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Citing phony evidence and unsubstantiated reports, state Sen. Amanda Chase recently alerted her constituents to arm themselves against violent protestors she said were coming to Chesterfield County.
"Stay awake, stay alert. If you own a gun, keep it next to your bedside tonight," Chase, R-Chesterfield, said in a Facebook video on June 1, after Richmond had seen three nights of sometimes violent protest in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Chase repeatedly said that evening that she was working with Chesterfield police to protect citizens. Her Facebook warnings received thousands of views, prompting the police to issue statements telling residents Chesterfield was calm and to only trust information they posted. The next day, Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz disassociated himself from Chases’ actions.
PolitiFact Virginia examined Chase’s warnings of riot that never came. We reached out to Chase, the only announced Republican candidate for governor next year and a staunch defender of gun rights and preserving Confederate statues. She texted her campaign manager would contact us. As of this writing, he hasn’t.
Here’s the chain of events:
Chase’s first warning came late on May 31, when Richmond was under curfew after previous nights of protests resulted in fires, smashed windows and pandemonium.
"You ALL need to guard your families and homes tonight. This is serious and I don’t want you to be caught off guard," she wrote in a 10:34 p.m Facebook post. She shared two images which turned out to be bogus.
One was a tweet from a group calling itself "ANTIFA America." Adorned with flames, it said, "Tonight’s the night Comrades. Tonight we say ‘F_ _ k The City’ and we move into the residential areas...the white hoods...and we take what’s ours."
Antifa is a broad, loosely affiliated coalition of left-wing, anti-fascist activists. It has no leaders and is organized into autonomous local groups. The movement has participated in several protests across the country in recent years, including the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. As PolitiFact has previously reported, there is no national organization for antifa, which means there is no official Twitter account for the movement.
Twitter quickly pulled down the ANTIFA America account, identifying it the next day as a sham organization linked to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa
The second image was a Facebook post from the purported group Blacklivess (sic) Matter."
"WE WILL BE ASSASSINATING WHITE FAMILIES UNTILL [sic] JUSTICE IS SERVED!!!" the post read. "WE WILL SET UP IN WHITE NEIGHBORHOODS AND CITIES. ITS TIME TO TAKE ACTION!!!!! ALL WHITE PEOPLE MUST PAY FOR THIER (sic) SINS. THEY ARE EVIL AND JEALOUS HUMAN BEINGS. LETS SEE YOU MOURN OVER YOUR UNCOOKED DISEASE HAVING FAMILIES FOR ONCE. WHITE BABIES, OLD WHITE PEOPLE, LAWYERS, POLICE, ETC!! P.S. THERE ARE OVER 100 OF US THE MISSION WILL BE DONE!!!!"
Properly spelled, Black Lives Matter is the name of a racial justice campaign with chapters in the U.S. and Canada. It is not connected to the misspelled Facebook account Blacklivess Matter that called for random killing. Facebook revoked that account for being fake.
Neither image mentioned Chesterfield. Chase localized a hoax that created fear in a number of small cities and suburbs across the nation.
Chase also shared a screenshot from the Facebook page of the Anti-Fascists of the Seven Hills, a real group of self-proclaimed "communists and anarchists" organizing in Richmond. ASH had posted a picture of a burning car, and wrote "Rebellion is wild and beautiful and fallible and necessary." The post, however, didn’t mention Chesterfield or call for violence against whites; nor did any post on the group’s page during the previous week.
Chase returned to Facebook on June 1, speaking in a video she posted at 4:37 p.m.
"I actually spoke with Chesterfield County Police Chief Katz and just wanted to make aware to you all what is coming to Richmond," she said. "First of all, it is conclusive that antifa has been in the Richmond area. They’re now going into - this evening - greater Richmond area neighborhoods. I know Chesterfield County, where I live, is one of those targets."
Chase said antifa would be organizing on the Hull Street and Iron Bridge Road corridors, and in Mechanicsville. Chase did not identify the source of her information, but said three times during the four-minute video that Chesterfield’s police department was aware of the peril.
She said a network of citizen lookouts had been deployed. Three times, she urged gun owners to be prepared.
At 5:37 p.m., the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense league issued an alert on its website: "ANTIFA has made a threat to attack neighborhoods and stores in Chesterfield County, including in the area of the John Hancock center around (Virginia Route) 360 and Winterpock roads tonight, June 1. We have reason to believe this threat is one to take seriously."
The group urged its Chesterfield members to watch their neighborhoods and report threats to the police. It warned members against vigilantism, but added, "if you find yourself in a life or death situation, as always, you should be prepared to protect yourself."
One website reader asked VCDL President Philip Van Cleave for the source of his information. "Two trusted sources in a position to know," Van Cleave said. "Sorry, I cannot go further than that."
At 6:20 p.m., Chase posted another video, warning of danger and again saying she was working with the county police, as well as the VCDL and retired law enforcement officials. She said of antifa, "They like to light things on fire - cars, property, houses...They also fill water bottles with acid and like to throw it at people...They throw bricks into windows."
Chase also said, "I just want to alert citizens tonight that if you are a 2nd Amendment supporter and you know how to protect yourself and you’re trained, please be alert tonight."
Her website is followed by 95,200 people. That night, many thanked Chase for her warnings, said they had firearms ready, and promised to support her for governor. Some reported seeing suspicious vehicles or groups of people. There was also pushback. Some accused Chase of spreading fear and posted an NBC story - published at 7 p.m. - revealing the white nationalist origins of the antifa hoax sweeping the country.
At 9:04 p.m., the Chesterfield police department tried to quell the stir with a post on its Facebook page. It said there was no unrest in the county and that citizens seeking updates should rely on the department’s website.
Katz amplified that message the next day, saying people seeking information on threats should "only" rely on the department’s social media. "We cannot confirm validity from any other sources," he posted on the police Facebook page.
During a June 3 news conference, Katz denied Chase’s implication that he was the source of her antifa information. Katz acknowledged they had a phone conversation on July 1.
"At no time did I share any criminal intelligence information with her," he said. "It’s not my practice, it’s not my policy and I’m not in a position to activate any community whatsoever. I’m responsible for the Chesterfield County Police Department and politicians are responsible for their messages and that’s all I have to say."
Final words from Chase
Although Chase would not give an interview for this story, she discussed her actions during a June 5 interview on conservative Newsradio WRVA. She contradicted her June 1 post that there was "conclusive" evidence antifa was targeting Chesterfield.
"We had reports, credible or not, that we could not substantiate, that antifa was going to come to our neighborhood and destroy property," she said. "It was unconfirmed, and we were working behind law enforcement."
Chase said her warnings scared antifa. "I am so glad I put the message out in Chesterfield and said, ‘you’re not welcome here,’ because, if I hadn’t, they would have been here," she said. "You can guarantee they would have been here."
And she vowed not to change her ways.
"I get criticized all the time about the videos I put up on my Sen. Amanda Chase page," she said. " You know what, I’m going to continue to do them. I’m going to inform the citizens of Virginia and my district about what’s going on."
State Sen. Amanda Chase, Facebook posts at 4:37 p.m. and 6:04 p.m., June 1, 2020.
Chase, Facebook post, 10:34 p.m. Facebook post, May 31, 2020.
Chase, Interview on Newsradio WRVA, June 5, 2020.
Chesterfield County Police, 9:04 p.m. Facebook post, June 1, 2020.
Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz, 2:21 p.m. Facebook post, June 2, 2020.
PolitiFact, "Antifa is warning that tonight they're moving out of the cities - and into residential areas to 'take what's ours," June 1, 2020.
NBC News, "White nationalist group posing as antifa called for violence on Twitter," June 1. 2020.
Daily Beast, "The GOP politician spreading terrifying BLM and antifa hoaxes," June 3, 2020.
Snopes, "No, Black Lives Matter didn’t threaten to assassinate white families," June 3, 2020.
The Associated Press, "False claims of antifa protesters plague small U.S. cities," June 2, 2020.
Virginia Citizens Defense League, Alert, June 2, 2020, 5:37 p.m.
Anti-Fascists of Seven Hills, "About," accessed June 9. 2020.
ASH, Facebook page, May 25 through June 2, 2020.