After a series of raw-throated public confrontations earlier this year, Charlottesville, Va., is bracing for an influx of white nationalists from across the country to Saturday’s ‘‘Unite the Right’’ rally.
But visitors might have a problem nailing down accommodations. As city leaders worked Monday trying to defuse an increasingly tense situation, the lodging rental company Airbnb quietly booted users whom it believed were searching for lodging to attend the rally.
The company confirmed they had taken action in a statement to NBC29: ‘‘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.’’
That stance didn’t sit well with the rally’s organizer, Jason Kessler.
‘‘This is outrageous and should be grounds for a lawsuit,’’ Kessler said on Monday night. ‘‘It’s the racial targeting of white people for their ethnic advocacy.’’ Kessler said the rally ‘‘is opposed to the historical and demographic displacement of white people. Would Airbnb cancel the service of black nationalists or Black Lives Matter activists for their social media activity? Of course not!’’
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors ‘‘hate groups and other extremists,’’ warns that the rally could be ‘‘the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.’’
The location for the rally, Emancipation Park, was not chosen by accident. Until February, the 45,435-square-foot green space was known as Robert E. Lee Park. When renaming the public park, the Charlottesville City Council also voted to remove the statue of the Confederate general, but it remains in place because of a court injunction that halted its removal, the Post has reported. Another hearing on the matter is slated for later this month.
In recent years the park has become a hot spot for controversy. Municipalities across the South have moved to scrub Confederate symbolism from civic life following the 2015 racially motivated killing of nine black church members in Charleston, S.C.
In May, white nationalists held a torchlit demonstration to oppose the statue’s removal; counterprotesters held a candlelight vigil the following evening. In July, a Ku Klux Klan group held a rally at Emancipation Park in support of the statue. Charlottesville law enforcement spent nearly $33,000 keeping the 30 or so Klansmen separated from the 1,000 counterprotesters who arrived to challenge the group’s presence. Following the rally, police used gas canisters to move counterprotesters from the area. Twenty-two arrests were made.
‘‘Unite the Right’’ is a further escalation of the culture war that city leaders worry may be drawing more notice and participants.
‘‘This is an event which seeks to unify the right against a totalitarian Communist crackdown,’’ the rally’s Facebook page noted, ‘‘to speak out against displacement level immigration policies in the United States and Europe and to affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests just like any other group is able to do, free of persecution.’’
The event’s speakers list is full of free speech provocateurs such as white nationalist Richard Spencer and Augustus Invictus, the self-professed ‘‘most dangerous Libertarian in America.’’ High-ranking members from the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Workers Party, and the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer have also indicated they will attend.
Just how many attendees all the online attention will pull, however, has been guesswork.
According to NBC29, the event’s permit with the city originally was for 400 individuals. But city sources told the station that police are preparing for as many as 4,000 people — both supporters and protesters.
The organizers behind one counterrally, Congregate C’ville, said they hope to have 1,000 clergy and religious leaders in attendance, according to the Associated Press. Civil rights activist Cornel West has committed to appear.
Airbnb’s statement confirming the move noted that in 2016 the company ‘‘established the Airbnb Community Commitment reflecting our belief that to make good on our mission of belonging, those who are members of the Airbnb community accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age.’’
On Monday, Kessler, the rally organizer, shot back.
‘‘Airbnb’s antidiscrimination policy was ostensibly to keep renters from denying service to individuals based on race, religion or other identity characteristics,’’ Kessler wrote to the Post. ‘‘They have now unjustly expanded that policy to imply that they will search through your social media accounts looking for controversial opinions and deny service based on that.’’
On Monday city leaders announced that they would pull the event’s permit for Emancipation Park because of safety concerns. City Manager Maurice Jones said in a press release that the event could go forward if it was moved to a larger city park more suitable for the expected crowd.
But Kessler told the Post that the rally would not move. ‘‘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.’’