For nearly a century, the American Civil Liberties Union has vehemently defended free speech, which includes protecting white nationalists’ First Amendment rights. On Saturday, however, the ACLU’s commitment to free speech was tested after it defended Unite the Right, a group of white nationalists who hosted the Charlottesville, VA, rally that descended into chaos and culminated in the death of an anti-racist activist.
Despite their best efforts to rebrand as polo shirt clad patriots, Unite the Right’s rally was, in reality, a gathering of white nationalists joining under many racist flags to protest the removal of a monument venerating Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
When the city of Charlottesville attempted to revoke Unite the Right’s permit to protest at the park where the statue of Lee stands, the event’s organizer, Jason Kessler, sought assistance from the ACLU. Lawyers from the ACLU accepted the case and won after arguing that the city’s decision to revoke their permit was based on Kessler’s “highly controversial” opinions rather than safety.
Embattled by criticism from within the organization, the ACLU’s director Anthony Romero announced on Thursday that they would no longer defend hate groups protesting with weapons.
From The Wall Street Journal:
“If a protest group insists, ‘No, we want to be able to carry loaded firearms,’ well, we don’t have to represent them. They can find someone else,” Mr. Romero said, adding that the decision was in keeping with a 2015 policy adopted by the ACLU’s national board in support of “reasonable” firearm regulation.
Romero cited the terror in Charlottesville as the reason for their reversal. “The events of Charlottesville require any judge, any police chief and any legal group to look at the facts of any white-supremacy protests with a much finer comb,” Romero concluded.
Photos and video from Saturday’s event show rally participants who were not only armed with clubs, shields, and some with guns, but also a group who were eager to fight. The assault weapon-carrying militia who surrounded Saturday’s amalgamation of white nationalists reportedly rejected the their repugnant views on race. A militia’s participation would surely disqualify any future ACLU defense requests.
The ACLU’s decision is remarkable considering the union once defended the Ku Klux Klan’s right to protest in a Chicago neighborhood primarily inhabited by Holocaust survivors. They lost 30,000 members after accepting that case. The ACLU’s pivot, it seems, is an attempt to mollify its 1.2 million new donors who support the organization’s resistance to President Trump.