Airbnb investigated and removed registered hosts from Charlottesville, VA, who appeared to be associated with upcoming ‘Unite the Right’ rally of white nationalists.
Concerned users alerted Airbnb that members of the online neo-Nazi community The Daily Stormer were planning to use local properties to sleep and stage parties. Following a quick search of internal engines, the company began pulling Charlottesville profiles deemed supportive of the rally.
Starting in 2016, Airbnb has required would-be members to sign an agreement pledging to “accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age.”
Users who refused the terms were blocked from making bookings or accepting hosts on Airbnb.
“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,” wrote company representatives in a publicized statement.
The decision attracted criticism from prospective Unite the Right attendees almost immediately.
One of the rally’s organizers, Jason Kessler, posted a video rant against Airbnb to Twitter.
“Just because the alt-right has opinions that people in power don’t agree with, they want to shut us down,” he said.
According to CNN, the company’s Community Commitment arose from controversy. Last year, black members of Airbnb complained of discrimination, saying they were frequently denied lodging solely on account of their race.
The institution of a sweeping pledge for prospective hosts and guests alike was intended to alleviate complaints of racism among the website’s users.
While Kessler seemed to understand the company’s position on preventing discrimination, he didn’t think the policy’s enforcement would entail going “through all of your social media… and if they disagree with something you said, they can revoke your ability to stay there.”
He also questioned whether Airbnb would be willing to peruse users affiliated with Black Lives Matter to see if they’d posted “hateful things about white people.”
“This is not just political discrimination, it’s racial discrimination, because they are only going to apply that standard to white people,” Kessler said.
Thousands of people are expected to travel to Charlottesville on Saturday, either to partake in the event or protest against its occurrence. The Southern Poverty Law Center said the weekend could mark “the largest hate-gathering of its in kind in decades in the United States.”
The Virginia city has become a nexus for white nationalism in recent months, hosting a Ku Klax Klan rally in July and garnering a visit from prominent Aryan supremacist Richard Spencer in May.
The Klan demonstration saw 50 members of the hate group facing down nearly 1,000 counter-protesters.
Organizers for Unite the Right, including Kessler, have voiced concerns that their voices too could be censored by public accusations of bigotry.
“There is just an incredible amount of discrimination from the city government and other elements of the community to keep people from eating at the restaurants they want to eat at, to keep people from renting,” complained Kessler. “There’s just an enormous amount of hostility.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that Kessler once engaged in a campaign of harassment against Charlottesville’s only black councilman, who once petitioned to remove a statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Less than a year before he began worrying about the possibility of hecklers at Unite the Right, Kessler was booked for misdemeanor assault – a video recording showed him punching a man who’d questioned Kessler’s petition to unseat the councilman.