A year ago, a gun rights rally at Virginia’s capitol drew more than 20,000 activists, many of them armed, virtually all of them furious at their state’s newly elected Democratic state government and its pledge to pass stricter gun laws, writes the Guardian reporter Lois Beckett in Richmond, Virginia.
This year, the streets around the capitol in Richmond were empty, with journalists far outnumbering the scattered protesters, many of whom were masked and armed.
Outside the locked-down, guarded grounds of the capitol, there were 11 members of the Roanoke County Militia, a small local group formed around the “Lobby Day” gun rights protest last year; three or four Proud Boys; a small group of armed activists in Black Panther shirts, and scattered other demonstrators, including a woman carrying a sign advertising that she was a nurse and wanted to talk about gun rights.
Several members of the armed Roanoke County Militia, most of whom who refused to give their names, said they thought so few people had shown up to the gun rights protest this year not only because of the coronavirus, but because of the aftermath of the 6 January invasion of the Capitol in DC. The young, masked militia members said they believed people did not want to show up at any event that they worried might turn into a repeat of 6 January, or that might prompt more scrutiny from law enforcement officials. They said they did not approve of the storming of the Capitol building, and that they were concerned about what might happen on inauguration day.
A larger number of local gun rights activists protested without getting out of their cars, as part of caravans of vehicles organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), the gun rights group that organizes a “Lobby Day” demonstration every year on Martin Luther King Day, which in more normal years is a chance to meet with legislators at the statehouse and discuss policy.
On the highway headed into Richmond around noon, there were at least 110 cars and trucks flying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, most of them embellished with “Guns save lives” stickers, as well as a large orange bus emblazoned with a similar slogan. VCDL organized four main caravans from different parts of the state; it was not immediately clear how many people participated in the caravans in all.
Many of the tiny number of people who showed up to demonstrate in Richmond on Monday were heavily armed, including one young man who refused to give his name and had a 75-round drum magazine…
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