RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — A rally scheduled to last just an hour led thousands of gun-rights supporters to the Virginia State Capitol, prompted state and federal authorities to increase security measures on Capitol grounds and drove groups planning to counter the pro-gun rally to change their Lobby Day plans.
Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said law enforcement officials found “credible, serious threats” linked to the rally when he declared a state of emergency temporarily banning weapons and all firearms on Capitol grounds until Tuesday evening.
On Friday, leaders in Virginia’s Senate and House were briefed by law enforcement officials about the threats. The security briefing came after Republicans publicly demanded one the day before.
After the briefing, House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) condemned any group planning to “spread white supremacist garbage, or any other form of hate, violence or civil unrest” while in Richmond.
“Lobby Day is a time for people to peacefully assembly and petition their government,” Gilbert said in a statement before the rally. “It is not a place for hate or violence.”
After initially reporting no arrests were made, Capitol Police said a Richmond woman was charged with wearing a mask in public in the 800 block of East Broad Street on Monday. The woman, identified as 21-year-old Mikaela E. Beschler, was arrested after an officer saw her “with a bandanna covering her face” for the third time, authorities said.
According to a tweet from Capitol Police, some 22,000 people were near the state Capitol for Monday’s rally, with 6,000 on Capitol Square and 16,000 outside the security gates.
Gov. Ralph Northam released a statement following the rally Monday saying he was “thankful the day passed without incident.”
Northam said the day’s peace was the result of weeks of planning and “extensive cooperation” with other agencies on the state, local and federal level.
Here is Northam’s full statement:
We are all thankful that today passed without incident. The teams successfully de-escalated what could have been a volatile situation. This resulted from weeks of planning and extensive cooperation among state, local, and federal partners in Virginia and beyond.– Gov. Ralph Northam
Virginia’s law enforcement and first responders demonstrated tremendous professionalism. I’m proud of their work. I have spoken with Colonel Settle of the State Police, Colonel Pike of the Capitol Police, and Chief Smith of the Richmond Police Department, as well as leaders of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, and thanked them for keeping Virginia safe.
Thousands of people came to Richmond to make their voices heard. Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully. 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.
In a statement Monday, Gilbert praised the massive crowd of rallygoers as “peaceful, respectful and orderly” and said “they even picked up their own trash.” Gilbert then lashed out at Democrats for the gun-control legislation proposed during this year’s General Assembly session.
“I hope Virginia Democrats take a lesson from today’s peaceful rally. The law-abiding gun owners in attendance today are the ones who would bear the brunt of their anti-gun proposals, which would have little to no impact on crime or criminals,” Gilbert said. “Meanwhile, Democrats are working to release more criminals onto the streets before they complete their sentences. Keeping our communities safe requires us to focus on those who break the law, not those who scrupulously abide by it.”
Two gun-safety advocate groups, Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, spent Monday “phone banking” after cancelling plans to visit Richmond for Lobby Day.
“What we saw today was not activism — it was extremism fueled by misinformation and fear,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement. “Armed insurrectionists who threaten violence and lawlessness if they don’t get their way don’t represent the majority of Virginians who overwhelmingly voted for gun sense in November.”
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