RICHMOND, Virginia – More than 22,000 gun-rights activists descended on the Virginia State Capitol Monday to peacefully protest new gun laws making their way through the Democrat-controlled legislature.
Contrary to Democrat-fueled media fearmongering of a white supremacist rally threatening to erupt into chaos, as occurred in Charlottesville three years ago, a sea of gun owners flooded the capitol grounds and surrounding areas in a peaceful day of protest.
The demonstration, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, was supposed to be a lobbying day for the gun rights group, focused on new gun legislation on a path to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. The bundle of new gun laws includes universal background checks on gun sales and expanded authority for local governments to prohibit firearms in public places. The Virginia Legislature is also considering “red flag” laws that would allow the government to strip firearms from people deemed too dangerous either to themselves or others.
Democratic lawmakers, however, were absent from the statehouse as thousands of gun advocates, many of whom were armed, marched in opposition.
“I was trying to meet with my legislator, and I don’t see any legislators available to actually meet with, which is pretty frustrating,” said Charles Howard, a Virginia gun-owner standing feet away from the capitol steps.
In the weeks leading up to the organization’s day of action, the protest became a nationwide rallying cry for gun-rights activists, who flew across the country to attend one of the largest pro-gun rallies in recent memory.
Scores of protesters had arrived as early as 7 a.m. in 25-degree weather before the sun began to rise.
By the time the protest ended about 2 p.m., there had been no fights, no violence, no rioting, no vandalism, and one arrest, according to officials.
Northam, however, had declared a “state of emergency” ahead of the event after announcing that authorities had discovered credible “threats of violence” from out-of-state militias and hate groups, reminiscent of the state’s nightmare demonstrations in Charlottesville three years prior. Northam also banned weapons from the statehouse grounds and put up fencing around the capitol building with tight security to enforce the firearm prohibition.
“Three years ago, Virginia and the nation watched horrified as civil protest was marred by violence and hate,” Northam said in his declaration. “We must take all precautions to prevent that from ever happening again.”
Those threats, however, failed to surface Monday as the pro-gun demonstrations proceeded without conflict.
Philip Van Cleave told reporters in a press gaggle that the governor’s fearmongering tactics were partially motivated by Democrats’ desire to suppress turnout. He said the Virginia Citizens Defense League had fully cooperated with law enforcement to discourage violence from breaking out.
“They’ve done one thing after another to discourage people showing up,” Van Cleave said of Democrats. “It didn’t work. People are determined to be here to make sure their voices are heard, and it’s wonderful to see that kind of determination.”
It’s easy to see why Northam and Virginia Democrats were concerned about a large turnout. Chants to expel Northam rang out throughout downtown Richmond as angry protesters voiced their frustration with Virginia Democrats pushing through unpopular laws infringing on their Second Amendment rights.
Dozens of protesters throughout the rally were sure to remind the public that Northam wore blackface, carrying signs of the Virginia governor’s infamous high school yearbook photo showcasing Democrats’ double-standard regarding racism.
Contrary to claims that the rally was a haven for far-right neo-Nazi groups to express their anger toward minorities, the demonstration consisted of diverse people standing up for their right to bear arms, calling out the false narrative depicting the protesters as racists.
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) January 20, 2020
Many protesters said it was unfair to conflate Monday’s pro-gun rally with the neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017.
“This has nothing to do with people of color saying that they’re better than another color,” said Joe Tinsley, a Richmond native speaking of the day’s protests. “[In Charlottesville], you’re talking about 200 people, not thousands of people here because this is a constitutional right, whether you’re black, green, Puerto Rican.”
The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was explicitly a white supremacist, neo-Nazi demonstration that sprung out of opposition to removing Confederate statues. The protests turned violent in a clash with counterprotesters, ending in 11 people arrested and one person killed, sparking national outrage.
In Richmond, however, counterprotesters were absent, and a significant presence of white nationalists remained to be seen, if any showed up at all, while minority gun-owners paraded through the streets carrying their firearms.
Women also turned out at the pro-gun rally in high numbers.
One woman by the name of Elizabeth Warren, not to be confused with the senator and 2020 contender, came to the rally from Fairfax, Virginia, and held a sign reading “gun rights are women’s rights,” outside the statehouse. When asked whether she attended the 2020 Women’s March on Saturday, Warren said she “wouldn’t be within 10 miles of them.”
“They don’t represent me. I’m pro-life. I’m pro-gun,” Warren said. As The Federalist’s Erielle Davidson wrote after covering Saturday’s march in Washington, D.C., the women’s protest has indeed become more about hatred for President Donald Trump than about women’s rights.
— Tristan Justice (@JusticeTristan) January 20, 2020