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Sunday, April 11, 2021
<p>Geoffrey Grooms, 23.</p>

Geoffrey Grooms, 23.

Three days after attending the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Geoffrey Grooms was fired.

His former employer, Lucky’s Market in Gainesville, called him and asked if he was at the white nationalist gathering in Virginia on Aug. 12 and said they couldn’t handle the negative press of having him around, Grooms said.

The conversation lasted five minutes, abruptly ending the Gainesville resident’s two-and-a-half-year run at the store.

“It had nothing to do with my work ethic,” Grooms, 23, said. “I’d done good work with them.”

After the rally in Charlottesville erupted in violence, Lucky’s received about 200 phone calls from residents who saw Grooms’ image at the event, which had been shared through social media, said Grooms, who identifies as a member of the “alt-right” movement and a civil rights activist for white people.

They called to threaten the store because of his affiliations, he said.

Lucky’s announced Grooms dismissal via Facebook on Aug. 15, citing its belief in “equality, inclusion, and love.”

“We learned today that one of our Gainesville Team Members participated in the rally in Charlottesville, VA,” the Facebook post read. “As of today, that Team Member no longer works here.”

Lucky’s has since declined requests for comment.

Noel Opava said she thinks the store took things too far, too fast.

Opava, a UF psychology senior, said the store should have sat Grooms down and voiced their concerns with him before taking action, rather than letting him go on the spot.

The 20-year-old worries that Lucky’s firing him like they did could set a bad precedent going forward and result in other institutions firing individuals just for having conflicting political views.

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“I don’t agree at all with what happened in Charlottesville, but I think it’s a slippery slope to fire people for their beliefs,” Opava said.

When Gainesville native and resident Robert Waelder first saw Lucky’s post, only one word came to mind: relief.

“It was pretty much just elation that someone was willing to take a stand on the issue, especially an employer here in Gainesville,” Waelder, 31, said.

Waelder, a local DJ, said he wasn’t surprised to learn that an “alt-right” supporter lives and works in Gainesville. He reposted Lucky’s announcement on his personal Facebook page.

“I’ve seen these kinds of people around in Ocala and in Gainesville before,” he said. “I thought if I posted it, people involved in that movement might get scared and think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t spout Nazi propaganda.’”

Having German ancestry and a grandfather who was an officer during World War II, Waelder said he doesn’t take “alt right” views lightly. He said he’s seeing history repeat itself.

“I’m not just going to stand by and let fascists make a comeback little by little,” he said.

***

When Grooms set foot in Charlottesville at about 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 12, after a nearly 740-mile drive, the last thing he said he expected was violence. He thought it would be fun experience.

“I have friends in the movement from across the country I never get to see,” Grooms said. “I was really excited to just see all the speakers.”

Grooms and his brothers encountered anti-fascist protesters on their way to the rally site at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Grooms said.

That’s when he said it all went wrong.

By 11:30 a.m., protesters were tossing homemade remedies, including gas and urine-filled balloons at Grooms and his comrades, while they forced their way through to get to the park, he said.

“It turned out to be a s--- show,” he said.

Gainesville resident James O’Brien, 44, was also at the Charlottesville rally and was arrested by Virginia State Police on a charge of carrying a concealed handgun. According to Alligator archives, O’Brien appears to have a blog “Bacon Books and Bullets,” which recently featured a post about killing “Leftists.”

An Ohio man connected to white supremacists drove a car through a crowd of protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 other people, according to The New York Times.

***

Now, in the aftermath of Charlottesville, Grooms’ life has been much more than just losing a job. He fears for his safety.

In the past week he’s avoided going out in public. He said he’s received about 20 threats online, and he’s taken down all of his social media accounts.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to find another job in this town,” Grooms said. “I may have to move or do something.”

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said he doesn’t tolerate threats within his community but believes the positions of the “Alt-right” and white nationalists at the Charlottesville rally were not of free speech, but of hate and have no place in Gainesville.

“When people publicly advocate a position of violence and harm toward others, they have to understand that there will be consequences,” Poe said.

Despite the setback and feelings of isolation within his community, Grooms said he’s even more determined to fight for his beliefs.

“You can take my job away from me and send me threats,” Grooms said. “I’m just going to come back and fight even harder.”

Geoffrey Grooms, 23.

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