Airbnb removes users affiliated with white nationalists' rally

Posted at 8:30 AM, Aug 09, 2017

(CNN) -- Airbnb has removed users from its platform who appear to be connected with an upcoming rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The "Unite the Right" rally is planned for Saturday in front of the statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee at a Charlottesville park. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the event as one that could be "the largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States."

Airbnb said that it had been alerted by its users that members of a neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer were planning to hold parties and stay at several Airbnb listings in town during the event. The company investigated and "removed these users" after finding that they were affiliated with the rally.

The company cited its policy that Airbnb members "accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age."

In 2016, Airbnb asked its members to sign onto this commitment. People who declined to sign the commitment aren't able to host or book using 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," according to an Airbnb statement.

Jason Kessler, organizer of the "Unite the Right" blasted Airbnb's decision in a video posted 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.

Last year, Airbnb instituted its commitment to combat racial discrimination after the company came under fire after reports of discrimination. Black users had shared their frustrations saying they had been rejected by hosts on Airbnb because of their race.

A report released in September suggested remedies and a greater focus on dealing with those issues. Airbnb also began requiring hosts and guests to sign its community commitment, in which in order to continue using the platform, they would have to uphold the company's revamped discrimination policy.

Airbnb said when there are people behaving in a way that's "antithetical" to that commitment, it could remove them from the platform.

Kessler said in a video that he thought the policy meant a user couldn't deny people of different ethnic groups from staying at an Airbnb. He said he didn't think it would mean the company would "go through all of your social media... and if they disagree with something you said, they can revoke your ability to stay there."

He questioned whether Airbnb would check out a Black Lives Matter supporter to see if they've 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.

The Saturday event in Charlottesville is expected to have Richard Spencer along with other white nationalists and neo-Confederates.

Charlottesville was the site of a Ku Klux Klan rally in July and a demonstration by a group carrying torches led by Spencer in May.

The city has tried to get Kessler to move the event to another park, for safety and logistical reasons,reported CNN affiliate WVIR. But Kessler has said he seeks to hold the event in support of the Lee statue at Emancipation Park, according to the local station.