According to the Associated Press Monday morning, several thousand activists appeared hours before the 11 a.m. rally was scheduled to begin. The AP noted that most of the activists are white and male, many clothed in camouflage and are seen waving flags in support of President Trump.
The AP reported that both uniformed and plainclothes officers from the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police planned a huge police presence at the rally. Police restricted access to Capitol Square to one entrance and told rally-goers to expect to wait hours to get through security screening. Authorities began admitting attendees just before 7:30 a.m.
Chris Anders, a rally-goer who garnered about 62,000 signatures for his online petition hosted by a group calling itself Virginia Conservatives, told the Washington Post Monday morning that he was inspired to protest against Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-VA) vows to enact sweeping gun control measures this year.
“People are tired of someone trying to roll over them,” Anders told the Post.
The expected arrival of thousands of members of pro-gun groups — which include militia groups, gun hardliners and far-right activists — has sparked fears that the state could experience the kind of violence that broke out in Charlottesville during a gathering of white supremacists and far-right groups in 2017.
Last week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) declared a state of emergency in order to prohibit weapons at the rally. In his announcement, Northam also cited “credible intelligence” from law enforcement that groups, which include out-of-state militias and hate groups, had “malicious plans” for the rally.
Organizers of the rally held in Richmond picked Jan. 20 to coincide with an annual event, called Lobby Day, at Virginia’s state capitol during which citizens make use of the Martin Luther King Day federal holiday to meet with state legislators and push for issues of importance to them.