Virginia gun-rights rally concludes peacefully despite earlier fears of extremist violence


RICHMOND, VA (CNN) — A large gun-rights rally in Virginia’s state capital unfolded peacefully Monday despite earlier fears of the kind of violence that took place in nearby Charlottesville three years ago.

Security was tight as gun-rights advocates descended on Richmond for “Lobby Day” to oppose legislation that would restrict access to firearms in the state. The commonwealth braced for the potential of extremist and white nationalist groups to disrupt the peaceful demonstrations with violence and riots, and the state’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, declared a temporary state of emergency last week to ban open and concealed firearms and other weapons from the state capitol grounds.

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The crowd, however, was peaceful, with no immediate reports of violence. One person was arrested with one felony count of wearing a mask in public. A 21-year-old woman was arrested and charged after having been warned two times not to wear a bandana over her face and then arrested when an officer saw her wearing it a third time, police said.

About 22,000 people attended the rally, according to the Virginia Division of Capitol Police. That includes about 6,000 people in the official rally area and 16,000 outside.

In addition to the people on the capitol grounds, there was a large group outside the fenced area, which was not under the ban on weapons and is an open carry area. They were chanting “Northam out” and outnumbered the group on the capitol grounds. There was a heavy police presence among this crowd, and law enforcement could also be seen on the rooftops, providing extra security to the area.

Several protesters brandished rifles and held signs extolling gun rights.

“We came unarmed … this time,” one read. “Patriots unite! They ban, we fight,” read another.

A petition was circulating calling for Northam’s recall, an effort unlikely to succeed given that it would require the signatures of hundreds of thousands of registered Virginia voters to trigger a court process.

Manny Vega of Richmond, who was outside the secured area, said he and his fellow protesters were “here to represent every citizen here that wants to keep the right to bear arms.”

Authorities would not immediately give estimates on the crowd size. But some streets surrounding the capitol grounds, several of which were closed ahead of the event, were packed with protesters.

Speakers at the event concluded their remarks around noon, and crowds began dispersing shortly afterwards.

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