News your connection to The Boston Globe

Free speech at Faneuil Hall

GOOD SPEECH overpowered bad Sunday in Boston when hundreds of demonstrators verbally outmaneuvered a group of about 20 white supremacists seeking to mar a Faneuil Hall service marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.

It was a good day for the First Amendment. The band of haters connected to White Revolution, an Arkansas-based neo-Nazi group, marched down Congress Street unobstructed -- even though they had no parade permit --while displaying anti-Semitic signs denying the Holocaust. Later, at their demonstration site, one waved slabs of ham. The neo-Nazis were denied the victory that censorship might have provided them. They also failed to intrude upon Faneuil Hall, where 900 people, including Holocaust survivors, honored the 6 million Jews who died in the Nazi death camps.

Organizers of the Holocaust commemoration service debated whether to mount a counterdemonstration to the hate group or ignore its presence. They opted for the latter. A widely circulated memo from Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, advised attendees, ''Please do not engage or acknowledge the demonstrators in any way. Any engagement will help give the protesters the very publicity that they want and help them circulate their message of hate." The most potent response, Shrage continued, is to ''honor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and those who survived."

That's one thoughtful approach. But the high road is not necessarily the right one for every occasion. Boston benefited from the presence of hundreds of anti-Nazi demonstrators -- among them members of the International Action Center workers' rights groups, coalitions against racism, young men who were wearing Jewish skullcaps, and older veterans -- who shouted down the sounds of hate.

Politically, it was an incongruous group. But it was an effective one. The white supremacists aimed to intimidate. But the crowd only mocked them, chanting, ''Nazis go home." Boston police officers, including mounted police, meanwhile, skillfully kept the peace.

Sometimes the act of ignoring repulsive behavior will extinguish it. But behavior modification is not an effective tool against the practitioners of unbridled hate. The neo-Nazis left Boston with rejection burning their ears. Hot speech, not the cold shoulder, drove them away.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months