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The far-right impersonated antifa online to fabricate reports that its adherents were encouraging violence at the Richmond, Virginia gun rights rally.
Today, thousands gathered in Virginia’s capital to demonstrate against proposed gun control measures.
For weeks, the far-right has spread misinformation that the proposed legislation will make guns illegal and that the state will begin confiscating weapons. The proposals actually limit the number of handguns private citizens can purchase monthly, allows municipalities to regulate carrying firearms in public spaces, and requires a background check to purchase a weapon.
People from across the nation planned to join the demonstration. Alongside gun rights activists, the event reportedly attracted some hate groups.
At least one hate group intended to use it as an opportunity to sow dissent and create chaos, potentially violence. Over the weekend, the FBI announced the arrests of white supremacists allegedly affiliated with the Base who planned to attend and who had amassed large quantities of weapons, ammunition, and body armor. The Base is a violent paramilitary neo-Nazi group connected with the Atomwaffen Division. Other purported members of the Base who were arrested are accused of plotting to murder a couple they’d identified as high-profile members of antifa.
In what appears to have been a secondary effort to increase the likelihood of the demonstration turning violent, a far-right individual or group created fake antifa Twitter accounts.
Followers were told to “disguise yourselves as patriots/Trump supporters” and start a riot to malign the right “so it’s harder to turn popular opinion against us.” They were also allegedly encouraged to attack people who wore symbols associated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Nazis, law enforcement, Atomwaffen Division, Patriot Front, the KKK, Proud Boys, and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.
Yesterday, IGD News shared a thread about these and other far-right impersonations of antifa, a strategy employed by the far-right in recent years which can involve misappropriating images, fabricating reports of violence, and promoting unfounded conspiracy theories.
Intentionally or unintentionally, far-right media are often duped by these impersonations and end up further amplifying false narratives.
Others echoed IGD News’ warnings about the fake accounts.
White nationalists and Alt-Right trolls are circulating this misinformation. Their previous account was shut down, but people need to report @ANTIFARichmond for posing as @ash_antifa. Again, this is a fake account spreading disinformation at #Richmond2ARally. pic.twitter.com/PJP5oGeBe0— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) January 20, 2020
White nationalists have set up a fake account ahead of #2A #Virginia rally @RichmondANTIFA. They are impersonating @ash_antifa. Account followed by large amount of neo-Nazis, white nationalists + Alt-Right trolls. Block + report this account, which will surely spread misinfo. pic.twitter.com/wfvRjdTnsB— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) January 19, 2020
🚨DISINFO ALERT🚨— Gwen Snyder is uncivil (@gwensnyderPHL) January 19, 2020
Antifascists are choosing a path of de-escalation in Richmond tomorrow.
It's going to be even harder than usual for Nazis to "prove" that Antifa are big bad terrorists.
That means a boatload of Nazi-generated fake Antifa content is headed our way. https://t.co/cvkjIN8AgI
The demonstration ended at 2:00pm ET without any reports of violence.
Last year, far-right trolls posed as Boston antifa. Before anyone caught on, they managed to convince media that antifa had hung an anti-racism banner at a Boston Red Sox game.
Claire Goforth is a Jacksonville, Florida-based journalist covering politics, culture, justice, and unicorns. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from regional alt-weeklies to Al Jazeera.