NEW YORK—In response to white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, VA, that have turned violent, PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel has released the following statement:

“PEN America is horrified and disgusted by recent reports that a driver intentionally rammed a crowd of counter-protesters, causing at least one death and multiple injuries, in Charlottesville, VA, today. While affirming the right to assemble peacefully, PEN America deplores the message of hate spread by white nationalist groups. While white nationalists have the constitutional right to protest non-violently and to vent their views publicly, their despicable message of racism, hatred, and anti-Semitism is an incendiary one aimed to intimidate, vilify, and instill fear. When a group steps out in the public square to spew hateful slogans they have an obligation to understand the impact of their words and to take measures to mitigate the risk of violence. The leaders of today’s march failed abysmally in their duty to urgently and publicly call on all their supporters—whether organized or not—to reject violence and ensure that Charlottesville police could do their jobs and allow this exercise of speech to go forward without risk to public safety. Counter-protesting groups also have a duty to remain peaceful, as the majority reportedly did, engaging in singing, prayer, chanting, and other forms of peaceful expression to reject hate and division. However, clashes between white supremacists and some counter-protesters ultimately resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency, the dispersal of the gathering, and reports of violence. When the only way to ensure public safety is to shut down speech, all sides lose.

PEN America calls on leaders at the local, state, and national levels to condemn the rising tide of hateful and menacing white supremacist rhetoric observed across the country. Acknowledging the right of such groups to speak does not require anyone to condone their message or stay silent as they spread it.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: [email protected], +1 617-947-6512 (mobile)