The organizers of Monday’s massive gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, were very proud that no violence erupted over the course of the day, despite the fears of government that the use of the weaponry being put on display there was being planned. But Monday’s rally wasn’t the end of these concerns—in many ways, it was just the beginning.
An estimated 22,000 people showed. Most of them were openly armed, a majority of those with long rifles strapped to their chests. One man from New York showed off a .50-caliber rifle with a 2,000-yard range, apparently equipped with a scope with a 500-yard range.
The National Review told its readers that the concerns about violence “looked like panic” afterward. Of course, the magazine neglected to explain to its readers that the event was preceded by two months of social-media chatter in which would-be participants described their eagerness to begin a second civil war, including posts describing superior sniper-fire positions around the Capitol.
Fox News similarly featured predictable coverage touting the peacefulness of the rally. A black spokesman for the far-right Gun Owners of America appeared on Fox & Friends on Tuesday morning to mock the concern: "This was by far, hands down, the worst white supremacist rally I have ever seen," said Antonia Okafor. "There were people shaking my hand. I mean, they even let me speak, for goodness sake."
Okafor added that depicting the rallygoers as white nationalists contributed to “the left's agenda ‘to divide this country.’” Okafor either was unfamiliar with the heavy pre-rally discussion of fomenting a “second civil war,” or was like many of the rallygoers in that she believed that, despite the radical right being the sole source of “civil war” talk, the “radical left” is its primary cause.
None of them bothered to mention the FBI’s arrests before the march of seven neo-Nazi members of The Base, at least three of whom planned to be in Richmond and had discussed opening fire there. According to the FBI affidavit in the case, the three men discussed “the planning of violence at a specific event in Virginia, scheduled for January 20, 2020.”
Arrestee Brian “Lemley discussed using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to conduct ambush attacks,” the affidavit explains, “including attacks against unsuspecting civilians and police officers. Lemley stated, ‘I literally need, I need to claim my first victim,’ and when describing the optic, Lemley stated, “It’s so unfair what I can do to people with that you know. There is no safety. Don’t be caught alone at night in a place where I pop you.”
Canadian reservist Patrik Mathews stated, ‘we could essentially like be literally hunting people. Um. You could provide overwatch while I get close to do what needs to be done to certain things.”
It quoted fugitive Mathews observing that “you know we got this situation in Virginia where this is going to be, that opportunity is boundless and the thing is you’ve got tons of guys who are just in theory should be radicalized enough to know that all you gotta do is start making things go wrong and if Virginia can spiral out to fucking full blown civil war.’”
Equally disturbing, however, were the large numbers of law-enforcement officers from rural Virginia who came to Richmond to participate in the rally. These officers—most of them sheriffs affiliated with the far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association—pronounced the proposed Virginia legislation (the centerpiece of which is a prohibition against buying more than one gun a month) “unconstitutional.”
One such officer, Sheriff Richard Vaughan of Grays County, told a reporter: “If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced. They are unconstitutional.”
This not only contradicts the executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police—who explains that “the courts are the proper branch of government to determine the constitutionality of laws duly enacted by the legislature” (the organization supports most of the proposed legislation)—but is clearly a product of CSPOA “constitutionalist” claims, which have never been upheld by any court in the United States.
This is why Monday’s rally is likely just to be the beginning of a long-running and potentially violent conflict between so-called “constitutionalists” in rural Virginia and elsewhere, and lawmakers attempting to establish fully constitutional regulations. Because it fits the plan elucidated last week by Stewart Rhodes, founder/leader of the “Patriot”/militia organization Oath Keepers: namely, to take the fight to those rural Virginia government entities (nearly 93 cities and counties so far) that have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” where state and federal gun laws may be nullified.
Rhodes explained “So yes, it could come down to a standoff. That's why it's important for, like I said, we want to reach out to the state police and National Guard as part of our mission when we go to Virginia, is reach out to them and encourage them to stand down because if they do act under the command of the governor, they come into a county, and they're resisted by the local militia or the sheriff and his posse, it will kick off a civil war in this country. That's what will happen. There will be a civil war between the left and the right and we'd prefer to see that not happen. That's where it's going to go.”
Rhodes also held out the “constitutionalist” belief that sheriffs, not the courts, are the highest law in the land:
“So, everyone's deferring to the courts as though they're the final arbiter on whether or not something is constitutional. That's not the founders design. You won't find that anywhere in the constitution. The courts have carved out judicial supremacy, and the supposed authority to be the final arbiter of what's constitutional or not.”
And the tendency is for officials to say, "Well, we're just going to go ahead and do [what] we think is right and the court will let us know if it's wrong, and until the court rules it's unconstitutional, we're going to enforce it." That's the mindset out there. Not everywhere.
Gov. Ralph Northam expressed relief that there was no violence Monday, but in a statement also signaled that he did not believe the situation was close to being resolved. "Thousands of people came to Richmond to make their voices heard. Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully," Northam said. "The issues before us evoke strong emotions, and progress is often difficult. I will continue to listen to the voices of Virginians, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our Commonwealth safe."
The assembled anti-gun-control protesters seemed to agree: "We came unarmed ... this time," read one sign at Monday’s rally. "Patriots unite! They ban, we fight," read another.
Republished with permission from Daily Kos