Some two dozen armed protesters, variously identifying themselves as either the Last Sons of Liberty, Boogaloo Bois or Proud Boys, gathered in Virginia’s capital to "express their rights."
The protesters gathered for "Lobby Day," during which citizens petition legislators on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, according to the Washington Post. However, the protest took on a tense atmosphere as images of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol linger, and the FBI warned of armed protests in every state capital in the days before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.
The protesters wore masks and flak jackets, and they carried rifles. One of them mentioned having a radio in his helmet as he spoke to the press.
Richmond last year passed an ordinance that banned firearms at or near permitted events, but no authorities appeared to enforce the ordinance as the dozens of protesters walked through the city.
Photos on social media even showed some of the protesters waiting to enter convenience stores.
Dozens of members of the press – both official and otherwise – trailed the group and spoke with them. Some of the event was live-streamed on Twitter and Periscope, making the protest more like a press conference.
Speaking to the media, the protesters said they did not seek violence but merely wanted to stand up for their rights to own firearms. One photo on social media showed the protesters carrying a dummy with a sign around its neck that read "Northam the Infringer."
"We’re showing up to remind them that we’re still here," a gun-rights activist, who identified himself only as Trevor, told Reuters the day before the protest as he helped organize it.
At the protest itself, one of the demonstrators said the group did not identify as far-right, but was "center" and Libertarian. He blamed the media for mislabeling the group, claiming they did so simply because the group consisted of White members.
When asked what would happen if the group did end up engaging with the police, the demonstrator said, "You’re looking at the group we choose to let you see."
A Black Lives Matter counterprotest of some dozen or two dozen members also appeared, though by midday the groups had not interacted. Police worked to keep the groups separate and moving when possible.
The counterprotesters wore facemasks with "Black Lives Matter" emblazoned on them, and a few members even carried their own firearms.
This is a developing story.