Virginia state Rep. Tara Durant (R) regularly tells the story of how she first got into politics.
It was June 2020, and as Durant tells it, an “angry mob” of Black Lives Matter “rioters” surrounded her car in downtown Fredericksburg. They “assaulted” the vehicle with Durant and her 12-year-old daughter inside, she says. When she called 911 for help, the police said they had no authority to intervene in what was a city-approved protest.
Afterward, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson somehow got hold of the audio recording of Durant’s 911 call and aired part of it. He framed the incident as a “woman terrorized by a violent mob,” one of many examples of Americans being “intentionally abandoned by the state that promised to protect them.” After the national exposure, Durant ran for the state House and won in November 2021 on a platform of public safety.
Durant is currently running for state Senate, and the outcome of her race is pivotal for Virginia Republicans. If she wins, the GOP will control the full trifecta of the state government, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) will have the votes to push through a 15-week abortion ban that’s been stymied by the current Democrat-led Senate. Durant opposes abortion rights.
Throughout her campaign, Durant has told the story of her entry into politics.
“I got into public service two years ago because the personal safety of my daughter and me were threatened,” she said in a September debate. “Two years later, liberal Democrats in Virginia, they continue to threaten our security. The only way we can stop them from controlling us is if we not only hold to our majority in the House, but we flip the Senate. That’s why I’m running for Senate.”
“I got in politics a few years ago, because, as many of you know my story, that the personal safety of my daughter and me were threatened,” she said at another September event with Youngkin. “That has been a key issue in my campaign, because we saw what became the ‘defund the police’ movement.”
But newly obtained documents relating to Durant’s 911 call, in addition to an interview with a protester who was present during Durant’s supposed assault, tell a different story of what happened that day ― one that suggests Durant has been significantly exaggerating.
HuffPost reviewed copies of police reports, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, that suggest Durant instigated a confrontation with protesters, who regularly held peaceful demonstrations in the area, and that she tried to hit them with her car as they stood in a crosswalk.
According to the police reports ― which characterize the protest as peaceful, with “no arrests or property damage” ― witnesses told police there was a car being aggressive toward protesters in the same intersection where Durant was located, at the same time she was there.
Here’s a copy of the FOIA’d police report related to Durant’s 911 call:
Beyond that, the full recording of Durant’s 911 call includes an exchange where she says she is prepared to run people over. These portions of the audio were selectively edited out of Carlson’s TV segment.
At one point during the call, the police officer on the line is calmly telling an audibly upset Durant not to hit demonstrators with her car. Durant responds: “Well, I will. I absolutely will.”
Here’s the full recording of Durant’s 911 call, which lasted three minutes.
Local reporting at the time shows that the mayor and local businesses similarly described the protests as peaceful. Local demonstrators had been marching for weeks in protest of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man arrested and killed by Minneapolis police after a store clerk suspected he used a fake $20 bill. Floyd’s death sparked a national reckoning on police brutality and racism.
In the days after Durant’s run-in, Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said her 911 call showed that the dispatcher was simply advising Durant not to drive through the planned protest. When Durant said someone was on her car, the dispatcher on the call said she would alert officers. An officer was close to arriving, but Durant had already left the intersection.
While it does appear that someone jumped on the hood of Durant’s car during the protest, it turned out to be a 13-year-old who wasn’t affiliated with the demonstrators, and whom the protesters in fact pulled away and reprimanded.
Adding yet another wrinkle to the story, Durant went on to charge two teenagers with assaulting her car, one of whom wasn’t even there. Durant served a subpoena to local civil rights activist Taylor Johns and took her to court, but the case was thrown out after Johns proved she was at work during the protest. The second teen, who was not identified in documents but was charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor based on Durant’s complaint, was found not guilty.
Johns responded by suing Durant for malicious prosecution, and a judge denied Durant’s attempt to have the case dismissed. But Johns, who was 18 and had no attorney, ultimately dropped the case due to emotional and financial strain.
This was followed by another local activist, Marc Stout, filing a lawsuit against Durant for defamation. Stout wasn’t at the protest, but he claims Durant showed up at his house at 9 o’clock one night to confront him about YouTube videos he’d made in which he talked about the protest. As of May 2022, Durant had not been served with Stout’s lawsuit.
HuffPost was unable to reach Johns or Stout for comment.
Emily Adams, a local filmmaker, was at the intersection that day. She told HuffPost that the event was entirely peaceful, and was part of a series of peaceful demonstrations by about 30 local activists that were prearranged with the city and local police. The activists did the same thing at each protest, Adams said: They stood in designated crosswalks with signs, blocked traffic for a few minutes, and then moved aside and let traffic pass through.
When Durant came along in her car, “she was trying to kind of drive through our protesters,” said Adams, who now lives in Pennsylvania. “When that happens, people form a line around the front of the car, so she can’t do that. It’s more of a protection of our protesters rather than intimidation.”
As this was happening, Adams said, a teenager on a side street who had been watching jumped on the hood of Durant’s car, as if he were going to slide across it. Protesters shouted at the kid to get off the car, Adams said, because “we don’t do that. We’re not looking for property damage.”
The protesters then stepped aside and Durant moved along. Adams said she didn’t think much of it because “it was so quick, this person was just angry and wanted to get through.”
When Fox News aired Carlson’s segment on the protest, Adams said she was floored by its inaccuracies.
“It was absolutely misinformed,” she said. “We weren’t an angry mob. We were demonstrators, but also trying to form a group that would make a difference in the city. It was really disheartening to see it get national coverage in the way it did, when we weren’t able to get any coverage in what we were doing.”
“Nothing about what happened makes her a worthy political candidate.”
– Emily Adams, a Black Lives Matter protester
As for Durant’s story, Adams said it is “very much” blown out of proportion.
“She is exaggerating and she’s taking Tucker Carlson’s version of the story and I think running more so with that, which is even more highly exaggerated,” Adams said. “Nothing about what happened makes her a worthy political candidate. That’s what’s really shocking to me.”
Durant’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment about whether she tried to hit protesters with her car, why she said in her 911 call that she would “absolutely” run people over, or whether she stands by her story about being “assaulted” by “an angry mob” of “rioters.”
Durant is running against Democrat Joel Griffin, a former Marine and former chair of Stafford County’s Economic Development Authority. Independent Monica Gary, a Stafford County supervisor, is also running.