- The Washington Times
Sunday, January 17, 2021

Pro-gun activists in Virginia are shifting their plans for this year’s Lobby Day in response to top officials implementing security measures in the state’s capital.

Thousands of Virginians typically converge on the state Capitol and address their concerns to lawmakers on Lobby Day, the first Monday after the General Assembly convenes for its annual legislative session. The Virginia Citizens Defense League has often sponsored demonstrations with armed activists to lobby lawmakers.

But Richmond is under a state of emergency, and Virginia’s Department of General Services closed the Capitol through Thursday in response to reports of potential violence over President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration. Authorities also have put up fencing to prepare for any unrest.

Peter Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said his group is planning a massive alternative demonstration on Monday.

“We have flags and signs and magnets that can be put on a car so you can be creative and decorate your own car but we just telling people. The focus is on gun rights, you know, nothing else,” Mr. Van Cleave said on The Jeff Katz Radio show last week. “Our event is always going to be a peaceful event.”

The gun rights group held a rally last year that attracted more than 20,000 pro-gun and gun-control demonstrators.

This year, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) will use four caravans led by buses and nine “sub caravans.” A website will track the buses’ locations for supporters to join in.
Lobby Day already was shaping up as a sparser affair because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but recent security threats in Virginia and around the country prompted authorities to ramp up tighter restrictions.

“Our goal is the same as it’s always been. And that is respect and protect the right to peacefully demonstrate. Regardless of your viewpoint, and to safeguard the public health and safety of Richmond’s residents and their property,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said Thursday.

Mr. Stoney, a Democrat, said last year’s gun demonstration was “unsettling” because of the firearms in the pro-gun crowd, but he praised it for being peaceful.

Richmond police have spread out signs prohibiting firearms at public events.

Mr. Van Cleave stressed that the gun-rights group is not holding an in-person event so anyone who happens to get out of their car has a right to. He also accused city and state officials of trying to suppress the First Amendment with the new restrictions.

“They want to control who’s at the bell tower speaking and they don’t want another VCDL massive rally showing that their gun control push was not popular in the state of Virginia,” he said.

Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, told The Washington Times that while seven groups had applied for permits to allow a maximum of 10 people to gather, some were denied because their time slot already was taken.

Ultimately, because of the “extraordinary security measures” put in place no permits were issued at all for Monday.

Officials said they took these steps after federal agents warned that there were credible threats to state Capitols across the country.

Gov. Ralph Northam said the Virginia National Guard will be supporting local law enforcement to protect the city.

“If you’re planning to come here, or up to Washington with ill intent in your heart, you need to turn around right now and go home,” the Democratic governor said. “You are not welcome here. And you’re not welcome in our nation’s capital. And if you come here and act out, Virginia will be ready.”

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.