If you want to bring guns to a protest, don’t expect the American Civil Liberties Union to represent you.
The 97-year-old civil rights organization, which has been the Trump administration’s No. 1 adversary in the courts, announced the policy late Thursday, in the wake of last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville. The ACLU team in Virginia had worked with the white supremacist organizers of the “Unite the Right” protest to secure the permit necessary for a legal gathering. Many of the attendees were carrying guns, there were violent clashes with counterprotesters, and one person was killed when an alleged white-supremacist attendee plowed his car into the crowd.
“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,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero told the Wall Street Journal. Historically, the organization has represented and defended the rights of groups across the political spectrum, including some on the far-left and Nazis.
In the past week, critics have gone after the ACLU for both its representation of the white supremacists in Virginia and for suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority over banned ads, on behalf of a group that includes far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
Tensions have also surfaced within the organization over whether it should be representing white supremacists at all. Though the ACLU was founded as an explicitly left-wing organization in the 1920s, it shifted in the 1930s toward the more legalistic posture for which it is now well-known.
Three branches of the ACLU in California on Wednesday released a statement explicitly saying that “white supremacist violence” does not qualify as free speech. Though many took the statement to be a direct shot at the ACLU leadership in Washington, the central organization published its own statement on the same day saying “We agree with every word in the statement from our colleagues in California.”