MOST residents of South Boston describe themselves as peaceful working people devoted to their families. Richard Barrett, leader of a Mississippi-based white supremacy group, views them as something entirely different: potential recruits.
Mr. Barrett and 16 supporters of his Nationalist Movement marched in this largely white, Irish neighborhood Saturday, flanked by some 800 Boston police officers in riot gear. About 300 counterdemonstrators followed, led by the Emergency Mobilization Against Racism - a group formed specifically to counter Barrett.
At a rally at South Boston High School, the two groups confronted each other with bullhorns for the attention of television cameras and about 1,200 neighborhood residents who gathered behind police barricades to watch. There were plenty of threats and angry slogans, but no arrests.
Ever since the 1970s, when attempts to integrate South Boston High School provoked protests, the neighborhood has often been depicted as a hotbed of intolerance. That image was reinforced to many in March, when neighborhood officials cancelled the traditional St. Patrick's Day parade rather than abide by a State Supreme Court order to allow a homosexual group to participate.
Barrett's rally was intended to commemorate the first anniversary of another blight on the neighborhood's race record: a racially motivated melee between white and black students at the high school incited by an after-school fight.
The residents milling around the four-block parade route near the school reacted to the white supremacists and the counter demonstrators with everything from ire to empathy.
``Nobody in this neighborhood wants these people here,'' said Bill Foley, a 37-year resident of Southie who stood on a corner holding up a hand-printed placard reading: ``Southie says go home. I don't want to see this stuff outside of my house and right in front of my kids,'' he said.
Barrett's request for a permit last week set off a tumultuous debate pitting First Amendment advocates against citywide outrage at Barrett's divisive racial beliefs: among them the abolition of integration, affirmative action, welfare, and gay rights.
At a sparsely-attended ``unity rally'' in nearby Columbus Park, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino joined other politicians and community groups. ``Mr. Bartlett can walk around on all the sidewalks he can, but he won't change the minds of these kids,'' Mr. Menino said.