FACT CHECK: Did ‘Thousands’ Of ‘Far-Right Extremists’ Attend The Richmond Pro-Gun Rally?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

HuffPost published an article with a headline claiming “thousands” of “far-right extremists” attended a Jan. 20 gun-rights rally in Richmond, Virginia.

“Thousands Of Pro-Gun Activists And Far-Right Extremists Swarm Richmond, Virginia,” reads the headline.

Verdict: False

While some nationalist groups did attend the Richmond gun-rights rally, there’s no evidence “thousands” of “far-right extremists” were there. Experts and journalists gave the Daily Caller News Foundation lower estimates.

Fact Check:

The Virginia Division of Capitol Police estimated 22,000 people attended the Jan. 20 gun-rights rally in Richmond to protest various recent gun control proposals. Some officials feared violence might occur at the rally, particularly after the FBI announced days before that it had arrested three alleged members of white supremacist group The Base. But, despite these concerns, the rally remained peaceful, with only one reported arrest, according to The Washington Post.

“Thousands Of Pro-Gun Activists And Far-Right Extremists Swarm Richmond, Virginia,” read HuffPost’s headline for a Jan. 20 article on the rally. (RELATED: Article Claims Trump Will Sign An Executive Order Creating Term Limits For Congress)

To support the claim, the HuffPost author pointed to the presence of groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and American Guard, as well as other unnamed “far-right militants, conspiracy theorists.” Pictures and videos from the rally confirm that members of those groups were, in fact, in attendance.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a legal advocacy group, has designated the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys as “extremists” and the American Guard as a “hate group,” while the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish nonprofit organization, characterizes all three groups as “extremists.”

Experts agreed some far-right extremists likely did attend the Richmond gun-rights rally but disputed HuffPost’s “thousands” number.

“It’s reasonable to assume that some far right extremists attended the event insofar as gun ownership rights loom large in their worldview,” explained George Michael, a professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University and author of “Confronting Right Wing Extremism and Terrorism in the USA,” in an email to the DCNF. “However, I didn’t see evidence of far-right involvement on an organizational level.”

“I’ve seen nothing to suggest that there were thousands of far-right extremists in attendance,” said Darren Mulloy, a Wilfrid Laurier University history professor and author of “Enemies of the State: The Radical Right in American from FDR to Trump,” in an email to the DCNF.

Laird Wilcox, co-author of “American Extremists Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists & Others,” also told the DCNF he did not see evidence that “thousands” of “far right extremists” attended the rally.

“It was mostly single-issue people concerned about the Second Amendment. Most of those people were middle to moderate-right conservatives,” he said. “They were not ‘far-right extremists.'”

Only one journalist that the DCNF talked to speculated the number could be high, but he took pains to make clear his number was an estimate.

“I would say less than, but somewhere hovering around 20% of the folks at the rally likely met this qualification,” said Robert Evans, a Bellingcat investigative reporter present at the gun-rights rally. “I’d say I personally saw somewhere around a dozen [Right Wing Death Squad] patches, in addition to ‘helicopter’ shirts and imagery (references to how the Pinochet regime executed left-wing dissidents). I also saw hundreds and hundreds of references to the ‘boogaloo,’ the idea of an inevitable coming second civil war.”

Townhall reporter Julio Rosas told the DCNF that “very few” members of the aforementioned groups were there, while New2Share editor-in-chief Ford Fischer estimated “in the hundreds.”

But individuals wearing such imagery aren’t necessarily “far-right extremists.” On its website, the ADL notes that “gamers and history buffs” make references to “boogaloo.” Some individuals “still use the phrase as a joke,” according to the ADL.

Even if all such people were considered far-right extremists, there is no definitive way to determine the exact ratio of far-right extremists to gun advocates and other attendees at the rally. Social media only turned up anecdotal instances of such imagery.

Neither the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism nor the Counter Extremism Project, organizations that extensively study and track U.S. extremism, had information about who or what groups attended the rally.

“This was different from [Charlottesville, Virginia] in many ways in that there hardened bigots and violent extremists were key to the organizing of the event,” Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism Director Brian Levin told the DCNF in an email. “Richmond’s had been going on for years and was not organized by bigots. That being said, outside extremists made a very big deal about the Richmond event online.”

No other policy organizations could corroborate HuffPost’s claim, and the DCNF found no evidence that “thousands” of “far-right extremists” attended the rally. We rate this headline false.

Trevor Schakohl and Elias Atienza contributed to this report.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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