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Charlottesville protests

The ACLU will no longer defend hate groups protesting with guns

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will no longer defend hate groups that protest while carrying guns, Anthony Romero, the group’s executive director told The Wall Street Journal. Romero added Thursday that the civil rights organization will also scrutinize clients more closely for potential violence at their rallies.

The ACLU’s changes follow its Virginia chapter’s decision to defend the protest rights of various white nationalist groups before they became involved with recent violence in Charlottesville.

“The events of Charlottesville require any judge, any police chief and any legal group to look at the facts of white-supremacy protests with a much finer comb,” Romero said.

“If a protest group insists, ‘No, we want to be able to carry loaded firearms,’ well, we don’t have to represent them,” he added. “They can find someone else.”

Twitter users on Friday debated the merits of the ACLU's decision, with some arguing it is appropriate and others attacking it as going too far.

Romero noted the decision is in keeping with a 2015 decision by the ACLU’s national board in support of “reasonable” firearm regulation.

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The ACLU’s executive director added that the group would continue reviewing requests for legal help from hate groups on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s neither a blanket no or a blanket yes,” said Romero, who has been the ACLU’s executive director since 2001.

The move will likely soothe critics who have blamed the ACLU in part for last weekend’s bloodshed in Charlottesville. The ACLU’s Virginia branch helped organizers of the “Unite the Right” protest gain a permit to assemble in one of the city’s parks.

Charlottesville officials had sought to relocate the demonstration a mile away from the park, which boasts a controversial statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. ACLU lawyers successfully argued in federal court, however, that Charlottesville unfairly revoked a permit from protest organizer Jason Kessler. Charlottesville yanked Kessler’s permit over his “highly controversial” beliefs, they charged, rather than public safety.

White nationalists gathered in Charlottesville one week ago to protest the removal of the statue of Lee. One person died a day later when a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters following heated confrontations over the demonstration. Two Virginia State troopers were killed last Saturday in a helicopter crash authorities linked to the unrest in Charlottesville.

The ACLU has repeatedly defended hate groups like white supremacists, arguing efforts to curb their free speech hurt First Amendment protections for all Americans.

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