Extremists flock to Virginia gun rally

Militias and other extremists are hyping Monday's pro-gun rally in Richmond

Hello, and welcome to The Informant, a publication covering hate and extremism in America, written and edited by me, Nick R. Martin.

Today’s intelligence briefing is devoted to one topic: Monday’s pro-gun rally in Virginia, which has the makings of becoming a volatile situation. This is something to keep a close eye on, so I’m bringing you as much info about it as possible right now.

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Here’s the latest on the pro-gun rally set for Monday in Richmond, Virginia:

  • I highlighted four key things you need to know about the militias and other extremist groups heading for Richmond.

  • Gov. Ralph Northam said militias “plan to storm the capitol” on Monday.

  • Some of the figures banned from Charlottesville following that city’s deadly 2017 riot said they are planning to return to Virginia for the gun rally.

  • Democratic Socialist lawmaker Lee Carter said he plans to go into hiding because of conspiracy theories about him.

  • Jerry Falwell Jr. talked up “civil disobedience” if gun laws pass.


Four things you need to know about the extremists attending Virginia's gun rally

They’ve talked about civil war, anarchy and mass violence. Now some of the most extreme pro-gun voices in America, including militias and other anti-government groups, are planning to descend on the Virginia capitol on Monday.

Their goal? To oppose new gun regulations being considered by the state’s Democratic governor and legislature.

Authorities are warning it could get ugly. So ugly, in fact, that Gov. Ralph Northam and state lawmakers have already set emergency rules barring people from bringing guns and other weapons to the capitol grounds in Richmond on the day of the rally.

The state is hoping to avoid a repeat of the violence that took place at 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, in which militias featured prominently alongside white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. That rally ended in the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer at the hands of a neo-Nazi who plowed his car into a group of counter-protestors.

In advance of Monday’s rally, I want to highlight four things you should know:

1. The group holding the rally is a self-proclaimed ‘extremist organization’

The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) is organizing the rally as part of its “Lobby Day 2020,” in which the group and its supporters also plan to visit the offices of lawmakers to advocate against the proposed gun measures.

The VCDL is not some mainstream lobbying group. Its president, Philip Van Cleave, is a proud member of the far-right fringe.

In a letter to a local Virginia newspaper last year, Van Cleave described his group this way: “There's nothing wrong with being extreme in the preservation of our civil rights. VCDL is proud to be categorized as an extremist organization, and we fully intend to continue being such!”

Perhaps most notably, Van Cleave was one of the subjects who got suckered by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen on the show “Who is America?” in 2018. The comedian and his crew convinced Van Cleave to film a gun-training video for toddlers.

The set-up was so embarrassing, it caused Virginia lawmakers who had taken money from the VCDL to distance themselves from Van Cleave and his organization.

“What a buffoon,” state Sen. Bryce Reeves told the Washington Post at the time. “Apparently common sense wasn’t issued with his concealed-carry permit. Come on, dude, really?”

You can watch the 11-minute segment, titled “Kinder Guardians,” on YouTube.

2. Militias are ‘welcome’ at the rally, and some have already committed to showing up

Van Cleave has made no secret about the VCDL welcoming militias and other anti-government groups at Monday’s rally.

On December 18, Van Cleave released a statement that called on militias to join the cause and even suggested the paramilitary groups might do some old fashioned charity work to help win over hearts and minds:

Various militia groups from Virginia and nearby states have graciously volunteered to provide security. With a large Capitol, Richmond, and State police presence, not to mention enough citizens armed with handguns to take over a modern mid-sized country, we have the security base covered nicely. That said, we welcome our militia brothers and sisters to be part of making the day a success! Some militia groups are looking to take canned food donations during Lobby Day and deliver them to a Richmond Food Bank.

The Oath Keepers is the most prominent militia-like organization that has committed to attend. The group is made up of current and former military and law enforcement members who have vowed to ignore certain laws if they believe those laws violate their oaths to the Constitution.

On December 31, the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, issued an “urgent” message to members, urging “all who can make it” to attend the rally. Rhodes also said the Oath Keepers planned to create “Spartan Training groups” in each county in Virginia. In the past, Rhodes has described the groups as targeting the “violent left” and designed to “put down insurrections, which is what we’re seeing from the left right now.” In the new message, he described the groups as “a turn-key posse in waiting and/or militia in waiting.”

Militia leader Chris Hill of the Three Percent Security Force has also said he plans to attend the rally, and others in the anti-government fringe have said so as well.

3. Extremists keep spreading ‘confiscation’ rumors despite Northam’s statement

Northam has already thrown cold water on some of the more absurd rumors being spread by extremists, such as that the gun bills being considered in the legislature would lead to widespread confiscations.

“We have no intention of calling out the National Guard,” Northam told television station WUSA last week. “We’re not going to cut off your electricity. We’re not going to go door to door and confiscate people's weapons.”

That hasn’t stopped extremists like Gun Owners of America’s Erich Pratt from using outlandish rhetoric to fan the flames — or right-wing media from pushing the narrative.

Here’s what Pratt told the Washington Examiner for a piece on Wednesday headlined, “Gun advocates see ‘registry’ and ‘confiscation’ coming to Virginia”:

This would also mean that, if semi-automatics are ever made unlawful in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam’s SWAT teams would have a handy list of homes to raid. This is exactly what they’re doing in New Zealand. And it’s exactly what has already been done in California and New York — gun confiscation was preceded by registration.

Pratt isn’t just your regular conspiracy peddler. He’s the son of Larry Pratt, the longtime executive director of Gun Owners of America, a pro-gun lobbying group that’s more radical than the National Rifle Association.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented, the elder Pratt has a history of rubbing shoulders with white supremacists, including those in the so-called Christian Identity movement, “which posits that Jews are biological descendants of Satan and people of color are subhuman.”

4. Infowars has invited ‘Unite the Right’ organizer Richard Spencer to join its contingent at the rally

White nationalist Richard Spencer is being sued for his role in organizing 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Yet the nation’s best-known conspiracy theorist has invited him to the Richmond rally anyway.

Infowars founder Alex Jones extended the invitation to Spencer on Monday’s broadcast, according to a report from Media Matters for America. “I might come down if you’re there, sure,” Spencer replied.

Jones has already said Infowars plans to have a contingent at the rally.


More from Virginia…

GOVERNOR: ‘Intelligence shows that armed militia groups plan to storm the capitol’

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an emergency order on Wednesday to ban guns from the state capitol grounds ahead of Monday’s pro-gun rally, which is expected to draw militias and other extremists.

VICE reporter Tess Owen highlighted a key quote from the governor’s press conference:

“No weapons will be allowed on Capitol grounds,” said Northam, a Democrat. “Everything from sticks and bats to chains and projectiles. … The list also includes firearms. It makes no sense to ban every other weapon but allow firearms when intelligence shows that armed militia groups plan to storm the Capitol.”

Banned from Charlottesville but heading to Richmond

Will Sommer at The Daily Beast reported that some of the groups heading to Virginia on Monday were banned from returning to Charlottesville in the wake of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally.

From Sommer’s article:

Right-wing internet personality Tammy Lee, for example, has described herself as a Charlottesville rally organizer and is currently barred under a consent agreement with the city from rallying there with weapons. Lee has been promoting an event called “Militias March on Richmond” on Monday, and plans to attend with her group, “Declaration of Restoration.”

Other militia figures banned from armed protest in Charlottesville, including New York Light Foot Militia member George Curbelo and Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia member Christian Yingling, have also discussed plans to attend events in Richmond.

‘The South’s only socialist lawmaker’ plans to hide out in a safe house

Virginia’s sole Democratic Socialist lawmaker, Lee Carter, says he plans to stay away from the state capitol on Monday and instead hide out in a safe house because of a wild conspiracy theory tying him to the “gun confiscation” rumors.

The irony, as Carter explained to Aaron Gell at GEN, is that he opposes new gun regulations. But online chatter about him has nonetheless run wild:

“Now there’s a massive internet conspiracy theory that I’m working hand in hand with Gov. Northam, whom I can’t stand, the National Guard, and the UN, to go door-to-door taking people’s guns,” he explains. “It’s gotten to the point where people are openly discussing murder, and they want me and Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring to be the first ones dead.”

Falwell talks up ‘civil disobedience’ over gun laws

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. had this to say about Virginia’s proposed gun laws during an interview on Monday: “I’m pretty sure I’m gonna call for civil disobedience if the Democrats go through with this.”


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