The Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Prevention is seeking a court order to prevent militia-style displays of force at a second “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., after a recent study from the organization found all 50 states have constitutional provisions that could be used to prohibit the activity of paramilitary and private militia.

The action was discussed during a Feb. 8 conference call. Members of the Georgetown community were invited to join the call, during which ICAP attorneys discussed their research into legal provisions that officials can use to prevent armed groups from “sowing fear and violence at demonstrations.”

The August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville descended into violent confrontations between white nationalist demonstrators and counterprotestors that left one person dead and more than 30 people injured. Subsequent “White Lives Matter” rallies have been planned in other places throughout the United States such as Bedford and Rutherford Counties, Tenn., according to ICAP.

ICAP is now seeking a court order that would prevent defendants from returning to Virginia and before the Aug. 12 anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally, on which date organizers have pledged to return.

“In this country, we respect and protect the rights of all to demonstrate for what they believe in,” McCord said. “But the Constitution does not give private armed groups the right to engage in paramilitary activity or usurp the role of authorized law enforcement.”


ICAP attorneys also visited Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, Tenn., to coordinate with local officials to incorporate provisions into event permits that would further restrict the use of weapons and impose time and geographic restrictions on demonstrations.

Adam Tucker, assistant city attorney for Murfreesboro, said he felt it prudent to work with ICAP lawyers to draw up conditions and restrictions for the rallies that ensure the preservation of First Amendment rights while also protecting public safety.

“We were very concerned that the ‘White Lives Matter’ rallies would escalate into the kind of violence that took place during the ‘Unite the Right’ rally last August,” Tucker said in a Feb. 8 news release.

The provisions put in place by local authorities with the help of ICAP worked to reduce violence and chaos on the days of the planned rallies at Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, according to Tucker.

“In the events at Shelbyville and Murfreesboro together, there were no reported injuries, there was no reported damage, and there was only one demeanor arrest made in Shelbyville,” Tucker said on the conference call.

Tucker said planning by law enforcement, a unified command structure and proactive communication from the event organizers to attendees about rules were important factors in minimizing potential problems.

The language of demonstration permits designed by ICAP prevents demonstrators from intimidating counterprotestors — as occurred in Charlottesville — which Tucker said may have contributed to the relative clam of the Murfreesboro and Shelbyville rallies.

“Perhaps the league’s leaders recognized that they might not be able to control the behavior of everyone attending this event, and that their inability to do so might find them facing a lawsuit similar to the one filed against them in Virginia,” Tucker said.

ICAP’s research found that all 50 states have at least one of four types of statutes that outline a government monopoly on force to protect public safety.

The Virginia state constitution includes three of the four types of statues: the first, third, and fourth categories of provisions.

The first category, found in 48 states, states the military must be subordinate to civil authorities. The second, found in 28 states, prohibits groups from organizing as private military units without government authorization. The third, found in 25 states, criminalizes certain paramilitary actions, including assembly to practice training with firearms. The fourth, found in 12 states, bans the false assumption of the duties of a peace officer or the donning of military uniforms or close imitations.

Mary McCord, senior litigator from practice at ICAP, said the violence during the rally in Charlottesville was in fact planned beforehand by the offending groups.

“We saw violence almost from the very start, well before again the protest was even scheduled to begin,” McCord said. “And we know from reviewing the planning documents and the planning of organizational meetings that took place before the event, there just was the intent of the alt-right white national group that was to provoke counterprotestors to engage in initial acts of violence so that they could fight back with severe violence and claim self-defense.”

Clarification: The headline and first paragraph have been updated to reflect that ICAP is seeking to block militia-style displays of force at planned future rallies, not to prevent white nationalists from assembling.

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