From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The Virginia Gun Rights Rally Raising Fears of Violence.
Date January 19, 2020 1:05 AM
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[Why an annual Lobby Day has resulted in a state of emergency and
online calls for a civil war. ] [[link removed]]

THE VIRGINIA GUN RIGHTS RALLY RAISING FEARS OF VIOLENCE.  
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Jane Coaston
January 17, 2020
Vox
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_ Why an annual Lobby Day has resulted in a state of emergency and
online calls for a civil war. _

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) , AP

 

On Monday, thousands of gun rights supporters will descend on
Richmond, Virginia, for the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s
annual Lobby Day. And so will a host of militia groups, conspiracy
theorists, and far-right extremists, some of whom believe the rally in
Richmond will represent the first shot of a new civil war, or as some
users of the /pol/ forum term it, “boogaloo
[[link removed]].”

In response, the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, has declared a
state of emergency
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for Monday due to intelligence he says
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shows “a threat of an armed militia groups storming our capital.”
One member of the Virginia General Assembly was so beset by death
threats that he is currently staying in a safe house. The organizer of
the rally is concerned enough to emphasize on a popular gun site
[[link removed]]
that Monday’s rally is supposed to be a “peaceful event about gun
rights and NOTHING ELSE.”

We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement
agencies of threats of violence surrounding the demonstration planned
for Monday, January 20. This includes extremist rhetoric similar to
what has been seen before major incidents, such as Charlottesville in
2017.

— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) January 15, 2020
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On Thursday, the FBI announced the arrest of three white nationalists
in Maryland, members of a neo-Nazi training network called the Base
— the English translation of the Arabic term “al-Qaeda.” The
three, including one former Canadian army reservist who went missing
last summer
[[link removed]],
were allegedly heading to Richmond. According to the FBI, they had
recently constructed a machine gun and obtained thousands of rounds of
ammunition and body armor. Three more members of the network were
arrested on Thursday in Georgia
[[link removed]].

The Lobby Day was intended to be an opportunity for Virginia gun
owners to voice their displeasure with proposed gun control measures.
Instead, the event has raised fears of mass violence akin to — or
worse than — Unite the Right.

How gun control legislation led to a gun rights rally

The Lobby Day is an annual event for the VCDL, a pro-gun rights group,
normally attracting a few hundred gun rights advocates to Richmond to
lobby members of the state government. (The National Rifle Association
has a separate lobby day, which was held January 13.)

This year, though, Virginia is on the cusp of actually passing gun
control laws. A host of gun control bills are winding their way
through the Virginia legislature, which is newly under Democratic
control. They include a bill
[[link removed]] requiring
background checks on all firearms purchases and transfers, a bill
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limiting the number of handguns that can be purchased per month, a
bill
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to permit localities to ban guns from specific events and venues, and
“red flag” legislation
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would permit law enforcement to take guns from people deemed risks to
themselves or others.

Such a legislative push was almost inevitable
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as gun control groups, reacting in part to a mass shooting in Virginia
Beach, dramatically outspent the NRA (which is based in Virginia) and
other gun rights groups during the 2019 election. That helped
Democrats gain control of the state legislature
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the first time in more than two decades, as I wrote in November:

Democrats didn’t win either the House of Delegates or Senate seat
for Virginia Beach, but across the state, gun control was the top
issue for voters
[[link removed]]and
for Democratic candidates, according to one poll, with several
candidates running explicitly on vows to “take on the NRA
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pass gun control legislation. According to Everytown, that focus (and
money) resulted in at least three flipped seats
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that helped Democrats take control of the legislature. Gov. Ralph
Northam said
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Wednesday that he now hopes to be able to pass a slate of gun control
measures, and “because of that Virginia will be safer.”

Right now, Virginia has comparatively loose gun laws
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state permits open carry and does not require a permit to purchase or
possess a rifle, shotgun, or handgun, but it does regulate gun shows.
That means the four gun control bills mark a sea change for a state
long noted as a gun rights haven.

And the commonwealth is closely divided on the issue of guns.
Virginia’s recent political shift toward the Democratic Party elides
just how divided the state is politically between Republican-leaning
and less populated rural areas and Democratic-leaning urban and
suburban regions in the north of the state and around Virginia’s
flagship universities, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.
The economic, cultural, and demographic differences between the two
regional types are so extensive that, as the Virginia Mercury’s Bob
Lewis put it last year
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they make “Virginia feel more like two states than a
commonwealth.”

As National Review writer Charles C.W. Cooke — who has written
extensively on gun policy — told me in an interview: “Democrats
run the legislature and the executive branch, but they don’t run the
legislature by _much_.”

And for some gun owners, the bills constitute what gun rights advocate
and Lobby Day speaker Cam Edwards called the “the most anti-gun
legislative agenda in [state] history.”

“There are bills in the legislature that would turn the vast
majority of the state’s gun owners into felons simply for
maintaining possession of their ammunition magazines or legally
purchased suppressors,” Edwards said. “We’ve seen legislation
that would turn Virginia gun owners into felons for selling a shotgun
to their brother without a background check, though gifting that same
shotgun to that same brother would be legal.”

In response, gun rights advocates in Virginia have taken action. More
than 80 counties in Virginia
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out of 95 have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries”
where proposed gun control legislation would not be enforced despite
passage at the state level under the argument that those laws would be
unconstitutional. (Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has argued
that such resolutions have no legal force
[[link removed]].)

Advocates for Second Amendment sanctuaries in Virginia are arguing
that the Second Amendment trumps state law, Cooke told me.
“Government officials who swear to uphold the Constitution cannot
violate that Constitution,” he said. “If one believes that these
laws would violate the Constitution, then one has no choice but to
declare one’s opposition to them.” Hence, “sanctuary.”

Monday’s Lobby Day was intended to be another opportunity for gun
rights advocates to speak out against the proposed legislation. But it
has also attracted what Edwards called “bad actors” who were
“seeking attention and a spotlight.” And some groups even claim to
be seeking the beginnings of a race war.

Extremists hoping for violence have latched onto Lobby Day

The Lobby Day has attracted interest from Virginians legitimately
interested in gun rights — and not just right-wing groups. According
to an interview with Vice News
[[link removed]],
the Richmond-based Antifa Seven Hills is joining the protest because,
as a spokesperson put it, “I think it’s been pretty important for
us to focus on the fact that gun control in America has a legacy of
racist enforcement
[[link removed]].”

But the legislation being discussed has been heavily distorted online
by far-right individuals and websites, with some claiming the proposed
bills will result in full-scale gun confiscation by the government.

“There’s a great deal of fear and uncertainty surrounding some of
these bills, which has been exacerbated in part by some on the pro-2A
side for their own purposes, whether it’s to sell prepper products
on their website or to generate clicks,” Edwards said. VCDL’s
language has largely attempted to reflect caution, as the group says
on its Lobby Day information page, “The eyes of the nation and the
world are on Virginia and Virginia Citizens Defense League right now
and we must show them that gun owners are not the problem.”

One Virginia legislator, Lee Carter, has been targeted with death
threats. Carter, a democratic socialist who represents the state’s
50th District, has supported a bill that would permit teachers to go
on strike but continue the longstanding practice of forbidding law
enforcement from doing so — which some online (including a Virginia
House of Delegates member
[[link removed]])
have twisted into an argument that Carter wants to punish sheriffs in
“Second Amendment sanctuaries” for not obeying state gun laws.

As Gen’s Aaron Gell reported
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For Carter, the mischaracterization has become a matter of personal
safety. “Now there’s a massive internet conspiracy theory
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that I’m working hand in hand with Gov. Northam, whom I can’t
stand, the National Guard, and the UN
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to go door-to-door taking people’s guns,” he explains. “It’s
gotten to the point where people are openly discussing
[[link removed]] murder,
and they want me and Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring to
be the first ones dead.” The governor and AG have security details,
he notes; state delegates do not.

Ironically, as Carter told Gell, though he supports some gun
legislation being proposed (including universal background checks), he
is a gun collector and a gun rights supporter who believes liberals
and minorities should embrace gun ownership for their own safety. (He
hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment from Vox.)

The Lobby Day is also receiving considerable attention from some
groups connected with the violent Unite the Right rally held in
Charlottesville in 2017; several groups and entities banned from armed
protest in Charlottesville
[[link removed]]
because of United the Right are expected to attend the rally in
Richmond.

Unlike Unite the Right, which was planned and organized by explicit
white nationalists
[[link removed]],
Lobby Day is a longstanding event, and VCDL is not a white nationalist
organization. On the gun rights website Ammoland,
[[link removed]]
VCDL president Philip Van Cleave attempted to tamp down tensions,
discouraging attendees from carrying long guns at the rally for
appearances’ sake, and (though arguing
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on the same site that Democrats may have invited extremist groups to
turn the rally violent on purpose) making it clear that Lobby Day is
not supposed to be a protest:

We are NOT there to have arguments with the other side. They lobby, we
lobby, and never the two shall meet. Just ignore them.

And we are not there to push any other agenda. Our total focus is on
protecting our right to keep and bear arms. Period. This is not about
flags, statues, history, etc. Just guns.

If you somehow find yourself being harassed by the other side, don’t
engage them. They could well be baiting you and recording what you do
for propaganda purposes. If necessary, go find a police officer and
let them take care of the person causing the disturbance. Otherwise,
just ignore them and go about your business.

But the extremist rhetoric and explicit threats of violence online
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have raised real concerns from law enforcement, leading Virginia to
declare a state of emergency and ban guns on state Capitol grounds
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Those threats center on the idea that Richmond could be the site for
the violent beginnings of a civil war, one sparked by restrictions on
gun rights.

One far-right site [[link removed]] falsely claimed in
December that individuals attending Monday’s Lobby Day will have
their guns confiscated at roadblocks across the state, that Virginia
has “been chosen as the deliberate flashpoint to ignite the civil
war that’s being engineered by globalists,” and that all of this
will end with the United Nations occupation of America and nationwide
gun confiscation.

“To all those who mocked our warnings about the coming civil war,
you are about to find yourself in one,” the author, Mike Adams,
wrote. “Sure hope you know how to run an AR platform and build a
water filter. Things won’t go well for the unprepared, especially in
the cities.”

This is common rhetoric for militia groups, said Sam Jackson, an
assistant professor in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland
Security and Cybersecurity at the University at Albany who studies the
Oath Keepers, a militia group
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expected to attend the rally
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Monday.

“The anticipation of violation of gun rights is common among militia
groups more broadly — pretty easily seen in all the ‘molon labe’
patches worn by militia folks,” Jackson said. (“Molon labe” is a
classical Greek phrase meaning “come and take them.”) “Several
novels that are important for the group depict war between Americans
and the American government that begins with attempts at gun
control.”

But beyond civil war, others expected to attend Monday’s rally are
explicitly calling for a race war, in which white Americans will kill
nonwhite Americans and Jewish people to establish a white ethnostate.
Using the term “boogaloo” — a sarcastic reference to the 1980s
film _Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo_ that implies a “Civil War
2” of sorts — users of online forums like /pol/ are using Richmond
as the impetus for the beginnings of a race war. They use phrases like
“fuck all optics,” a reference to the last post shared on the
social networking site
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Gab by the Tree of Life shooter, which has become a motto of sorts for
white nationalists.

They’ve been encouraged by conspiracy theorists like Infowars’
Alex Jones, who said on January 8
[[link removed]] that he and others from
Infowars plan to attend the Richmond rally because “we’ve had two
revolutionary wars basically start in Virginia, and it looks like one
may start again.” He’s claimed that any violence that takes place
at the rally will be a “false flag
[[link removed]],”
and in an interview with white nationalist Richard Spencer — who
helped organize 2017’s Unite the Right rally — Jones invited
Spencer to attend the rally
[[link removed]].

The rally has also attracted attention from the ultra-violent neo-Nazi
network the Base, an accelerationist
[[link removed]]
white nationalist group that believes in using violence to overthrow
the US government, foment a race war, and create a white ethnostate.
The Base intends to operate internationally, with cells in multiple
countries to evade detection by authorities. The group holds so-called
“hate camps”
[[link removed]]
where members receive paramilitary training and meet other members,
including those from other countries.

One of the men arrested by the FBI earlier this week was a Canadian
Army Reserve active combat engineer who, according to an investigation
by the Winnipeg Free Press
[[link removed]],
“spoke on multiple occasions about committing acts of racially
motivated violence and sabotage” in interviews with a reporter
embedded in the terrorist group.

According to the criminal complaint
[[link removed]], the
Canadian reservist and two fellow Base members had manufactured a
working machine gun, practiced using the gun at a range in Maryland,
and purchased 1,500 rounds of ammunition.

Monday’s gun rights Lobby Day in Richmond was intended to be,
according to its organizers, “a peaceful day to address our
Legislature.” But some expected to attend hope otherwise. As one
poster on the /pol/ online forum put it regarding Virginia’s
proposed gun restrictions, “This is solid proof that voting
accelerationism will work. Only such a civil conflict can bring about
what we need.”

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