Tensions flared as activists carried semi-automatic weapons through the streets of Virginia’s capital city during a major gun rights demonstration, calling for a repeal of newly-passed gun control measures – and four more years of Donald Trump.
The annual Lobby Day event attracts Virginians from all over the state, who spend the day “lobbying” for a range of causes just outside of the legislative capitol building, bringing colourful signs and a tangible energy that fill the streets of Richmond.
This year saw its biggest turnout of gun rights demonstrators in recent history, after Democrats – who took over both houses in the state legislature for the first time in nearly 25 years – successfully passed a series of bills establishing mandatory background checks and limiting the purchasing and carrying of firearms. Rather than a joyful day of activism, many feared the event would turn into a possible second Charlottesville, the deadly white supremacist rally in 2017. There have been no reports of a violent clash at Monday’s rally, however.
Still, protesters appeared ready for a battle, chanting “We will not comply!” and chiding Virginia governor Ralph Northam after he declared a state of emergency over the Lobby Day rallies, citing “credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies of threats of violence surrounding the demonstration” in a statement. Militia members were seen wearing masks and carrying semi-automatic rifles during the protest.
The Virginia Citizens Defence League (VCDL), which organised the gun rights demonstrations, blamed the governor for the heightened anxiety ahead of the rally in an interview with The Independent.
Gun rights rally in Virginia
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“The governor has declared war on law-abiding gun owners,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the VCDL. “We’re protecting our right for people to protect themselves.”
He also lambasted the billionaire 2020 hopeful Mike Bloomberg and the Democratic Party, adding: “We shouldn’t have to be protecting civil rights from either party, but the Democrats – because Bloomberg is paying them off – they’re all marching with money in their pockets to go against the constitution.”
Other demonstrators described the state of emergency as unnecessary, despite the FBI arresting three suspected neo-Nazis days before the event who had reportedly discussed opening fire at the demonstrations and were anticipating a possible race war to begin.