For at least a week, the mainstream media published numerous articles expressing fear about a pro-Second Amendment gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia. The rally was an annual organized event by the Virginia Citizens Defense League to lobby for Second Amendment-friendly legislation, but this year, white supremacists and other extremist groups announced they would attend it.
Instead of the news cycle focusing on the Second Amendment and the Virginia Democrats passing gun control legislation, the media narrative warned of violence caused by white supremacists and tried to link those groups to the gun rights rally organizers. VCDL president Philip Van Cleave told the media that his group and other affiliated gun rights groups were not stoking fear of violence, nor did they invite the white supremacist and other fringe groups to the rally. Van Cleave said, “It’s the Democrats… It’s almost like they want something to happen. It sounds crazy, but they keep doing it and you have to start wondering if that’s intentional.”
Virginia authorities deployed police and security checkpoints for protesters to enter a designated protest area unarmed, in addition to declaring a temporary state of emergency in case violence ensued at the rally.
NBC News’s headline read, “At tense Virginia rally, demonstrators reject extremists, defend law-abiding gun owners.” NBC News said state authorities estimated about 22,000 people attended the rally outside the state capitol building, but added that some feared “it would be a repeat of the violent 2017 protest in Charlottesville that ended in a woman’s death.” Its own fear-based narrative was debunked when it asked one of the rally participants about the presence of white supremacists, who said, “They are not the right. Conservatives are the right. We are not like those people… If there are Nazis here, white supremacists, they are not welcome by me. I do not want them on my side ever.”
CNN’s headline admitted that the media’s fear-mongering failed, “Virginia gun-rights rally concludes peacefully despite earlier fears of extremist violence.” Its first sentence read, “A large gun-rights rally in Virginia’s state capital unfolded peacefully Monday despite earlier fears of the kind of violence that took place in nearby Charlottesville three years ago.”
But as much as the media played up the potential for violence, there was no violence at the rally. One arrest was made when a woman wore a mask in public and allegedly ignored an officer’s warning, but overall, armed and unarmed protesters chanted various slogans throughout the rally. Some rally participants reportedly recited the Second Amendment while others passed around petitions to recall Democratic Governor Ralph Northam.
The rally took larger significance this year due to the Democratic Party’s electoral gains in the state legislature to become the majority party. The party advanced three gun control bills, including mandatory background checks on all firearms purchases, permitting law enforcement to confiscate guns from those deemed safety risks, limiting gun purchases to once a month, and permitting local governments to ban weapons from certain events.