Gun-rights activists — some making deliberate displays of their military-style rifles — descended on Virginia’s capital city of Richmond on Monday to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation, the Associated Press reports.
Several thousand activists — mostly white and male, many clothed in camouflage and waving flags with messages of support for President Donald Trump — appeared hours before the 11 a.m. rally began.
Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency days ahead of the rally, banning all weapons, including guns, from the event on Capitol Square. The arrival of thousands of gun-rights activists — along with members of militia groups and white supremacists — raised fears the state could again see the type of violence that exploded in Charlottesville in 2017.
The Virginia State Police, the Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police planned a huge police presence with both uniformed and plainclothes officers. Police limited access to Capitol Square to one entrance and warned rally-goers they may have to wait hours to get past security screening.
Authorities started letting people in at the sole public entrance before 7:30 a.m. Authorities want to avoid a repeat of violence that erupted in 2017 in Charlottesville during one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists and other far-right groups in a decade. Attendees brawled with counterprotesters, and an avowed white supremacist drove his car into a crowd, killing a woman and injuring dozens more.
Law enforcement officials faced scathing criticism for what both the white supremacist groups and anti-racism protesters said was a passive response. An RV festooned with Trump material and selling Trump merchandise parked in front of the line to the square, but was booted by a police officer. Monday’s rally was organized by a grassroots gun-rights group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League.