On Monday, as it has done every year since 2002, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) conducted a pro–Second Amendment rally in Richmond’s Capitol Square. With the governor’s office and General Assembly now controlled by the Democrat Party, the demonstration targeted recent ongoing legislative efforts to enact an onerous gun control agenda, which, among other things, would prohibit the purchase of so-called “assault weapons,” limit the purchase of firearms to one per 30-day period, ban indoor shooting ranges, and require background checks for any transfer of firearms.
In advance of the rally, Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam issued a Declaration of a State of Emergency Due to Potential Civil Unrest at the Virginia State Capitol. (See “Road Trip to Richmond!” here.) Citing undisclosed but “credible intelligence,” Northam announced that he was declaring a state of emergency due to information that suggested that a “substantial number of the demonstrators” may be armed and planned to “converge on Capitol Square” with the purpose not “of peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection.” At a news conference, Northam said that there was a threat of “armed militia groups storming our Capitol” [Emphasis added]. He activated the state’s law enforcement resources and banned weapons of any kind from Capitol Square.
Questions arose as to the provenance of this declaration and whether it was, in reality, a ploy to suppress turnout at the rally.
Northam’s warning was in material respects ambiguous and vague such that it was difficult to tell whether the purported threat was posed by law-abiding gun owners disaffected by the ongoing gun control agenda. After all, the Democrats’ legislative effort had caused a tidal wave of opposition as alarmed and angry citizens across Virginia protested, and more than 100 counties, cities, and towns (including Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city) passed resolutions declaring themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries in which the authorities will not enforce any of the proposed gun control measures. A big rally turnout would only add to the pro–Second Amendment momentum.
If Northam’s “credible intelligence” was right, the VCDL rally might spark an all-out armed revolt and sacking of the Capitol. So it was that, as one who has made a handsome living off crime, violence, and mayhem, I was compelled to travel to Richmond to observe and document the anticipated carnage.
The last leg of my journey from Pennsylvania was a three-hour ride from Fairfax, Virginia, to Richmond on a tour bus chartered by the VCDL. My fellow passengers were predominantly white, middle-class men and women. They were an amiable bunch who were in a happy mood and plainly looking forward to the rally. They expressed no concerns about possible violence or reports that Antifa or some similar group of thugs might wear MAGA hats and stage false flag outrages for media consumption. These people wanted to get to Richmond and voice their displeasure.
When we arrived in Richmond, traffic was snarled by the simultaneous arrival of scores of buses bringing demonstrators from across Virginia and other states. We circled block after city block for an hour until the Richmond police guided our driver to a designated parking area. At one point, a very pleasant and well-spoken young black woman boarded our bus and addressed us over the speaker system. On behalf of the Richmond Police Department, she welcomed and commended us for exercising our First Amendment right of free expression and our Second Amendment right to bear arms. She advised that we were free to openly carry firearms anywhere in the city save for the Capitol Square area, where the governor had forbidden weapons of any kind. She then wished us a pleasant day and repeated her welcoming remarks.
Then, this busload of purportedly potential armed insurrectionists applauded and called out thanks to the young woman, who smiled, waved, and departed.
This turned out to be a precursor for the rest of the day. Although the VCDL announced attendance at between 30,000 to 50,000, the official estimate placed the number at approximately 22,000. Whatever the true number, the demonstrators were friendly, polite, and orderly. There were no angry shouts, obscene gestures, or hostile or insulting remarks. Though aggrieved, they were happy, pleasant, and well-mannered. To be sure, they had come to express their displeasure with the Democrats’ legislative agenda, but, unlike the tantrums, angry taunts, violence, and unhinged behavior that we have all too often witnessed on university campuses and at social justice gatherings elsewhere, these gun owners made their disapproval known in a firm, sometimes loud, but highly civil manner.
The approaches to the Capitol were blocked by dump trucks, and barriers had been erected around state office buildings. A temporary chain link fence that resembled a prisoner of war cage encircled Capitol Square. There was but one entrance to this outdoor cage, which also served as the only exit. As with the other barricades and crowd control measures, it seemed heavy-handed, unwarranted, and excessive.
To enter the cage, you had to empty your pockets and pass through metal detectors. The Virginia State Police who manned this checkpoint laughed and joked with those passing through security. A county sheriff who later addressed the rally said that the police viewed law-abiding gun owners as “allies.” The behavior of these troopers as well as that of the affable Richmond and Capitol police officers on the surrounding streets certainly seemed to confirm that sentiment. Another speaker observed, though, that although the fence around Capitol Square had been erected supposedly for our protection, in reality it rendered those persons inside its confines “defenseless, caged animals.” That dig at Gov. Northam struck a responsive chord with the audience.
The fence also served to divide the rally into two parts. Using the official estimate, of the 22,000 attendees, only 6,000 elected to enter the cage to be near the speakers’ podium. Before the speeches started, they milled about, chatting and sharing pleasantries. By comparison, although the 16,000 who remained outside the wire were boisterous and more animated, they confined themselves primarily to cheering, singing patriotic songs, and chanting “USA!, USA!” and “Four more years!” Hundreds of these individuals openly carried an assortment of firearms, including the much-maligned AR-15 rifle.
The closest thing to a confrontation occurred in the fenced area, when a mixed-race group of approximately eight people began chanting over and over, “No white supremacy!” The news media converged on this group, undoubtedly hoping for an outbreak of hostilities. But once again, the gun rights demonstrators failed to live up to media assumptions. The reporters and protesters appeared to be disappointed as the pro-gun folks silently gathered around in a non-threatening manner and mostly smiled as the chanting continued for another minute or so. And then the crowd drowned out the protesters with shouts of “Four more years!” With that, the protesters left after being ignored and unmolested as the gun rights demonstrators failed to follow the usual media script.
I watched several television interviews of state and local officials who opposed gun control. And then there was Alex Jones of Infowars, who spoke to a gaggle of reporters in his usual fire-and-brimstone style. I have to admit, crazy as he may be, he sure is fun to watch.
A number of the attendees appeared to be quite knowledgeable about Virginia politics. They attributed the Democrats’ electoral dominance in the General Assembly to massive infusions of campaign cash by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a moribund and semi-comatose Virginia Republican Party that failed to contest a number of delegate elections.
Inside and outside the fenced area, the demonstrators waved flags, banners, and placards opposing gun control and advocating the reelection of President Trump. Some of the placards were quite humorous. One proclaimed that a gay married couple should have the right to use firearms to protect their illegal marijuana plants. Another showed the picture from Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook page in which he is either in blackface or wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit with the inscription, “The man behind the sheets wants your guns.” There was also a vendor selling t-shirts emblazoned with “My Governor is an IDIOT.”
The rally speeches lasted an hour. While the speakers passionately condemned the Democrats’ efforts to impose what they deemed to be ridiculous, ineffective, but nevertheless burdensome restrictions on the purchase, possession, and use of firearms, their arguments centered on the Second Amendment and the corresponding provision of the Virginia constitution. There was no profanity, hateful rhetoric, or threat of violence. One speaker thanked Gov. Northam for exposing his party’s true agenda and reminding everyone that elections have consequences.
One of the most interesting comments of the day came not from the speakers’ platform, but in a private conversation with one of the Second Amendment advocates who had been opposing gun control before township councils in deep blue Northern Virginia, which is home to thundering herds of reliably Democrat federal government employees. He described a confrontation with one official who was calling for “common sense” gun reforms. His response had been to say that nobody believed that the real agenda was limited to such changes and was merely a stepping stone to further and mire draconian measures leading up to outright confiscation.
One of the best public speakers was the sheriff of Culpeper County, who praised the statewide Second Amendment sanctuary movement and reiterated that, should the Democrats enact their gun control legislation, the police and prosecutors in those jurisdictions would honor their overriding commitment to the Constitution by refusing to enforce those laws. He then promised that, if necessary, he would deputize “thousands of people,” so that, as law enforcement officers, they would be immune from many of the proposed gun control measures.
The rally ended by mid-afternoon. Antifa had wisely stayed away. In contrast to places like Portland, Oregon, where Antifa thugs were able to run roughshod over defenseless innocents, the armed rally attendees were anything but helpless, inviting victims.
The police reported that, after the rally had ended, one young woman of unknown affiliation been arrested for refusing to remove her mask, the wearing of which had been banned under the emergency declaration. Otherwise, there had been no arrests and no acts of violence, disruptions, damage to property, or untoward incidents of any kind. For that matter, there had not even been any littering. These friendly, polite, and orderly demonstrators had deposited their refuse in trash receptacles and cleaned up after themselves.
In short, it had been yet another entirely lawful, peaceful, and orderly VCDL Lobby Day rally. How disappointing this must have been for the gun controllers and their media adjunct, who had expected riot, armed insurrection, and the sacking of the Capitol. How could it be that the predominately white, pro-gun demonstrators had failed to live up to their media-conjured images as knuckle-dragging, bloodthirsty, intolerant, violence-prone, and dangerous racists ready to open fire at the drop of a hat?
So now that no riot broke out, just what was the “credible” but secret intelligence on which Gov. Northam based his emergency declaration? Some suspect that there was no such intelligence and that the emergency declaration was simply a ploy to suppress turnout. Others believe that it was calculated to impugn the reputation of the VCDL and gun owners generally and set them up for a jolly stomping by the media should there be trouble large or small at the rally. But, given the peaceful behavior of the rally attendees, one must wonder how Northam could have been so colossally wrong. Just what did happen behind the scenes?
On the plus side, the Democrats’ gun control measures have motivated Virginia’s gun owners, a large voting bloc, to prod the state’s near-moribund Republican Party into action. The Democrats hold the General Assembly by a narrow margin, and, according to knowledgeable political observers, gun control could well give Republicans the impetus to regain control of that body in the next election.
Passage of the Democrats’ gun control agenda will leave Virginia a deeply divided state in which the vast majority of local jurisdictions will — much like Prohibition in the 1920s — openly defy and abrogate the written law. Such a breakdown of the state’s governance and pitting of local against state law enforcement authorities would be fraught with the potential for just the type of widespread civil disorder and violence about which Gov. Northam warned.