After backing white nationalists in Charlottesville, ACLU announces it won't defend armed protesters

Charlottesville violence sparks ACLU policy shift against armed protesters

By Angelo Young

Published August 18, 2017 12:28PM (EDT)

               (<a href=''>a_v_d</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(a_v_d via Shutterstock/Salon)

From defending the rights of Nazis to wave swastika in front of Jewish Holocaust survivors to standing for radio host Rush Limbaugh’s right to privacy, the American Civil Liberties Union has rarely shied away from defending some of the most offensive individuals and groups in the nation. But one group the ACLU will no longer stand up for: hate groups whose members show up brandishing firearms.

“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,” Anthony Romero, the group’s executive director, told the Wall Street Journal.

The ACLU’s Virginia affiliate defended the right of white-power hate groups to organize the “United the Right” rally in Charlottesville in which numerous protesters showed up cockily dressed in military fatigues and wielding assault-style rifles, shotguns and pistols. No weapons were discharged, but their presence didn’t rule out the possibility amid the skirmishes that erupted Saturday between hate group members and counter-protesters.  

Members of right-wing groups and individuals often arrive at rallies openly brandishing weapons in states where the practice is legal, ostensibly in self-defense or to assert their Second Amendment rights. But this posturing can easily be construed as a threat of violence to opposing protesters.

“The ACLU is drawing an important line in the sand – armed intimidation is not protected by the Constitution,” Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action, tweeted Friday.

The ACLU’s shift in policy puts its First Amendment stance more in line with its stance on firearms adopted in 2015 which supports “reasonable” gun control, including the right of states and municipalities to bar protesters from wielding weapons during demonstrations.

Clarifying the 97-year-old organization’s stance, the ACLU of California said it would review each request for assistance on a case-by-case basis and reject petitions from groups whose strategy includes bringing guns to rallies.

“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,” the group said in a statement Wednesday. “The First Amendment should never be used as a shield or sword to justify violence.”

Angelo Young

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1st Amendment Aclu Charlottesville Guns Protests