Virginia gun group plans peaceful Jan. 18 rally in Richmond

In the wake of the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol and the FBI’s warning of armed protests in all 50 state capitols around President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Virginia Citizens Defense League says it plans to hold its annual, peaceful Lobby Day rally in Richmond, on Jan. 18.

In a message to its members, posted Tuesday, the VCDL said it planned to move forward with its yearly gathering, to voice its support to members of Virginia’s General Assembly.

“Some have wondered if Lobby Day would be canceled or changed due to the events at the U.S. Capitol back on January 6. The answer is no. Lobby Day is on track for this Monday, January 18. Lobby Day in 2021 is like all our other previous Days — we are peacefully lobbying to protect our rights, we are not protesting anything. There are times and places for protests, but Lobby Day is not one of them.”

Although messages in the VCDL distribution list aren’t generally attributed, the group’s president is Philip Van Cleve.

A year ago, tens of thousands of  gun enthusiasts packed the streets of Richmond, near the Virginia Capitol, shortly after Democrats won control of the General Assembly.

Despite the concern for potential violence, and with a heavy police security presence, the 2020 rally was peaceful.

This year, because of COVID-19, the General Assembly is not meeting at the Virginia Capitol, in Richmond.

After being denied a permit to hold its rally on the Virginia Capitol grounds, the VCDL has been planning a vehicle caravan in the area. It is encouraging participants to decorate their vehicles with signs supporting gun ownership and opposing gun-control bills.

“We cannot cancel our events every time the rumor mill starts talking about possible problems caused by provocateurs. If we did, we would have no more events and no voice in the fight to protect the right to keep and bear arms. Gun grabbers would make sure there would always be some ‘threat’ to shut down our events.”

Virginia Capitol Police and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran have said they have been coordinating closely for weeks, in preparation for the rally. They are in constant touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and will take any potential threats seriously.

In a joint statement, issued Wednesday, Virginia Capitol Police, Richmond Police Department, Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said “attempts to intimidate fellow Virginians will not be tolerated.”

“Last week’s attack on the United States Capitol and recent credible threats of violence concerning capital cities in states nationwide underscore the importance of being prepared and vigilant to ensure public safety across the Virginia capital region.”

Officials plan to close and secure Capitol Square in coming days.

According to the VCDL: “Luckily for us, we aren’t protesting, the Capitol is closed anyway, and we are just driving through.”

“Could something potentially happen? Sure. That’s always true. But liberty and freedom are worth the risk. There should be plenty of police to deal with anyone committing an act of violence.”

The group is coordinating caravans, planning to livestream speakers on participants’ smartphones, “and provide electronic maps showing the current location of the caravans so that you can merge in as they pass your location.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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