On Wednesday afternoon, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in anticipation of “Lobby Day,” a pro-gun rally at the state capitol in Richmond which has attracted the attention of far-right agitators. According to the executive order, Virginia pro-gun groups and outside protestors threatening violence intend to “storm” the state capital to rail against recent gun control legislation. “The available information suggests that a substantial number of these demonstrators are expected to come from outside [Virginia], may be armed, and have as their purpose not peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection,” Northam’s order states.
Called in an attempt to preclude a second Charlottesville — where alt-right and white nationalist groups clashed with counter-protestors at the Unite the Right rally in 2017, leaving one dead and over 30 injured — the state of emergency will be active from Friday, January 17 through Tuesday, January 21. The rally itself will take place on Martin Luther King, and guns will be banned from the capitol for the event.
The protests are in response to a round of gun-control bills expected to pass in the newly-blue state legislature; after flipping the state senate in November, Democrats have trifecta-control in Virginia for the first time since 1994. The package passed by the house and headed to the senate would require background checks for all gun purchases; restrict handgun purchases to one-per-month; let cities ban firearms from specific events and government buildings; and allow police to temporarily take guns away from individuals legally considered a risk to themselves or others. Pro-gun activists have already protested at the state capitol, where firearms have already been banned.
The dissent is expected to come to a head at Monday’s Lobby Day, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Though the gun rights group has made a (limited) effort to reduce the tension by encouraging protestors to leave their long guns at home, far-right actors outside the state are reportedly planning to flock to Richmond this weekend. (Promoting the event online, they delighted in the opportunity for “boogaloo,” a far-right term for violence that could spark revolution.) According to the Daily Beast, at least four notable attendees of the Unite the Right rally will be at the Richmond demonstration. One of them, Joshua Shoaff has urged his Facebook audience of 540,000 to join him at the Virginia capitol:
Shoaff, a Tennessee resident, has gone further than most other right-wing personalities in his calls for violence in Richmond. In a December broadcast, he advocated for the hanging of Rep. Donald McEachin, an African-American congressman, after McEachin suggested Northam could use the National Guard to enforce new gun laws.
“I hope to see you personally on Lobby Day, because I would love nothing more than to tell you to your face that you’re a coward, you’re a tyrant, committing treason,” Shoaff said in a December livestream. “And as a good friend of mine said just a few minutes ago, treason is punishable by death. I’m not telling you that I’m going to kill you, I’m telling you that your acts constitute treason, and the punishment for treason is hanging in the middle of the street.”
In an interview with the Daily Beast, he added: “If you think that our founders were against hanging tyrants, then you really need to study, bro.” Shoaff, who brought 37 followers of the paramilitary group American Warrior Revolution to the Unite the Right rally, was banned in 2018 from armed protest in Charlottesville.