- The media worked hard to spread misinformation and fear leading up to Virginia’s gun rights rally Monday.
- Multiple outlets and reporters made false claims about the event being either totally “white nationalist” or that “thousands” of white nationalists would be in attendance. Neither was true.
- Several reporters on the ground, including at least one from CNN, found the prevailing narrative about the rally to be deeply inaccurate.
For this year’s Virginia gun rights rally, media outlets and reporters worked to spread misinformation, constructing the narrative that the rally was populated with “extremists” and “white nationalists” and was likely to turn violent. None of that was true.
While he didn’t start the misinformation, Ben Collins, NBC’s “disinformation and extremism” reporter, became one of its more noticeable faces when he urged reporters on Sunday to “verify” facts as they covered “the white supremacist rally.” Collins deleted the tweet amid a fierce backlash, but not before attempting to justify the error by drawing on a handful of anecdotes.
Following a commonality for many erroneous reports the Daily Caller reviewed, Collins cited a story about law enforcement officials busting a few suspected neo-Nazis who were allegedly planning some kind of violence in Richmond. The men reportedly had weapons and were talking about attending the rally. One illegally crossed the border from Canada.
This has led to two different FBI arrests of 7 total people. The governor declared a state of emergency, citing “credible intelligence” of hate groups attending.
Users on white nationalist forums planned meet-ups for months, a contrast to previous years.https://t.co/CRb0tzOPYa
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) January 19, 2020
Axios followed suit, publishing an article early Monday titled “As Richmond braces for hate, Americans say race relations are getting worse.” The article suggested that a “worst-case scenario” could result in the gun rights rally being “another ‘Charlottesville,'” a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally that turned deadly in 2017.
Monday’s event, however, was not organized by white supremacists. The gun rally was the product of the non-profit, pro-Second Amendment group Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL).
Axios also cited three suspected neo-Nazis arrested by the FBI before the event, which Collins had noted. Approximately 22,000 people ended up attending Monday’s peaceful rally.
“On a day that is meant to celebrate what would have been the 91st birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation is grappling with emboldened white nationalist groups and racial tension,” Axios wrote, linking the rally with extremist hate groups. “Surveys show a majority of Americans believe race relations are getting worse under President Trump.”
The media’s misinformation only continued as the rally began Monday.
MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin began his show “MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin” by pushing the line that white nationalists and militia members were all put “in one place” for the rally.
“This is the scene in Richmond,” Melvin said, showing an aerial view of the rally. “They put white nationalists, militia groups and supporters of background checks for gun purchases all in one place. A lot of folks, justifiably so, are worrying about a repeat of Charlottesville in 2017.”
Meanwhile, from start to finish, there was never indication that white nationalists attended the event in any serious numbers, according to dozens of reports on the ground. And the only prominent instances the Caller could find of people “worrying” about a “repeat of Charlottesville” were among journalists themselves.
Melvin did not provide evidence backing up this claim. He later pushed the same inaccuracies, saying “thousands” of “white nationalists” had descended onto Virginia’s capitol Monday. (RELATED: Antifa Group Plans To March Alongside Pro-Gun Protesters In Virginia)
Townhall senior reporter Julio Rosas, who was on the ground in Richmond, documented various instances debunking the media’s white nationalist claims.
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) January 20, 2020
The Caller also spoke to Maj Toure, political activist and founder of the Black Guns Matter movement, regarding the prevalence of misinformation among major media outlets. He contended that journalists with political agendas have an “interest in chaos” regarding gun coverage. He also contested the narrative that race and violence played a role in Monday’s rally.
Still, MSNBC’s Cal Perry continued to stoke the fires on Melvin’s show, reporting on the “heavily, heavily armed” people in attendance. These “heavily armed” people were not violent, as CNN’s own reporter eventually acknowledged.
Zero people were arrested for violence during Monday’s rally. One person was arrested nearby for violating an anti-mask law, Virginia Mercury reported. Around 7,000 of the approximately 22,000 attendees remained in the gun-free zone at the capitol and around 15,000 people were in the streets where guns were allowed.
Curtis Houck, the managing editor at Newsbusters, put together a montage encapsulating the massive effort to misinform Americans about the nature of Monday’s rally.
#NEW MONTAGE from me showing how @CNN and @MSNBC spent their mornings hyping fears that “white nationalists” and “extremists” would cause “violence” at #VirginiaRally for the #2A like in 2017 at Charlottesville #LobbyDay2020 pic.twitter.com/wR91mMPfmR
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) January 20, 2020
“We know that the media smear marches they hate,” Washington Examiner commentary editor Timothy Carney summed up after the event. “Guns, like abortion and all-boys Catholic schools, are a culture war issue. We know what side 90% of the media industry is on. Everyone should admit it.”
To exemplify Carney’s point, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes capped the outlet’s coverage of the rally by calling it an “explicit” threat of violence.
“But, the implicit and explicit message of a bunch of heavily armed people marching on the state’s capitol is this: don’t you dare enact your policies, if you do we will use these guns against you,” Hayes claimed Monday evening.