Domestic extremists, ranging from white supremacists to rival “antifa” anarchists, are exploiting loose gun control laws to appear at emotionally charged rallies with assault rifles and other high-powered weapons, increasing the likelihood of an explosive clash, law enforcement officials tell Politico. Open carry laws in many states allow civilians to display virtually any gun in public that they want, often with no permit, training or background check required, say federal and state law enforcement officials who monitor extremist groups. “Why would you let someone bring an AR-15 to a hate rally?” asked former FBI agent James Gagliano. “It’s absolute insanity.” In Charlottesville, Va., and other recent protest events, hundreds of people showed up heavily armed and primed for a fight. More than 1,500 people attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, with a Baltimore man suspected of membership in the Ku Klux Klan arrested for firing his gun at a crowd of protesters.
In Texas, swarms of gun-toting antifa members and white nationalists assaulted each other at several events near the Austin statehouse over the past year. In Pikeville, Ky., more than 150 heavily armed neo-Nazis and white supremacists engaged in a tense standoff with 100 anti-fascists in April. They were separated by police and dozens of militia members before violence ensued. “The next incident is right around the corner,” said Capt. Michael Rinaldi, counterterrorism chief of the New Jersey State Police. “Someone will run someone over, or someone will get shot and there will be a melee and it will gain momentum. There is definitely concern for what you saw in Charlottesville, that you’ll get a group and then counterprotesters and then you’ll have casualties.”