Thousands of gun-rights activists crowded the streets surrounding Virginia’s Capitol building Monday to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation. We’ve been monitoring the situation for about two weeks given the rhetoric which has circulated, indicating a number of scenarios hinting the assembly might escalate into violence. That doesn’t appear to be the case as of this time today
Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency days ahead of the rally, banning all weapons, including guns, from the event on Capitol Square. The expected participation of fringe militia groups and white supremacists raised fears the state could again see the type of violence that exploded at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
The Richmond protesters, came out in strong numbers Monday despite the chilly temperature to send a message to legislators, they said.
Gov. Northam was a particular focus. One poster showed his face superimposed on Adolf Hitler’s body. Many of the protesters wore camouflage. Some waved flags with messages of support for President Donald Trump. Trump, in turn, tweeted support for their goals.
“The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights,” he tweeted. “This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!
The Virginia State Police, the Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police had a strong presence, with officers deploying on rooftops, others patrolling in cars and on bicycles. Authorities were looking to avoid a repeat of the violence that erupted in Charlottesville during one of the largest gatherings decade. An avowed white supremacist drove his car into a crowd, killing a woman and injuring dozens more. Lets take a moment to re-evaluate that matter:
The gathering was composed of right-wing political groups. The advertisement of their rallies and political issues cause right-leaning events to be prone to attracting small numbers of white supremacist groups. Those outside groups become the center of the medias attention for the purposes of the general increasing partisan sensationalism.Attendees at the Charlottesville event brawled with radical left-wing counter-protesters.
The left-wing groups are primarily originating by grassroots activities sponsored by the revolutionary communist party of the United States (REVCOM). The ANTIFA counter-protesters are not present at these right-wing events for the purposes of engaging in protest at all. They are a newer revolutionary arm of REVCOM, taking a different name and preferring to have no face. They show up armed with an abundance of unusual weapons and materials, therefore (premeditatively) intending to attack and harass their opposition, in effort to ignite politically motivated violence. It doesn’t take much ingenuity to discover that REVCOM and ANTIFA are extreme left-wing revolutionary groups engaging in open guerilla warfare, presently at a still somewhat low-level of conflict. As opposed to the non-violent political wing, the Communist Party U.S.A., REVCOM and ANTIFA do in fact verbally sponsor violent revolution. Their actions are indeed answerable to the use of the term “soft-terrorism”.
In contrast to Charlottesville, there was little sign of any counter-protesters challenging the gun-rights activists in Richmond today. Police limited access to Capitol Square to only one entrance, and a long line formed to get into the rally zone. Thousands more stood outside on nearby streets, where the governor’s order didn’t apply and they were free to carry weapons.
P.J. Hudson, 31, a truck driver from Richmond, wore an AR-15 and posed for pictures.
“I love this. This is like the Super Bowl for the Second Amendment right here,” said Hudson, whose shirt said “Black guns matter.”
Advocates also filled the hallways of the building that houses lawmakers’ offices. One couple, Jared and Marie March, traveled from Floyd County, over three hours west of Richmond, to meet with lawmakers.
“Guns are a way of life where we live,” said Marie March, who was concerned about a proposed red-flag law which she said would allow citizens to be stripped of their guns due to “subjective criteria.” A proposal to establish universal background checks amounted to “more Big Brother,” she said. “We just feel like we need to push government back into their rightful spot.”
Monday’s rally was organized by an influential grass-roots gun-rights group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. The group holds a yearly rally at the Capitol, typically a low-key event with a few hundred gun enthusiasts listening to speeches from a handful of ambitious Republican lawmakers. But this year, many more attended. Second Amendment groups have identified the state as a rallying point for the fight against what they see as a national erosion of gun rights.
Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, among the speakers at the rally, said voters need to replace the Democrats in control of the government in Virginia.
“We need to throw the bums out. We need to clean house in the next election,” he said.
The pushback against proposed new gun restrictions began immediately after Democrats won majorities in both the state Senate and House of Delegates in November. Much of the opposition has focused on a proposed assault weapons ban.
Virginia Democrats are also backing bills limiting handgun purchases to once a month, implementing universal background checks on gun purchases, allowing localities to ban guns in public buildings, parks and other areas, and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.
Jesse Lambert was dressed in mix of Colonial-era minute-man garb and cargo pants, with a Colt rifle strapped across his back. He said he traveled from Louisiana to show opposition to the gun control bills. He said their efforts would unfairly punish law-abiding gun owners, particularly those who own AR-style rifles.
“These are your average common people carrying firearms that are in common use,” he said.
The rally coincides with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which is typically a chance for everyday citizens to use a day off work to lobby their legislators. However, the threat of violence largely kept other groups away from the Capitol, including gun-control groups that hold an annual vigil for victims of gun violence. Yesterday Rev. Al Sharpton commented on the rally to be held in Virginia on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saying that it adds “insult to injury” because King was “apostle of nonviolence” and that the rally is effectively cancelling MLK Day celebrations.
When that event was canceled, students from March for Our Lives, the movement launched after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018, decided they had to do something.
A group of about 15 college students and one high schooler came to Richmond on Sunday and slept overnight in the offices of two Democratic lawmakers to ensure they could make it into the Capitol area safely. Del. Dan Helmer, who’s sponsoring a bill that would block the National Rifle Association from operating an indoor gun range at its headquarters, and Del. Chris Hurst, a gun-control advocate whose TV journalist girlfriend was killed in an on-air shooting in 2015, camped out alongside them. The students planned to spend the day lobbying.