Mailchimp blocked Virginia's top gun-rights group from sending newsletters through its service for unspecified reasons.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) announced Wednesday night that its account with the leading mass-distribution service had been suspended. The tech giant failed to provide any reason for the decision. The blackout has left the group scrambling to find an alternative.
"There was no justification," Philip Van Cleave, the president of the VCDL, told the Washington Free Beacon. "They provided nothing. Basically, they just said we need to get our stuff and be prepared to move on."
The suspension comes as social media and tech companies have begun to purge users, including President Donald Trump, from their platforms in response to the deadly Capitol riot and subsequent FBI warnings about the potential for further violent attacks. Tech companies claim they are only targeting extremists and attempting to interrupt plans for violence, but critics believe the effort is overly broad, sweeping up peaceful and legitimate conservative groups.
Mailchimp did not respond to a request for comment.
In a copy of the company's email to VCDL obtained by the Free Beacon, Mailchimp cites unspecified risks as the reason for the suspension: "In this case, our automated abuse-prevention system, Omnivore, detected serious risks associated with the account," the email says. "That said, this risk is too great for us to continue to support the account. We have to ask that you seek a new vendor for your email marketing needs. We appreciate your understanding in this matter."
A Free Beacon review of the newsletters sent by VCDL in the lead-up to the suspension found no messages about the Capitol riot, election conspiracies, or encouraging demonstrations about anything unrelated to Virginia gun legislation. The messages focused mostly on planning for the group's annual Lobby Day event on January 18.
VCDL said its events are, and have always been, lawful and peaceful.
"We've never ever had a single problem with any of our events in 25 years," Van Cleave said of the suspension. "I'm sure they really didn't research it. I think they just said, ‘Ah well, somebody complained, so…'"
Twitter recently suspended more than 70,000 accounts for sharing QAnon conspiracy content, but did not disclose the precise qualifications for determining which accounts would be removed. The mass ban resulted in several high-profile QAnon watchdog accounts being suspended, as well as a popular liberal podcast. The popular gun forum AR15.com was taken down after GoDaddy suspended its account. AR15.com president Juan Avila said it "remains unclear specifically what content allegedly violated the registrar's terms of service" in a statement Monday.
Van Cleave said that VCDL has appealed Mailchimp's decision to block the group's newsletter to members, though he does not expect the company to listen. He thinks his group is being unfairly targeted.
"Them targeting us is ridiculous," Van Cleave said. "Us of all people? What have we ever done?"
VCDL said it plans to continue with its planned Lobby Day despite the setback. The group has gone to great pains to cooperate with law enforcement and comply with the state's COVID-19 regulations. It has followed every requirement put in place by Virginia, shifting to a drive-through event to abide by the state's January 18 decision to cancel all demonstration permits.
"That doesn't mean we won't try to find a way to do the event, but it's always going be a legal way," Van Cleave said.
Van Cleave said the group plans to handle potential threats from outsiders at this year's Lobby Day the same way it did last year—by coordinating with law enforcement if the need arises. He said the 2020 Lobby Day was entirely peaceful despite a great deal of media focus on potential violence in the lead-up to the event. The group mobilized tens of thousands of Virginians to gather in Richmond to oppose—with some success—gun-control legislation supported by Governor Ralph Northam (D.).