September 13, 2021
How long will pro-gun groups stand idly by and let gun-ban proponents publicly call them domestic terrorists before they stand up and do something?
For the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), the answer is no longer, as the organization is suing the anti-gun Coalition To Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) for libel after the CSGV labeled the pro-freedom group a “domestic terror organization” in a press release.
In the early June release, the GSGV stated: “Virginia cannot afford to elect Glenn Youngkin and his outdated and harmful stance on gun violence. His willingness to say anything for a vote is deeply troubling, as we’ve already seen him cozying up to those with deep ties to those at the forefront of the insurrectionist movement, like Senator Amanda Chase and the domestic terror organization, the Virginia Citizens Defense League.”
Of course, according to VCDL President Philip Van Cleave, his organization has never been accused of being involved with or committing any kind of violence, much less a violent criminal act—the very definition of domestic terrorism. Consequently, the group filed the lawsuit, with Joel Kanter, chairman of the board of GSGV, being served the papers.
“This, of course, was a different case than them just calling us names,” Van Cleave said in an exclusive interview with Firearms News. “If I said to your boss that I thought you were an idiot and I don’t know why he hired you, that’s one thing. But if I went to your boss and said, ‘Mark is a felon. He murdered somebody in Louisiana back in 2001. Did you know that?’ If I did that, that’s a very different thing than just my opinion. I’m actually accusing you, saying you did something. Now that could cost you your job, it could cost you your marriage, it could cost you your friendships. That’s where you can cross a line, and they crossed that line.”
As Van Cleave pointed out, GSGV made the accusation as a statement of fact—as if there is proof that VCDL is, in fact, a terrorist organization.
“They said VCDL is a domestic terrorist organization,” he continued. “If they were just kind of talking among themselves, I would just shrug. But when you put it out as fact in a press release, and the press then prints that press release… It was stated as a statement of fact. There was no ambiguity. They weren’t accusing us, they were saying that’s what we are.”
In the lawsuit, the organization highlighted its past record, which is about as far as you can get from being a domestic terror group—a name anti-gunners like to call pro-2A individuals and groups to try to turn the publica against them.
“VCDL has never advocated, engaged in, supported, funded, or in any other way participated in any activity that could reasonably be construed as ‘domestic terrorism,’” the lawsuit states. “Neither VCDL, nor any of its leadership, has ever been indicted, charged, arrested, or accused, by any public authority—whether federal, state, or local, of engaging in activities that could reasonably be construed as ‘domestic terrorism. VCDL has never been accused of being involved in or committing any criminal act or act of violence. In fact, VCDL had the single largest gun right rally in the nation last year and not a single act of violence or any other criminality arose from it.”
The lawsuit further points out that the libelous statement was made intentionally with the purpose of hurting the VCDL, both now and in the future.
“CSGV’s false and defamatory statement concerning VCDL was motivated and prompted by CSGV’s actual malice toward VCDL—that is, hatred, ill-will, grudge, desire for revenge—driven by CSGV’s antagonistic political position vis a vis the gun control issue, about which CSGV and VCDL so vehemently disagree,” the lawsuit states. “As demonstrated by CSGV’s issuance of a press release containing the defamatory statement, it intended that its defamatory statement of and concerning VCDL be published as far and wide as possible, to inflict maximum damage on VCDL’s and its members’ reputations.”
The lawsuit concludes by putting a monetary amount on the loss due to the libelous nature of GSGV’s statement in the press release and asking the court to order payment.
“VCDL is entitled to compensatory damages in the amount of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000), or whatever amount the jury deem appropriate, for the past and future harm to its professional reputation, and for its past and future lost membership and its concomitant loss of revenues, suffered as a direct and proximate result of CSGVs intentionally tortious misconduct,” the lawsuits states. “Alternatively, even in the absence of adequate proof of economic losses, VCDL is entitled to an award of nominal damages, in recognition of the damage to reputation caused by CSGV’s false and defamatory press release. VCDL is also entitled to three hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($350,000), or whatever amount the jury deem appropriate, in exemplary or punitive damages for CSGV’s intentionally tortious misconduct consisting of its publication of a false and defamatory statement of and concerning VCDL, with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of that statement.”
Only time will tell what will happen with the lawsuit and if the VCDL will be able to collect nearly a half million dollars from the anti-gun group. If nothing else, it might make gun-ban groups think twice before labeling organizations “domestic terror organizations” just because they support the right to keep and bear arms.
The next move is in GSGV’s hands.
“Our next step is on Sept. 18,” Van Cleave said. “By then, they have to respond. They’ll give some kind of response back to us. We’ll know more when we see how they respond.
“If I had told your boss you had been convicted of murder, I’d better damn well have proof of that. They had damn well better have proof that what they said is right, and there is no such proof.”
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for more than 20 years.