Hundreds of doctors around the country are rallying around two physicians who were the targets of a recent neo-Nazi demonstration outside Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The group falsely accused Dr. Michelle Morse and Dr. Bram Wispelwey of denying medical treatment to white patients because of their efforts to establish equity in health care for people of color.

An open letter published on Medium authored by a group of Boston doctors under the heading Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity has garnered more than 500 signatures of doctors across the United States. Online forums have also been organized with the goal of “leveling the racial and ethnic playing field in medicine,” and supporting both Morse, a former Brigham and Women’s resident who now works for the New York City Health Department and teaches at the Harvard Medical School, and Wispelwey, a Brigham and Women’s physician who also teaches at Harvard Medical School.

“The letter was a grassroots effort by a number of local physicians to respond to the threats that were made against our colleagues and to the appearance of some very frightening elements outside our hospital,” said Dr. Regina Larocque, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “I think we're at a moment in our country when we really have to face up to the structural racism and inequities that we have in many elements of our society, including in our medical system. And it's hard work to do that and it's threatening to some people, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing it.”

Mass General Brigham CEO and President Dr. Anne Klibanski sent an email to staff over the weekend stating: “At Mass General Brigham, we denounce racism, bigotry and hatred in all its forms. We stand United Against Racism and in solidarity with our colleagues across our system who are leading these critical efforts and moving them forward. Despite these latest events, this work will not be deterred, nor will our commitment to providing equitable, exceptional healthcare to all.”

Some medical personnel at Brigham and Women’s complained that the health care institution was slow to offer a robust response in support of its doctors, and that it came only after publication and airing of the GBH report. But a spokesperson last week said Mass General Brigham has for years focused on improving health care programs and outcomes for communities of color and was committed to protecting its staff.

Across town, Boston Medical Center President and CEO Kate Walsh sent a letter to employees expressing support for the physicians at Brigham and Women’s and their work: “In recent weeks, members of our Boston health care community have been threatened and harassed by neo-Nazi groups due to their research on institutional racism in medicine … published research about what many of us know to be true — that racial health inequities are a public health threat and need to be addressed in our health care systems in the United States. I applaud their important work and want to express BMC’s unequivocal support for Dr. Morse and Dr. Wispelwey.”

The letter also pointed out Boston Medical Center’s commitment to the communities it serves and initiatives aimed at addressing “systemic discrimination” through the hospital’sHealth Equity Accelerator. Co-Executive Director Dr. Thea James, an emergency medicine specialist, said the center's patients have experienced inequities in every aspect of life.

“Everyone who walks through the door, a majority of them come from communities that have been disinvested in," James said, describing that many people don't understand the systemic factors affecting those patients' lives. "They look at people who often have not achieved at their highest levels and greatest desires, and they don't understand that a lot of this stuff is rooted in structural racism.”

That point was echoed in a Boston Globe column penned by Partners in Health leaders Paul Farmer, Sheila Davis and Ophelia Dahl. They highlighted the threat to doctors by far-right activists and groups, but mainly focused on the urgent need for race-focused health care. They wrote: “… over a century of research has shown racism to be implicated in poor health outcomes — within hospitals and outside them, in cities and towns, and in pretty much every county or country in which we’ve done research. Evidence shows that racism, especially anti-Black racism, kills, and not only with bullets: Denial of essential goods and services can also kill.”

Boston City Council President Ed Flynn released a statement last week also strongly condemning the presence of neo-Nazis in Boston and the targeting of anti-racism doctors.

Doctors nationwide are also standing up for their colleagues in Boston.

On Feb. 3, Dr. Morse tweeted: “This experience has been hard. Providers and professional orgs must publicly support race explicit health equity work. Its good medicine." More than 1,000 fellow physicians and health care professionals signaled their support by liking and retweeting the message. One supporter, Dr. Brittani James, medical director of the IMAN Clinic in Chicago, organized a Twitter Live forum that attracted more than 200 listeners and panelists.

During that forum, Harvard-trained primary care physician and health equity advocate Dr. Stella Safo said: "I think it's important to talk about this, because part of what happens so often when Black women, physicians and Black people in general are targeted or maligned is that we often suffer in silence. … We live in a history that was founded on genocide and enslavement and violence. And so it is not extreme for us to be scared that our leaders and our colleagues are being targeted in this way. And it's just really important that we've been able to bring attention to this and have these bigger conversations, because I think that we have to understand the cost that comes to speaking up.”

The nation’s largest medical organization, the American Medical Association, issued a statement from its president the day after the GBH story broke, declaring: “The AMA is deeply concerned about this threatening behavior and how it has contributed to an increasingly hostile working environment across medicine, particularly for those on the front lines of our nation’s response to COVID-19."

The American Medical Association's Chief Equity Officer and Senior Vice President Dr. Aletha Maybank has received death threats from right-wing extremist groups and individuals, requiring the association to hire a security firm for her protection.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachel Rollins has called for adding neo-Nazis to Boston’s gang database, which collects names of real or suspected members of gangs, such as MS-13, Barrio 18 and the Columbia Point Dawgs, populated almost exclusively by Black and Latino teens and young adults.

“When we look at who our gang database is filled with, it's 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-old Black kids from Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan," Rollins said during an appearance on GBH’s Boston Public Radio. "Why aren't we looking at neo-Nazis to enter them into this database as well? It is just outrageous that there is this level of discourse that people feel comfortable engaging in right now.”

Rollins herself has received violent, racist death threats from extremists.

The Boston FBI declined to comment on the reports of neo-Nazis targeting anti-racist doctors and emphasized its adherence to constitutional protections offered by the First Amendment. In an email response to GBH’s inquiry, an FBI spokesperson wrote, “we focus on individuals who commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security. If members of the public observe threatening, suspicious or illegal activity we encourage them to report it at, 1-800-CALL-FBI, or call local law enforcement.”

But a common theme expressed by doctors and others rallying around Morse and Wispesely is that the best protection against extremists is that offered by communities of health care professionals and ordinary citizens.

"Even though I'm not at the forefront of thinking about how to rectify racial inequities in our health care system, I know that they exist, and I know that I have to speak up and support my colleagues who are working to solve that problem when they're under threat," said Dr. Larocque, who helped author the letter in Medium. "Because I know from my lived experience as a doctor that what they're addressing is a legitimate problem ... I think it's best to let their work speak for itself. But you know, my job is to stand next to them and say that you can't threaten these people for doing what is actually very important work for all of us in medicine."