A noted white nationalist fabricated a claim about guns and Virginia’s governor that has spread in the past week throughout social media and on far-right message boards. The hoax has drawn tens of thousands of engagements and views, and some have issued calls to violence in response.
Following the Democratic takeover of the Virginia state legislature in November’s elections, the state’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, said he would reintroduce multiple gun safety bills. In response, multiple counties in the state declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” adopting largely symbolic resolutions that say they will not enforce what they deem to be unconstitutional gun laws.
On December 13, Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) suggested that Northam use the state’s National Guard to enforce the bills if they become law. That same day, the Twitter account for the Virginia National Guard tweeted that it had “not received any requests from the Governor, or anyone on his staff, about serving in a law enforcement role related to any proposed legislation” and encouraging residents to “be patient while we allow our elected officials to work through the legislative process.” Northam himself a day earlier had said that there would be “consequences” if localities did not enforce the law, but he said only that he would “cross that bridge if and when we get to it.”
Also on December 13, Hal Turner, a white nationalist radio host who has a history of spreading false claims and hoaxes, posted on his website that Northam had “allegedly ordered a small cadre of staffers to begin the process for determining how to cut off electricity, telephones/ FAXES, Cellular phones AND DATA, as well as the Internet, in areas where he plans to send Virginia National Guard Troops to forcibly seize guns when the Democrat legislature convenes in January.” Turner further claimed that the order “was allegedly given to a very small and trusted group of staffers, some of whom it turns out, do not agree (at all) with this idea.”
Over the next few days, the hoax spread on multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and multiple YouTube channels, some of which are proponents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Users claimed Northam’s supposed response was “why the founding fathers put in the 2nd amendment,” calling for “patriots around the country” to “go after [these] anti-gunners with extreme prejudice,” and calling for “troops [to] remove this traitor from his position.” According to the tracking tool BuzzSumo, posts linking to the hoax article received more than 25,000 engagements on Facebook and Twitter combined.
Additionally, the hoax circulated throughout multiple message boards, including pro-gun forum AR15.com, where a user asked if there was “any truth” to the hoax and users said it could cause a “civil war.” Another message board that saw traffic on the hoax was the backup site for the subreddit “r/The_Donald,” where users called the “new rumor” a reason to “plan, act, purchase, train appropriately” and an “absolute necessary step to guarantee full scale revolution in the state ending in executions for all government officials.”
The hoax was also repeatedly mentioned on 4chan’s “/pol/” message board, where multiple users posted images of the headline or the text of Turner’s article and responded by writing that they were “glad to be fighting age” and urging others to “take care of this faggot” because “americans killed a president for much less.”
By December 17, multiple white nationalist channels on Telegram were also posting the hoax, via text from Turner’s site or from another radio host and QAnon supporter, John B. Wells, who had cited Turner and posted the same text on his site on December 15. One of those Telegram channels was that of Paul Nehlen, a former congressional candidate who ran against former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and who has openly expressed white nationalist views and issued calls to violence.