ACLU Will No Longer Defend Hate Groups Protesting With Firearms

Joe Palazzolo, Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2017

ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union, taking a tougher stance on armed protests, will no longer defend hate groups seeking to march with firearms, the group’s executive director said.

Following clashes over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va., the civil-rights group also will screen clients more closely for the potential of violence at their rallies, said Anthony Romero, who has been the ACLU’s executive director since 2001.

The ACLU’s Virginia branch defended the right of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other groups under the banner “Unite the Right” to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park.

“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,” said Mr. Romero.

The revised policy marries the 97-year-old civil-rights group’s First Amendment work with the organization’s stance on firearms, which aligns with many municipalities and states that bar protesters from carrying weapons.

“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.

Mr. Romero said the ACLU would continue to deal with requests by white-supremacist groups and others for legal help on a case-by-case basis. “It’s neither a blanket no or a blanket yes,” he said.

Top officials at ACLU branches in California echoed Mr. Romero’s comments in a statement posted online Wednesday. “If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution,” they said.

The move is likely to temper the criticism from members who blame the ACLU in part for clashes between white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue and counterprotesters.

For decades, the ACLU has defended white supremacists and other hate groups against government efforts to curb their speech, driven by the belief that carve-outs to the First Amendment weaken its protections for everyone.

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Last week, the ACLU’s Virginia branch helped organizers of the “Unite the Right” protest secure a permit to assemble in a Charlottesville park where the Confederate statue has been since 1924.

City officials had sought to move the protest a mile away from the park, saying it was too small to accommodate the anticipated crowds. ACLU lawyers, representing organizer Jason Kessler, successfully argued in federal court that the city’s decision to revoke the permit for the protest at the park was based on Mr. Kessler’s “highly controversial” views rather than concerns for safety.

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The federal courts are currently split on whether the Second Amendment guarantees a right to carry outside the home. Eugene Volokh, a law professor at University of California, Los Angeles, said federal judges may deem protest areas to be sensitive places, like schools, where the U.S. Supreme Court has said governments can impose firearm restrictions.

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