The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced a policy change Thursday following backlash over their lawsuit on behalf of the Charlottesville rally organizers and their right to obtain a permit for their protest.
ACLU’s executive director Anthony Romero told the Wall Street Journal that the organization “will no longer defend hate groups seeking to march with firearms,” and “also will screen clients more closely for the potential of violence at their rallies.”
“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 explained.
He said that if a protest group insists on carrying firearms “well, we don’t have to represent them. They can find someone else.”
Romero clarified that this was not a “blanket no or a blanket yes” for white supremacist groups and they will deal with requests from these groups on a case-by-case basis.
In a piece initially responding to the backlash Tuesday, Romero explained the ACLU’s reasons for defending the free speech rights of the white supremacist groups involved in the Charlottesville rally.
“We fundamentally believe that our democracy will be better and stronger for engaging and hearing divergent views,” he wrote. “Racism and bigotry will not be eradicated if we merely force them underground. Equality and justice will only be achieved if society looks such bigotry squarely in the eyes and renounces it. Not all speech is morally equivalent, but the airing of hateful speech allows people of good will to confront the implications of such speech and reject bigotry, discrimination and hate. This contestation of values can only happen if the exchange of ideas is out in the open.”
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia who observed the rally, blamed police restraint in part for the violence saying Monday, “law enforcement was standing passively by, waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an ‘unlawful assembly’ and clear the area.”