One woman killed and many injured during "Unite the Right" demonstration

Peaceful Assembly

One woman was killed and at least 19 people were injured when a car crashed into a crowd of counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12th August 2017. The weekend was fraught with violence after white nationalists marched through the city to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a local park. Nearly 500 members of the white nationalist groups left the park shortly after the police announced that they were participating in an “unlawful assembly”. Later, a state of emergency was declared by the state’s governor after a number of violent attacks by the white nationalists, many of whom came armed with weapons, shields and tear gas. The man driving the car that crashed into the crowd was arrested and charged with murder and malicious wounding. At least eight people were also arrested during the rally.

Initially the City of Charlottesville had revoked the permit for the demonstration to take place at Emancipation Park, citing safety concerns. The decision was challenged by the ACLU of Virginia, arguing that the city was discriminating against the demonstrators because “it is controversial and unpopular, and that more acceptable views – those of counter-protesters – are being favored. Moving the rally to a different location would dilute Mr. Kessler’s message because the planned location of Emancipation Park is directly related to it, and thus his constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and petition are being violated”.

It was also reported that on 18th August 2017, the governor issued an executive order temporarily banning demonstrations around  the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond. 

Following the violent actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, thousands of people participated in protests against white supremacy in cities across the U.S. This included a 10-day, 100-mile march from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C. During demonstrations in cities such as Seattle, Boston and Berkley, police made multiple arrests for isolated incidents of violence and defying local ordinances. In Berkeley, for instance, 14 people arrested were charged with violating the city’s emergency rules banning masks, sticks and potential weapons inside the demonstration area.

In a separate incident, thousands of people around the country took to the streets in protest over the Trump administration's decision to end a program that shielded nearly 800,000 young people from deportation. Outside the White House, where approximately 300 to 400 demonstrators gathered on 5th September, protesters yelled "Shame!" as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration would rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme. In New York, at least 34 protesters, including a city council representative, were arrested in front of Trump Tower, but no incidents of violence were reported. Other cities with significant protests over DACA included Los Angeles, Chicago and Denver.

A week-long protest outside a Kentucky clinic that provides abortions was held during the final week of July. Both supporters and opponents of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville were on hand, using signs and singing songs and chants to express their viewpoints. Ahead of the protests, a federal judge had set up a buffer zone outside the abortion facility, prohibiting protesters from coming within 15 feet of the building, after a similar protest was held in May. At that protest, several members of Operation Save America, an anti-abortion organisation, were arrested for blocking the clinic entrance. 

Expression

A ruling by the District of Columbia Superior Court has ordered DreamHost, an internet hosting company to turn over data about a website it was hosting. DreamHost is being compelled to provide the Justice Department (DoJ) with records from October 2016 to January 2017 for a website it hosted called disruptj20.org, which served to organise protests in Washington, D.C. on the day of President Trump's inauguration. Over 60 public interest organisations sent a letter to the Attorney General expressing concern that the government’s request would infringe on the constitutionally-protected rights of individuals and members of the media who visited the website. Initially, the DoJ had requested the company to "turn over nearly 1.3 IP addresses on visitors to the site" as well as "all emails associated with the account and unpublished content, like draft blog posts and photos". After much criticism, the DoJ, narrowed the scope of the request. 

The judge who issued the ruling has stated that there would be restrictions on how the government can review the material, including identifying the people who will have access to search the material and the methods they will use to search for evidence. The Electronic Frontier Foundation considers it an important step to have judicial oversight, however, it stated that:

"The revised warrant still seeks all “contents of e-mail accounts that are within the @disruptj20.org domain” regardless of their participation or involvement with the January 20th protest. To date, the government has not publicly contended that any of the specific @disruptj20.org email addresses belong to anyone who has been accused of a specific crime during the January 20th protest".

In a separate incident, several journalists were attacked during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The attacks included a man who verbally attacked The Hill’s Taylor Lorenz, yelling at her to stop recording before assaulting her. Two of Katie Couric’s producers reportedly had urine thrown at them, and an unnamed photojournalist for CBS News had his phone knocked out of his hand and was struck in the head, a blow that required stitches. 

In the aftermath of the protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, multiple white nationalist websites were taken off commonly used internet domain servers or hacked by counter-activists. For example, GoDaddy, a website hosting firm, cut ties with the white supremacist site Daily Stormer, which had actively promoted the rally, a day after the violence occurred.  Technology and financial companies such as Mastercard, Paypal and American Express have also said they will curb services to entities that violate their terms, engage in illegal activities, or incite hate or violence, raising concerns about ideological censorship. 

Legislation designed to suppress the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement will be debated by Congress in the fall. Introduced by Senator Ben Cardin in the Senate and supported by groups like AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, would impose fines and prison sentences on those who boycott Israel. Thus far, 21 states and New York, which has an Executive Order, already have some form of anti-BDS law in place.

The anti-BDS movement uses various tactics to pressure government actors, universities and other private institutions to censor and punish individuals and groups who criticise Israel. Several prominent Senators and free speech advocates have voiced opposition to the legislation, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

President Trump continued his verbal assault on the media at a campaign rally in Phoenix. "For the most part, all they do is complain”, Trump said about members of the press. “These are really, really dishonest people and they're bad people and I really think they don't like our country. I really believe that," he added. Outside of where he spoke, thousands gathered to protest the president’s appearance and reporters covering the protest were exposed to tear gas being used by police to push back the large crowds. Some reporters were forced to wear gas masks to continue their coverage. 

Association

A measure aimed at blocking U.S. government money for a British charity is being proposed in a congressional funding bill. The amendment to the Appropriations Bill would deny any federal funds for the humanitarian organisation Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW). IRUSA, an organisation affiliated with Islamic Relief Worldwide, said in statement that:

“This attempt to single out and target an effective and widely respected humanitarian group by the back door, without due process or right of reply, is an assault on all civil society organizations that should be vehemently opposed and rejected”.

On 7th September 2017, Islamic Relief USA reported that the amendment had been withdrawn.

The IRW has been the subject of attacks for a few years. In 2014, Israel and UAE accused the organisation of having ties with terrorism organisations. The IRW, however, refuted these claims and launched an independent audit that showed " no evidence to support the allegations".