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Five years after Unite the Right, participant is fired from Mass. police department and a realty firm

WOBURN, Mass. — A police officer in a Boston suburb resigned from his force Monday, and also lost his job as a realtor, after online activists alleged he used bigoted slurs and served as security for racial antagonist and neo-Nazi Richard Spencer during 2017’s notorious and deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

John Joseph Donnelly, 33, was suspended from the Woburn Police Department as soon as the chief learned of the allegations, according to a department press release. He then resigned Monday evening.

“What was said and done in Charlottesville is in direct opposition to the core values of the Woburn Police Department, to serve all members of our community equally and treat them with dignity and respect,” Woburn Police Chief Robert Rufo Jr. said in a release.

In contrast to the department’s swift personnel action, Charlottesville’s City Council on Monday issued new personnel policies months after local activists called on the city to fire employee Allen Groat for attending the Jan. 6 insurrection and fraternizing with with InfoWars host Alex Jones and Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, who has been indicted for his actions in the Capitol invasion.

Capitol surveillance footage shows Groat entering the building at 2:37 p.m.. He was interviewed by FBI agents but not indicted.

Groat, an information technology analyst for the city’s police department, sheriff’s office, fire department and rescue squad, apologized to the city for being part of the insurrection in August. The city announced Groat would keep his job and said policies at the time did not allow for Groat’s dismissal sans criminal charges.

Donnelly’s outing came from a private group called Ignite the Right, which said it identified Donnelly from his own taped statements and social media postings and using facial recognition software.

A video of a man in aviator glasses standing next to Spencer in Charlottesville and identifying himself as “Johnny O’Malley” was plugged into the facial recognition software and then cross-checked, Ignite the Right asserted.

“To make extra sure we had the right match, we searched our media library, and found even more photos and videos of you,” Ignite the Right addressed to Donnelly on Twitter.

“We do not forgive. We do not forget,” the group said on its website. “One by one, we’re adding every single Nazi and racist who attended Unite the Right to our database.”

The outing also led to Donnelly getting fired from his job as a realtor last week.

“The affiliated Century 21 office has terminated this agent,” Century 21 tweeted. “We do not take this behavior lightly and will always work to ensure that we are properly addressing this type of behavior across Century 21 and our independent broker’s offices.”

Additionally, Donnelly lost his presidency of a New York-based charity that gives support to troubled members of the military, law enforcement and other first responders.

“Donnelly has been permanently removed from Irish Angel,” that group posted.

Not everyone agrees with the terminations.

“I think it’s totally messed up,” said Jeffrey Forbes, a resident of the nearby community of Peabody. “Whatever happened to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and freedom of speech?”

Videos and criminal prosecutions show that several Unite the Right rally attendees used violence to reach what was once known as Lee Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee stood. Most notoriously, after the rally was cancelled due to rioting, an Ohio man drove his vehicle through a group of anti-racist counter-protesters, killing a woman named Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.

Ignite the Right notes that a pre-rally leak of messages on the social media server Discord indicates that Donnelly used anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-female, and anti-Black language. On Twitter, the group published Discord chats showing “Johnny O’Malley” using a reviled racial epithet, joking about ISIS throwing gay men off rooftops, using a derogatory slur toward women and bragging about attempting to engage a taxi driver on the so-called “Jewish question.”

On the Friday evening before the Aug. 12 rally, hundreds of torch-bearing people walked the University of Virginia Lawn shouting “Jews will not replace us.” The following day, a group of self-identified neo-Nazis, racists and white nationalists shouted in unison, “F**k you, f**gots” at counter-protesters, among other insults and slurs.

At least one of Ignite the Right’s allegations appears to be inaccurate, or at least outdated. The group alleged that Donnelly is a gun dealer, underneath a screenshot of Woburn-based Precision Point Firearms.

“He has not owned the shop since 2016,” says current owner Chris Kielty. “He has no ownership or affiliation.”

A reporter’s phone call and text message sent to Donnelly’s realty phone number were not returned by press time. An emailed request for a telephone interview with Ignite the Right was unsuccessful.

While the county district attorney has issued a statement that they will be reviewing his cases, Donnelly was to be on paid leave as a Woburn officer while the allegations are being investigated, according to the Woburn officials. However, he resigned effective 5 p.m. Monday.

“The Charlottesville rally is a dark moment in our history, and deeply disturbing,” Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin said in a statement. “There is no place for hate in Woburn or in the ranks of the Woburn Police Department.”

The news from Woburn comes just two weeks after a different group, Sunlight Anti-Fascist Action, outed a South Carolina professor for appearing at the 2017 rally. Furman University computer science professor Christopher A. Healy was banned from campus, scolded by the university president, and placed on leave. Healy said he was exercising his First Amendment rights.


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