ACLU Won’t Defend Hate Groups Protesting With Firearms

American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero speaks during a meeting called "The Resistance Training" hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Coral Gables, Fla. The American Civil Liberties Union is launching a nationwide training event to make people aware of their rights as protesters. Organizers say the event Saturday at a sports arena on the University of Miami campus is being livestreamed to locations in all 50 states.(Luis M. Alvarez)
Luis M. Alvarez/FR596 AP

The violent events that transpired at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend has pushed the American Civil Liberties Union to take a tougher stance on the hate groups it defends in court.

The civil rights group will now screen its clients more closely and won’t represent groups who protest while carrying firearms, the executive director told The Wall Street Journal Thursday.

The ACLU’s Virginia branch defended the neo-Nazis’ right to assemble when the group gathered last weekend to protest the removal of the confederate statue of Robert E. Lee. The organization is known for its defense of the free speech rights of hate groups, claiming that creating exceptions to the First Amendment for hate groups make the less stringent for everyone.

“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,” Executive Director Anthony  Romero told the 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.”

The group’s Virginia branch defended the white supremacists against Charlottesville’s efforts to deny them a permit. City officials wanted the protest moved a mile away from the park to better accommodate the crowd. The ACLU argued in federal court that the city’s decision was based on opposition to the group’s views, not safety concerns.

Many lashed out against the civil rights group when violence broke out at the rally. A self-proclaimed white supremacist allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Hayer and injuring 19 others. 

Several members of the group that assembled last Saturday were carrying firearms, but no one was hurt by them. Romero said the ACLU thinks just having guns at a protest can suppress freedom of speech through intimidation.

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