Home rental service Airbnb has been cancelling the accounts of people who booked rentals in relation to a far right wing rally in Charlottesville, Va., a move that has angered white nationalists and prompted First Amendment debates.
Airbnb confirmed the cancellation and reported in a statement to NBC29 that the ideology behind the rally goes against the platform’s “Airbnb Community Commitment,” which all Airbnb members sign and calls for equality for people in the Airbnb community “regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age.”
“When through our background check processes or from input of our community we identify and determine that there are those who would be pursuing behavior on the platform that would be antithetical to the Airbnb Community Commitment, we seek to take appropriate action including, as in this case, removing them from the platform,” the company said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the August 12th “Unite the Right” rally is “shaping up to be the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.”
The expected crowd will include of everyone “from immigration foes to anti-Semitic bigots, neo-Confederates, Proud Boys, Patriot and militia types, outlaw bikers, swastika-wearing neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Ku Klux Klan members all of whom seem emboldened by the Trump presidency,” SPLC reports.
At the time of this report, Facebook indicates that 697 people will be attending the rally, and about 1,200 people are interested in the event.
Jason Kessler, the organizer of the rally who SPLC links to white nationalist ideology, called for a lawsuit and boycott against Airbnb.
Jason Kessler (@TheMadDimension) August 7, 2017
One Twitter user, presumably an attendee of the rally, posted a screenshot of an email he received from Airbnb.
imagine trying this approach if you rented to the public pic.twitter.com/MeGQPPjlWM
the worst dude (@worst) August 6, 2017
In comments to the Washington Post Kessler called Airbnb’s decision “the racial targeting of white people for their ethnic advocacy.”
“Would Airbnb cancel the service of black nationalists or Black Lives Matter activists for their social media activity” he questioned. “Of course not!”
Clay Hansen, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression located in Charlottesville, reported to NBC29 that Airbnb is entitled to make the decision it did.
“I would say that while Airbnb’s actions wouldn’t necessarily comport with general free speech principles, they are a private company and are entitled to enact and enforce their terms of service as they see fit,” Hansen said. “There’s no First Amendment issues with what they’re doing.”
NBC29 further reported, “Attorney Kyle Bristow, executive director of the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, a self-described nonpartisan civil liberties nonprofit that supports Kessler, said it’s ‘alarming’ that Airbnb would close certain accounts but ‘they have a right to do it.'”
Kessler is president of the nonprofit Unity and Security for America. According to its website, the organization has three key focus points:
Lobbying for immigration laws restricting both illegal and legal immigration
Protecting the Western culture and heritage that made America great
Taking an America first approach to foreign policy: no unnecessary wars in the Middle East, no unnecessary toppling of foreign leaders, and trade policies which are more favorable to American interests
SPLC describes white nationalist groups as those which “espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of non-whites.”
“These groups range from those that use racial slurs and issue calls for violence to others that present themselves as serious, non-violent organizations and employ the language of academia,” SPLC notes.
According to its Facebook page, Saturday’s rally “seeks to unify the right-wing against a totalitarian Communist crackdown.”
Notably, Black Lives Matter describes itself as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” Its areas of interest include Black families, being “unapologetically Black,” Black women and Black villages. Additionally, its guiding principles also include:
The Unite the Right rally is reportedly taking place in Emancipation Park, which was known as Robert E. Lee Park until earlier this year. (Attendees of the event are still referring to the location as “Lee Park.”) The spot is the same place where a court ordered the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue. The statue currently remains there following a court injunction that put its removal on hold.
Speakers will reportedly include Richard Spencer, often considered the face of the alt-right, and Michael Hill, who SPLC links to the extremist group League of the South.
Reports have indicated that the police were revoking the permit for the event, citing safety concerns that Emancipation Park would not be large enough for the expected crowd of protesters and anti-protesters.
Kessler told the Post that he had no intention of moving the rally.
“I have notified the police of our intention to carry out our First Amendment protected demonstration at the Lee Statue,” he said, “and we are working with them to do this in as safe a manner as possible given the unwise and unlawful decision of city council to revoke our permit.”