The rally was organized by Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a pro-gun nonprofit, and was originally billed as an open carry affair and an opportunity to speak up against gun control legislation.
“We came here because a tyrannical king is trying to take away our Second Amendment rights,” said Jerome Bell, 53, who said he’s from Virginia Beach and running for Congress.
In recent weeks, what began as a straightforward pro-gun rally started looking like a mixed buffet of right-wing ideologies. Infowars host Alex Jones had said he was planning to attend, and on Sunday evening he held a small protest by the Capitol, joined by the Proud Boys, a right-wing group known for violent clashes. Members of the American Guard, a white nationalist group, were also reported to be there, as well as the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia. Right-wing activist Joey Gibson, who runs Pacific Northwest-based group Patriot Prayer, tweeted that he was planning to attend Monday’s rally.
But most concerning of all were reports last week that members of a hardcore neo-Nazi group called The Base may have been planning to attend the rally — and use it as an opportunity to further their own agenda of creating chaos through violence, to start the “boogaloo,” a term they use to refer to the coming civil war. Local and federal law enforcement rounded up at least seven allaged members of The Base in the past week, at least three of whom were found with large amounts of ammo and improvised weapons, and had discussed firing on rallygoers from overhead, according to the Wall Street Journal.
There was worry about possible violence like what happened at the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017 in Charlottesville, just 70 miles from Richmond. “Everyone’s looking back at Charlottesville with trepidation about today’s event,” said Jimmy Frost, 55, who took a bus up from Virginia Beach this morning with other attendees. “But I think in that case both sides went looking for a fight.”
“Patriots didn’t start Charlottesville; it was crazy leftists,” Bell said. “There are too many people here who love America.”
Frost said he hopes the turnout will send a clear message to Virginia Democrats who are backing gun control and just passed three measures in the state Senate this month. “Just like sending a carrier to the Middle East, this is a show of force.”