A new legal shootout is taking shape in the state of Virginia.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) announced a suit against the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) on Friday. The gun-rights group is accusing the gun-control group of defaming them. The fight stems from CSGV labeling VCDL a “domestic terror group” in press releases surrounding the Virginia gubernatorial election.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the VCDL, said the suit was about trying to protect the organization’s reputation.
“We want to clear our name and punish the other side for what they did to us,” Van Cleave told The Reload. “They flat out said that we were a ‘domestic terror’ group as if that was a statement of fact. They said we are which is very different from somebody saying, ‘well, they act like’ or ‘they seem like.'”
VCDL is alleging CSGV called them a “domestic terror group” in two separate press releases. One sent was sent in April and the other in June. The copies of the releases in question currently on the CSGV website do not contain the sections in question.
However, a cached copy of the June release from the day after it was published does show CSGV referring to VCDL as a “domestic terror organization.” It is not clear when or why the press release was changed.
CSGV did not respond to a request for comment on the suit or the changes to the press release.
Van Cleave said the slight has a tangible negative effect on the gun-rights group. He said the group has donors in law enforcement and sensitive government roles and being erroneously labeled a member of a “domestic terror organization” could even cost them their jobs. He also said the claim could hurt the group’s ability to carry out its advocacy mission.
“It’s damaging to our members and to the organization itself,” Van Cleave said. “They’re costing us possible memberships. They’re weakening our organization in the eyes of legislators.”
Defamation suits are notoriously difficult to win and this is not the first time the VCDL has filed one in recent memory. In 2016, the group sued Katie Couric over a deceptive edit of the group’s members that made them appear stumped by one of her questions which was included in a 2016 documentary the media personality made. VCDL filed a $12 million suit claiming Couric had harmed their reputation and the reputation of its members by making them look incompetent.
However, the group’s suit was thrown out in 2017.
Van Cleave said VCDL believes they have a better case this time around. He argued that since CSGV made a direct and provably-false statement of fact, they have a better chance of winning this time around.
“That was a different situation,” he said of the Couric suit. “She didn’t come out and say something like this. What she did was cut some audio out to make it look like we responded differently to a question than we did. That’s a different category. It’s also problematic, but that’s a different category.”
He said VCDL intends to hold CSGV to account for their false claim.
“They’re gonna have to show where we’ve been categorized by law enforcement or had been charged with crimes of violence to further our goals and they’re not going to be able to do that,” Van Cleave said. “They’re gonna have just the opposite problem because we’re squeaky clean. They’ve got to show that we are a domestic terror organization. They put out a statement of fact.”
The gun-rights group said it filed in a civil court in the Fairfax County, Virginia circuit. VCDL said it has already served CSGV with the suit and the gun-control group has until September 18th to reply.