascism as communist. They are neo Nazis. They are described by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a small army.
And so they did start in Charlottesville. They have — Thomas Rousseau has attempted to grow this movement based on some of the grievances that were — my colleague from Southern Poverty Law Center was just talking about, within — that have been amplified by the Republican Party. They have been amplified, and animated by the so called [inaudible] theory of — and believing that that is something that people are in fact reacting to.
And you can see some of the comments that appear on social media, where, in fact, here in Boston, you found individuals who were condemning the Patriot Front, but you also found comments on Twitter and Facebook, folks were saying, “Well, what about the communists? What about the Democratic Party, you ask? What about the antifascists? What about Black Lives Matter?” where they basically try to create this false equivalency that these groups, the Patriot Front and others, are simply the flip side, and thus they have — and it’s mythical, the whole notion of bothsidesisms in the context of fascism.
AMY GOODMAN: And —
PHILLIP MARTIN: But, anyway, the point is — I’m sorry. Keep going.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Phillip, the role of the police, the reverend describing — or, actually, Charles Murrell himself saying they didn’t help him, and the mayor saying they had no idea this was happening? I think we’re going to have — we will end it there.
PHILLIP MARTIN: We have to be incredulous of whether — if the police were nearby and they did nothing, that’s a problem. If the police were not in the proximity to where this man was being beaten, then that’s a problem also. It means that they really weren’t monitoring well this procession of neofascists through downtown Boston on Fourth of July weekend.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Reverend Kevin Peterson, as you know, called a news conference with Black leaders. You were there.
REV. KEVIN PETERSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What are your current needs?
REV. KEVIN PETERSON: Well, we’re calling for a couple things. One is, as much as the police department is investigating what crime occurred, what civil rights were violated against Mr. Murrell, we’re also calling for Boston, the police or the mayor, to conduct an internal investigation in terms of police activities on that day on site. Were there any police present? We asked for videotape from Starbucks to be released. It can be used to identify the incident more accurately if police were present. We’re asking for any body-camera visuals that might be present.
Beyond that, Amy, we’re asking the mayor to take a deep dive into engaging in more robust conversations around race in a city that has been dogged by race for so long. Those photos of Mr. Murrell reflect the legacy of racism in Boston. Beyond the conversation, we call for a race commissioner, where the city brings to fore all the resources in Boston, academically and legally, to examine the legacy of racism up to 2022, provide information, maybe throughout the schools, but also throughout the neighborhoods, so that Boston residents can understand what racism is and how it impacts them in their subtlest and most obvious ways.
The commission is asked to investigate what constitutes repair or reparations in Boston. How can we address the historical wrongs inflicted upon Black people by systemic oppression and slavery? How can we address the inequal housing situation of Blacks? How can we address the unbalanced health problems? How can we address income inequality in Boston with respect to Blacks and Whites? These things are immense. These things reflect a huge gap in terms of Blacks’ lives in Boston, and how privileges or privileges affect whites.
So we ask for something complete, something thoughtfully thought out. We ask the mayor to move beyond the soothing words and apologies and get to some substantive policies and actions that brings Boston into the current situation where we’re trying to address the issue of racism in a more substantive way.
AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Kevin Peterson, thank you so much, for being with me, founder of The New Democracy Coalition, and speaking to us from Boston. Phillip Martin, investigative journalist with GBH News, we’ll link to your pieces, “It is happening here: Massachusetts has a growing neo-Nazi movement” and your latest piece. Michael Edison Hayden at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
We have a new Supreme Court case that could threaten our democracy. We’ll speak with the former law clerk for the retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Yes, we’ll speak with Carolyn Shapiro, professor. Stay with us.