Virginia rally: thousands protest against gun control bills

Virginia rally: thousands protest against gun control billsArmed guns rights activists gathered in response to strict laws pledged by state’s DemocratsTens of thousands of armed gun rights activists gathered in Virginia’s capital on Monday as the governor declared a state of emergency ahead of a huge protest against strict new gun control laws pledged by the state’s freshly elected Democratic majority government.Chanting “We will not comply” and brandishing rifles and ammunition, many in combat gear, the noisy rally began on Monday as fears that it would turn violent, like the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, appeared to have discouraged any counter-protests.Monday’s protest by early afternoon was peaceful amid the plethora of firearms, even relatively calm with the large number of police noticeable for the fact that they were not wearing riot gear despite the intimidating atmosphere.The presence of thousands of armed citizens outside the elegant state capitol building was meant as a warning: Democrats, not just in Virginia but nationwide, should back off attempts to pass sweeping gun control laws.Early in the morning, two men pushed through the packed crowd in bright red T-shirts that read “Make Politicians Afraid Again”, with the image of a military-style rifle underneath.After so much public attention to the risk of violence or conflict at the event, by Monday early afternoon the rally was seen as a victory for gun rights activists, who had said for days that politicians’ fears about the event were misplaced.Conservative pundits were already touting the non-violent gathering as evidence that law-abiding gun owners are not a threat to the public, and that the placid gathering of thousands of armed Americans should be seen as evidence that the ubiquity of guns themselves is not the problem in a country plagued with high numbers of daily shooting deaths.The protesters on Monday were overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male, though speakers who talked to the crowds routinely hailed the diversity of the crowd and remarked that they liked to see people of all colors and backgrounds attending.Among the thousands of demonstrators were some men in tactical gear, armed with military-style rifles. The conspiracy theorist Alex Jones had showed up with members of the far-right group the Proud Boys.So did some members of anti-government militias. A contributor to Infowars, Alex Jones’ conspiracy website, gave a rousing speech to the crowd.Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, had declared a state of emergency last Wednesday, citing “threats of violence”, in an effort to avoid a repeat of violence that erupted at a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when a march by white nationalists led to the death of a counter-protester.Northam said there was “credible” law enforcement intelligence that militia groups and hate groups, some from out of state, were planning to attend the rally for the purposes of “violence, rioting and insurrection”. The governor also temporarily banned all weapons, including firearms, on the grounds of the capitol in Richmond, where a pro-gun rally is slated to be held later Monday morning.> A few lawmakers waving out at the big pro-gun crowd as the VCDL rally begins. The speaker system at the rally is very difficult to understand and there’s no stage so almost no one can see whoever is speaking> > — Lois Beckett (@loisbeckett) January 20, 2020Some local activists believed that the governor’s ban on weapons at the capitol would result in larger numbers of armed militia members and other pro-gun activists wandering around downtown Richmond, outside the area where guns are banned.Local anti-fascist activists from Richmond and Charlottesville announced over the weekend that they would not be holding any counter-protests, citing safety concerns.Donald Trump acknowledged and encouraged the rally on Twitter on Monday.> The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights. This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!> > — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2020On Saturday, after a security briefing for lawmakers, Virginia’s Republican house minority leader put out a public statement condemning “any group that comes to Richmond to spread white supremacist garbage”.“While we and our Democratic colleagues may have differences, we are all Virginians and we will stand united in opposition to any threats of violence or civil unrest from any quarter,” Todd Gilbert wrote.Tensions in Virginia have run high since November 2019, when Democrats won control of the state government for the first time in 26 years and pledged to pass a package of gun control laws, from universal background checks to an extreme risk protection order law to a ban on military-style assault weapons.Since then, pro-gun activists across Virginia have organized a vigorous grassroots movement to protest against the new bills. More than 125 counties, cities and towns have passed “second amendment sanctuary” resolutions that would respect gun owners’ rights and not enforce any state gun laws deemed to be unconstitutional.> Gun rights protesters sing the National Athem as they wait outside Virginia’s capitol.> > — Lois Beckett (@loisbeckett) January 20, 2020Virginia’s second amendment sanctuary movement has attracted hundreds and even thousands of supporters at local government meetings, drawing comparisons to the Tea Party movement.The political standoff over new gun laws in Virginia, the state where the National Rifle Association (NRA) is headquartered, has also prompted spiraling conspiracy theories and intense rhetoric from gun owners about tyranny and civil war.The event is being closely watched by white supremacists and anti-government militia members nationwide, who have hailed the tensions as the potential beginning of societal breakdown. In recent days, extremist chatrooms have been full of rumors the event is a trap, and that it will be infiltrated by crisis actors, according to an analyst at the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors extremists.> Alex Jones and Proud Boys are here in front of the Richmond capitol> > — Lois Beckett (@loisbeckett) January 19, 2020Lies, conspiracy theories and misinformation about Democrats’ proposed gun control bills have circulated widely, prompting outrage and threats of violence against Democratic politicians.

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