(BOSTON) — Boston officials are responding to the growing threat of white supremacists, just days after Patriot Front members marched through the city and reportedly assaulted a Black man.
“We know these threats are continuing to escalate across the country, and that Boston must be the leading light in how we are acting in a coordinated way and tackling and supporting our community members,” said Mayor Michelle Wu Tuesday. She joined officials from the local and state police departments, the FBI and the attorney general’s office to discuss impending actions of known extremist groups.
The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups nationwide, has called Patriot Front a white supremacist group that spreads racism, antisemitism, and other forms of hate online. The ADL says the group is focused on “preserving America’s identity as a European-American one.”
The group marched in Boston on Saturday with concealed faces and flags, wearing shirts that read “Reclaim America.”
U.S. District Attorney Rachael Rollins said officials “are working hard to make sure that if there are any federal charges we can bring or if there are any state charges that can be brought — we will be looking at this. We don’t want to wait until there’s violence. If there are threats we will charge those as well.”
They will not yet release the information shared at the briefing to the public. Joseph R. Bonavolonta, the Special Agent in Charge, told reporters at the presser that the government cannot track or monitor domestic groups based on their ideology, but can take action based on the threat or execution of violence.
Officials said they plan to question officers’ actions during the march, asking themselves “if this was a Black Lives Matter protest, would the response have been different than this white supremacist group?”
Black community leaders in Boston marked the Fourth of July by denouncing racism and showing support for a man who says he was assaulted by Patriot Front members.
Police say a Black man reported that he was assaulted during the march, after the man said he was trying to record the group on his cellphone. In the police report sent to ABC News by Boston Police Department officials, the man said Patriot Front members with shields began to surround and shove him after he started to record.
When he tried to shove back in order to free himself, he was knocked to the ground, kicked and beaten, the police report said.
The man suffered lacerations to his head, arms and hands, and was treated at a nearby hospital, according to the report. No arrests have been made.
The man later identified himself as Charles Murrell, an artist and social justice organizer. He spoke Monday at a gathering of Black leaders and urged listeners to attend local events about race, diversity and justice.
“There are ambassadors, artists, and people who care about the city and the image of this city, that have been doing the work, and we are inviting you to come share space with us,” Murrell said.
Mawakana Onifade, a friend and mentor of Murrell, said, “We will always stand in the face of the new Klan, there’s no mistake about this. When one covers one’s face, we know what is behind that.”
Local Black leaders called Patriot Front the “children of the KKK.”
“We’re not surprised. Boston has had a long legacy of racism,” said Reverend Kevin Peterson. “In fact, the city was founded on racism. Slaves were imported here. And that legacy continues into 2022.”
Leaders are calling on Wu to act quickly against the spread of hateful and dangerous ideologies.
“We can’t look at this as the new age. This is the old age that needs to be dismantled,” said Onifade. “Mayor Wu, what are you going to really do besides the words that we have been reading about. What is the call to action? Where is the accountability?”
Wu has condemned the march, tweeting that the “disgusting hate of white supremacists has no place here.”
In a statement, Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn warned about growing white supremacist sentiment in the region.
“It is wholly repugnant to once again read reports and see videos on social media about dozens of Neo Nazis making another brazen public display with their hateful ideology,” Flynn wrote. “They have continued to make their presence known, most recently in March at the St. Patrick’s Day parade,” when Patriot Front members reportedly held up a “Keep Boston Irish” banner.
Wu said the investigation into the latest incident is ongoing and is being spearheaded by the city’s Civil Rights Unit. Because Patriot Front members had their face covered, officials at the Tuesday press conference say it adds a layer of difficulty to cracking the case. However, law enforcement officials say they are still looking for the culprits, even if they came to the city from out of state.
“We’re looking into their identities and there already has been some information shared in various parts about the national leaders of this group who were part of this effort, who were in town, were present at the recent events as this group has gone to terrorize other communities as well,” Wu said in a Monday news conference on the incident.
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