Organizers of the upcoming white nationalist rally “Unite the Right,” which is slated to take place August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, are livid after Airbnb removed users from its platform who appeared to be connected with the controversial event.
The rally is planned for this coming Saturday, and it is scheduled to occur at a Charlottesville park that prominently features a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee. According to opponents, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the planned gathering of alt-right supporters, neo-Nazis, KKK members and white nationalists could potentially end up being “the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States.”
As CNN reports, Airbnb was alerted to the fact that some participants of the controversial white nationalist rally were planning to utilize Airbnb listings in the city to host parties and reside in during the event. The information reportedly came from Daily Stormer, a known neo-Nazi website. After conducting an investigation into the claims, Airbnb decided to remove certain users found to be connected to the white nationalist gathering.
According to Airbnb, the company has the option to take such action based on a newly-implemented 2016 policy requiring that members of Airbnb “accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age.”
Airbnb instituted their 2016 policy change in direct response to reports of widespread racism connected to the platform, issues that particularly appeared to target the African-American community. Before the rollout of the user commitment that apparently has members of the white nationalist community seeing red, many black Airbnb users complained that they were being rejected by Airbnb hosts based solely on their race.
The above listed Airbnb commitment was rolled out to members of the platform in 2016. At that time, users who refused to agree to the policy were blocked from booking or hosting using the popular application. According to a statement by Airbnb, hosting participants in the white nationalist gathering was a violation of the commitment, hence the action taken by the company.
“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.”
Jason Kessler, the man behind the disputed and controversial “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia this weekend, claims that Airbnb has stepped way beyond the parameters of its 2016 commitment agreement. In a Twitter video, Kessler defended his alt-right views, and slammed Airbnb for caving to the beliefs of “people in power.”
“Just because the alt-right has opinions that people in power don’t agree with, they want to shut us down.”
Kessler has also used his Twitter account to call for a boycott of Airbnb, as well as to allude to the potential of litigation against the company regarding their interference with the upcoming Charlottesville white nationalist rally.
Airbnb says that it has the right (and obligation) to remove users from the platform when they are found to be acting in a manner deemed “antithetical.” According to Kessler, he took the company’s policy to mean that Airbnb hosts could not use the platform to deny service to people based on their ethnicity, not to mean that Airbnb would “go through all of your social media… and if they disagree with something you said, they can revoke your ability to stay there.”
White nationalist rally organizer Kessler also questioned whether Airbnb would treat attendees of a theoretical Black Lives Matter rally in the same manner that he and his alt-right buddies have been treated.
“This is not just political discrimination, it’s racial discrimination, because they are only going to apply that standard to white people.”
Social media users appear to be divided on whether Airbnb mistreated Kessler and his white nationalist rally cohorts with their decision to remove users associated with the divisive rally.
While the decision of Airbnb to enforce its established policy and ban users affiliated with the upcoming Virginia white nationalist rally has caused some trouble for event organizers, it’s far from the only problem plaguing Kessler leading up to the event. The city of Charlottesville has requested that the event be moved to an alternate venue, citing safety concerns – and even going so far as to revoke permits for the rally.
However, Kessler has refused, claiming that it is his desire to hold his white nationalist rally in support (and in the shadow of) the Robert E. Lee statue at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. The Virginia ACLU has reportedly taken up his cause.
It is unknown if Airbnb will also be targeted by a lawsuit led by the white nationalist and his supporters, but an alt-right boycott of the platform is being touted on social media.
[Featured Image by Christopher Penler/Shutterstock]