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Council probes white nationalist demonstration

Lack of police intelligence, response raises questions

Anna Lamb
Council probes white nationalist demonstration
Members of the white nationalist group The Patriot Front marched through downtown Boston before returning to their cars in Malden. IMAGE: COURTESY DEMOCRACY NOW

After nearly 100 white supremacists marched through downtown Boston, resulting in brief violence, city councilors and activists have called into question the Boston Police Department’s response and the effectiveness of the city’s counterterrorism and intelligence agency.

On Saturday, July 2 marchers in masks, khakis and polos with the insignia for the white supremacist group Patriot Front, made their way through the streets of the city before several assaulted artist and activist Charles Murrell III who has stated to media outlets that he confronted the group. Murrell, a Black man, appears in a widely circulated Associated Press photo being pushed by metal shields by group members.

According to reporting by GBH news last week, there was at least one witness to the attack who called 911 and noted a lack of response by the operator, and a noticeable lack of police on-scene. Law enforcement has since claimed they were “caught off guard” by the group’s action.

In response, Councilor Ricardo Arroyo has filed an order calling for a public hearing to discuss the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) and Boston Police Department’s approach to the growing presence of white supremacist hate groups in Boston. The council order asks that representatives from the Boston Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Attorney General’s Office, US Attorney’s Office and other interested parties be invited to speak before the Council.

Arroyo said the problem of the law enforcement response was two-fold — with the first issue being a lapse in intelligence.

“Patriot Front is a domestic terrorist, white supremacist organization. Three weeks ago, you had one of those founding members of their organization arrested in Idaho,” Arroyo said, alluding to the arrest of dozens of Patriot Front members for a conspiracy to riot at a Pride festival in Coeur d’Alene in June.

“We’re being told that we had zero intelligence on that?” Arroyo said.

The second issue, according to the councilor and candidate for district attorney, is that BPD patrol officers were not present to keep an eye on the event and prevent violence.

“We didn’t have officers in front of that convoy, letting pedestrians know what was coming down the street, we didn’t have officers on the side of that convoy who could have been eyewitnesses to that assault and would have been able to make those arrests right there,” he said.

In the wake of the incident, Mayor Michelle Wu and U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins have said law enforcement are reviewing video evidence in an attempt to identify members of the group present during the assault.

Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden told GBH news that, “if and when arrests are made we will prosecute to the fullest extent allowed by Massachusetts law.”

It’s also unclear what federal action may be taken. Plain clothes FBI agents were spotted on scene, according to reports.

Patriot Front is a white nationalist hate group that formed in the aftermath of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center there are chapters in 40 states, including Massachusetts.

Arroyo, in his conversation with the Banner pointed to rising hate crimes in the Bay State including the Nationalist Socialist Club 131 (NSC-131) displaying the banner “Keep Boston Irish” along the route of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston and a January incident during which two-dozen members of NSC-131 protested in front of Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston against efforts made by the hospital towards establishing greater equity in health care for communities of color.

“I think it’s fair to say that as hate crimes grow across the state, they’re also happening more and more in the city of Boston,” he said.

At least one member of the group who was present during the early July incident was local — a former Barnstable resident, Brian Harwood, 25 has been identified based on video evidence.

Arroyo and colleagues on the Boston City Council have been critical of the city’s regional intelligence agency in the past — accusing the arm of racist and ineffective practices including the use of the controversial gang database.

Last year the council rejected an $850,000 surveillance grant to BRIC after calls for the agency to increase transparency led to little in the ways of evidence their practices work in combating crime.

“BRIC was established in 2005 explicitly to target acts of terrorism, and Boston residents deserve answers about their response to recent incidents in Boston and what is being done to address the lack of actionable intelligence prior to the Patriot Front’s march in Boston and the inadequate response that followed, leading to the assault of Charles Murrell III,” Arroyo said in a statement.

His hearing order is expected to be filed this week.anna

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