Federal and county prosecutors say they are expanding their efforts to combat a recent rise in "hate-based incidents" in the Boston area amid concerns about the possibility of increased activity in the coming months and years.
Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden announced Monday that he is adding civil rights prosecutors at the district and superior court levels due to a rise in white supremacist activity in Boston, including a Patriot Front march over the Fourth of July weekend and a neo-Nazi group's gathering in Jamaica Plain this past weekend. He also cited a neo-Nazi protest at Brigham and Women's Hospital in February and one at the St. Patrick's Day parade in South Boston in March.
The possibility of “societal strife” during the U.S. House and Senate races this fall and the 2024 presidential election, as well as statistics showing increases in hate crimes across the nation, were also factors, he added.
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“It’s clear to me that Massachusetts and Boston have become target destinations for groups that spread hate," Hayden said in a statement. "We saw that over Independence Day weekend with the Patriot Front march in Boston and just this weekend with the NSC-131 gathering in Jamaica Plain. It’s also clear to me that Boston is full of passionate, involved citizens who care deeply about current events and don’t shy away from expressing their views. I want to ensure that everyone involved in the wide public forum of ideas can do so without being harmed by others and without causing anyone harm."
The district attorney's High-Risk Victims Unit, which handles civil rights and hate crimes, will now be called the Civil Rights/High-Risk Victims Unit, and Hayden said he is adding two new prosecutors to the unit -- one to prosecute civil rights cases in Suffolk Superior Court and another to handle these cases in the district and municipal courts.
“We have profound divisions in our society today and groups eager to exploit those divisions toward their malignant ends. We also have a Constitutional duty to protect free speech—up until the point that it turns into threats or violence. I want to make sure my office is vigilant in fair application of the law and fully prepared when prosecuting people who violate anyone’s personal rights,” Hayden said.
The district attorney's announcement comes just one day after U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, Hayden's predecessor, announced that she is planning to launch a new hotline that people can call to report white supremacist activities.
"We need to expose these cowards," Rollins said in a statement obtained by The Boston Globe.
On Saturday, a New England-based neo-Nazi group held a brief rally outside a drag queen story hour in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Members of the group gathered wearing face masks at the Soldiers Monument and began chanting "off our streets."
The rally came just weeks after a demonstration by dozens of apparent white supremacists who marched on Boston's Freedom trail and allegedly attacked a Black man. About 100 protesters marched under the banner of the Patriot Front, characterized by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white supremacist group.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.