RICHMOND, Va. — Police are scouring the internet for clues about plans for mayhem, workers are putting up chain link holding pens around Virginia’s picturesque Capitol Square, and one lawmaker even plans to hide in a safe house in advance of what’s expected to be an unprecedented show of force by gun-rights activists.
What is provoking their anger in this once reliably conservative state is the new Democratic majority leadership and its plans to enact a slew of gun restrictions. This clash of old and new has made Virginia – determined to prevent a replay of the Charlottesville violence in 2017 – ground zero in the nation’s raging debate over gun control.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League’s yearly rally at the Capitol typically draws just a few hundred gun enthusiasts. This year, however, thousands of gun activists are expected to turn out. Second Amendment groups have identified the state as a rallying point for the fight against what they see as a national erosion of gun rights.
“We’re not going to be quiet anymore. We’re going to fight them in the courts and on the ground. The illegal laws they’re proposing are just straight up unconstitutional,” said Timothy Forster, of Chesterfield, Virginia, an NRA member who had one handgun strapped to his shoulder and another tucked into his waistband as he stood outside a legislative office building earlier this week.
VCDL president Philip Van Cleave said he’s heard from groups around the country that plan to send members to Virginia, including the Nevada-based, far-right Oath Keepers, which has promised to organize and train armed posses and militia.