On January 20th, several groups will be converging over gun control measures being debated in Richmond, Virginia. In attendance will be the organizing group of the “Lobby Day,” Virginia Civil Defense League, plus several other further right groups and militias, and even some leftist groups concerned both with the disarming of the working class and the threat of violence from the right.

We’ve compiled some news articles and podcasts to help you catch up with events and understand the left-leaning perspective of what’s happening in Virginia, and pulled out some of our favorite quotes as well.

It’s hardly an exhaustive list, but for our followers in the PNW, it might give you a great first step. Follow along, below!

Background

What’s being newly regulated? Several things.

Senate Bill 69 amends Virginia law to restrict citizens’ ability to purchase more than one handgun per month, Senate Bill 70 requires mandatory background checks for all private sales of guns, and Senate Bill 35 requires localities to ban guns at public events.

Although Democratic Sen. John Edwards struck the assembly’s most controversial legislation, Senate Bill 16, which would have prohibited the sale, possession, or transfer of an assault rifle, many Republicans believe the House of Delegates will pass the similarly worded House Bill 961, which bans the purchase or possession of assault rifles in Virginia.

One of the measures being proposed, SB 35, involves open carrying or organizing in a manner that, if the measure passed here, would dampen our efforts to keep events safe. One prime example is from December, 2018, when Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer and their at-the-time bedfellows, the Proud Boys tried several times to push through a counter protest here in Seattle, even at one point trailing groups on their way home.

Their efforts at the time were stopped by us and the event marshalls. Notably, Joey Gibson, along with several of his associates, has since been charged with riot crimes related to attacks on patrons of a Portland cidery, also after rallies. Two have agreed to plea deals; others are awaiting trial.

So… this is what’s being threatened: the criminalization of community defense. As always, the presence of a variety of groups in this theater makes the discussion complicated to parse.

Nazi Arrests Before the Rally

Several nazis from an armed terrorist group called “The Base” were arrested before the event (at this moment, we count seven), and many sources suspected they were on the way to Virginia to escalate tension.

Three more suspected neo-Nazis connected to a white nationalist group that reportedly planned to have members at a gun rights rally in Virginia have been arrested, authorities say.

Three Georgia men were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and participating in a criminal street gang as part of the hate group, The Base, according to the Floyd County Police Department.

At first, it seemed possible that they were just up to other unrelated nazi bullshit, with the worst timing. Still bad! And as always, we must be wary of nazis and white supremacists using traditionally right-wing spaces as recruiting grounds… so, this news put us on edge for good reasons.

Then, it was published that three of the nazis were planning to cause discord at the rally. They allegedly discussed opening fire from different vantage points:

Three suspected white supremacists who were arrested Thursday in Maryland had discussed opening fire from the pro-gun rally that will take place in Virginia this coming Monday, according to the Wall Street Journal. Law enforcement officials on Friday said that the men had allegedly been planning to sow chaos and further their goal of “accelerat[ing] the downfall of the U.S. government” so that a white ethno-state can take its place.

This is a common goal among today’s armed nazi militants.

The Base is committed to promoting anarchy through violence with the goal of igniting a race war, according to Reuters. According to the Anti-Defamation League, its members are opposed to what they see as Jewish values that have infiltrated the “European race.” It hopes to ‘impose order from chaos,’ according to the Counter Extremism Project, and its members train as soldiers in camps around the country. The group began in 2018, and though its activity is largely online, its real-life actions have been on the rise; for instance, it has distributed manuals for terror attacks and bomb-making to its members. The Base is the English translation of al Qaeda, though it’s unclear if that connection was intentional.

It’s mostly outside the scope of this blog post, but if you’re curious about “accelerationism” and want some extra credit reading material, here’s a good article from Vox describing how nazis from the same family tree as “The Base” turned the accelerationist philosophy into a violent mandate.

Gov. Northam Declares a State of Emergency

Seemingly separate from nazi threats, the Governor of Virginia (famous for this certain racist blackface picture) alleges intelligence intercepted from right-wing militias wanting to storm the capitol, and he… is… shook. He declared a state of emergency.

In response, the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, has declared a state of emergency for Monday due to intelligence he says shows “a threat of an armed militia groups storming our capital.” One member of the Virginia General Assembly was so beset by death threats that he is currently staying in a safe house. The organizer of the rally is concerned enough to emphasize on a popular gun site that Monday’s rally is supposed to be a “peaceful event about gun rights and NOTHING ELSE.”

Was that intel true about the militias, or maybe the intel was actually about nazis from “The Base”? Or was Gov. Northam just pretend-pooping his pants in an attempt to de-escalate? Uncertain, but the rally is going forward anyways and some worry that the declaration will only increase tension.

Right-wing groups, including militias that tend to have some infighting and fracturing, have been posting weird drama and fake information, including suggestions that MS-13 has been spotted in the city before the rally:

Most of the chatter from the right has been about the laws themselves and concerns about not being able to carry with the new restrictions. But, it is pretty funny to see the leader of one Three Percenter group in support of red flag laws if it only applies to communists.

More alarming are false theories about anti-fascists showing up in busses to cause trouble or start a false flag attack:

Even a pro-gun socialist elected to office who could vote against the bills can’t catch a break, as right-wingers are spreading conspiracy theories leading to death threats. So he has decided to leave the area to live in a safe house during the rally.

Convinced that the bill’s goal is to punish sheriffs and other officials who refuse to enforce new restrictions, gun rights advocates have feverishly conflated Carter’s socialist views with an imagined plan for wholesale gun confiscation. Cam Edwards, a gun rights advocate and editor of Bearing Arms, attributes the hysteria to “folks misreading the bill,” though he admits, “there may be some who are trying to stoke fear by representing it as an attack on law enforcement.” Nonetheless, when Virginia GOP delegate Nick Freitas repeated the smear on Edwards’ YouTube show, the host declined to challenge him. “That’s on me for not pushing back,” Edwards admitted in an email. (Freitas did not respond to a request for comment.)

Local peaceful black groups have cancelled events on the day, which is MLK Jr. Day, for safety concerns over expected white nationalist presence:

The state of emergency is currently under effect until Tuesday night, meaning all weapons are banned from Capitol grounds. The FAA has even restricted flights over the city out of safety concerns.

Some Anti-Fascists Are Also Attending

Local anti-fascists are also showing up to protest gun regulations, which have a history of racism. From Vice:

“I think it’s been pretty important for us to focus on the fact that gun control in America has a legacy of racist enforcement,” said Antifa Seven Hills spokesperson James (who asked that his name be withheld to avoid getting doxxed online). “Like taking guns away from black people, because black people were perceived as a threat to property and the sanctity of the state.”

That Vice article has an unfortunate title, because people on the left aren’t really going shoulder to shoulder with present conservatives, and the manner in which anti-fascists will show up is varied and in flux as the terrain of the event changes daily. In the eyes of many anti-fascists, Vice took several liberties in their report, and Anti-Fascists of the Seven Hills (ASH) released this quick statement with a video from Tidewater Solidarity Collective, shortly after Vice published their piece.

From that post:

We also want to note we have heard very valid concerns about the Vice piece. We are working on a statement addressing some of the liberties taken by the writer, asking for possible retractions and writing from our own voice to clarify our intentions and beliefs. We are NOT and would NEVER march with fascists.

We have several posts from before this sensational article came out that help to illuminate our thoughts if folks want to see those we will post in comments.

ASH also previously released several other statements about the gun control measures, including flyers about the racist past of gun control…

…and how politicians at the capitol are contributing to escalating tensions.

They didn’t listen to us when we warned them about Unite the right and we are warning folks now that fascists will attempt to use this as an opportunity to recruit and escalate from well meaning folks. We hope VCDL Page - Virginia Citizens Defense League, Inc. is aware of all the purposeful disinformation they are sewing. We also hope they are taking measures to block fascists from using this as an opportunity to be violent.

We have been openly against this legislation as are EVERY anti fascist we have talked to. We think this is highly irresponsible of the VA Democrats and it is actually causing escalated risk of violence.

Further, ASH explained very early on how they are navigating spaces that have white supremacists.

No we will not stand with organize white supremacists that were at Unite the Right for fuck’s sake. The notion is appalling. We DO stand with ordinary Virginians that are concerned about the threat of violence the VA state government is holding over the people. Rural Virginians with guns and possibly* misguided views are NOT the same as Patriot Front y’all. Please be aware of spectrums and how these opinions are shaped and who is shaping them. We have opportunity here to share knowledge and opinions and solidarity otherwise kept from folks from poorer backgrounds and geographically isolated.

We aren’t going to agree on a lot even if we agree on some things. We don’t change our ethics bc piece of shit may also happen to have the similar ethic that is applied in a contradictory praxis. That’s how complex navigating all this is sometimes. However, this particular conversation is highlighting more commonalities between working class struggles than the media (including garbage like Breitbart) would have us believe we share. This conversation is so very interesting for that reason.

Today, ASH also released this statement in response to VICE, which is worth a read. One prime quote:

Many folks have read this article, or possibly just the headline, and come to the conclusion that we are choosing to march with Neo-Nazis and Klansmen on Monday. This was and never will be the case. We are forever in opposition to these groups.

It is our group’s stated mission to keep these groups from having footholds in Richmond and beyond. There are many racists and fascists planning on attending “2A lobby day rally” on January 20th, at a steadily increasing rate since this bill emerged in November. We anticipated their efforts to recruit from the 2A movement, as has already been happening, and saw this as an important point to intervene since we oppose this legislation. We recognize how many in the movement, especially due to the projections of law enforcement, bear extreme prejudice towards Richmond and its residents, in the equation of “Democratic strongholds.” We understand the many racist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic remarks that abound in the river of online comments on these issues. Reading through and digesting these conversations is a reality of the work we engage in. We see it as our place to endure this, to be able to peer further into the void. In no way does this mean we seek to make alliances with those who wish violence and terror upon those most vulnerable.

Another selection from that statement, about the manner of their appearance:

We never indicated we were attending as a group, nor did we make any call to action for folks to engage in the way that is being purported. We have monitored this situation closely for weeks and found it to be increasingly dangerous. We spoke to the fact that several leftist gun groups are coming as they’ve stated so publicly. We only spoke to opportunities of counter-recruitment for libertarian and rural folks who don’t normally have access to leftist armed positions and of which the far right intends to recruit from. Many of these same folks have been disgusted to hear of white nationalist planned attendance and vowed to help us get rid of that element. We never announced what capacity we planned on attending and wouldn’t readily make statements like that for an extremely tense situation where the terrain changes daily. We certainly never said we would march with the far right, nor did we ever say we would march at all. These points are conjecture and misinterpretation that follow the same narrative polarization we have been working against. The writer took liberties to indicate in both the title and picture (which is not from Virginia) that we would arrive in black bloc to march alongside conservatives without regard to the fascist element, which is simply not the case.

Other local anti-fascists, some noting that there isn’t so much of a “call to gather,” are recommending not being in the area for safety concerns:

That local SRA chapter also put forward a fuller statement to the same effect, again mentioning safety concerns. From that statement:

The Metro DC chapter of the Socialist Rifle Association urges all members to stay away from Richmond on January 20th. It was decided that we would not coordinate with the groups going on the 20th for a number of reasons – mainly, half of those groups would see us dead if they could. There is no good in putting a visible target on our backs just to make it easier on those who would. While as a chapter and as individuals we will not be at the rally, this does not mean that we are not involved in the fight for gun rights in Virginia.

Perspectives from Other Groups on the Left

From the Roanoke Peoples’ Power Network, Arm The People, Not The State: A Joint Statement from the Virginia Left on Recent Gun Control Measures, endorsed by several groups from Virginia on the left:

We, the undersigned, representing several groups of the anti-capitalist movement in Virginia, wish to make clear that we completely reject any attempt by the new Democrat majority state government to pass and enforce any new “gun control” laws. Liberals see the issue of guns and violence in abstraction. For them, taking away guns will end violence. However, as socialists, we understand that violence exists within the systems of exploitation and oppression inherent in the capitalist system. History shows us that these laws will do nothing to address the root causes of violence in our communities. They will, however, do a number of other things.

This powerful piece, With Neither Tyrants Nor Fascists: An Anarchist Analysis of the Growing fight Against Anti-Gun Legistlation in Virginia, has a ton of great points that resonate with us in our work here in Washington:

Into this, where do we non-traditional gun owners fit in? Who advocates for poor gun owners, and those who happen to not be white, or straight, or conservative? Only ourselves. We cannot align with a Democratic political cadre attempting to pass legislation that will felonize us and endanger us to further violence by the police and the Right. And we cannot stand meekly behind the established 2A leadership, keeping quiet as they bicker and rant and platform white nationalists. We know full well that our presence will be tokenized when it is useful and demonized when it is not. Their goals are rooted in a long legacy of white vigilantism and State terror. We will not find friends there. The prospect of joining either side is enough to make us want to bury our guns in the back yard and open up a book while the talking heads tear each other up on Fox and Friends.

There are simply too many good quotes from that to include here in this blog.

Red Strings & Maroons released a podcast with a member of the Steel City John Brown Gun Club, discussing the event. We get a very small callout in this episode regarding Joey Gibson’s violence and how the new laws would affect our community defense. Among the topics discussed are intervention and trying to talk militias away from the fascist edge. It’s difficult, nuanced work, varying from challenging conversations to just deescalation. (Which is important to do and get right, unless you’re like local centrist Jerry Savage, who thinks deescalation is worse than his actual activities of doxxing activists in ways that provide information on a platter for fascist harrassers.)

You should also definitely read this take, titled Virginia Gun Control: Condemning Liberal and Conservative Responses also written by Mitch from Red Strings & Maroons, who was in Charlottesville during the deadly “Unite the Right” rally.

Throughout this piece, Mitch does a great job emphasizing the risks of these laws on community defense:

Members of our formation also responded to give first aid after James Fields’ domestic terror attack. Our members, along with everyone else present, had guns pointed at them as a shouting SWAT team in an armored vehicle rammed itself into the carnage, then proceed to literally pull medics off their patients. That’s the kind of police protection SB64 would subject our community to.

It’s no surprise that a legal strategy, rooted in the Supreme Court case of Presser vs Illinois, is harmful to the practice of community defense. That case centered on late 1800’s immigrant laborers in Chicago who organized themselves into armed groups that practiced firearm handling and drills so they could fight armed, union-breaking attempts and the police which had already killed pro-labor demonstrators. Illinois made these workers’ militias illegal, then formed its own Illinois National Guard, funded by wealthy elites, and used them in conjunction with the privately armed Pinkerton agents to brutally attack labor protests.

“What SB64 will likely do is outlaw armed militia gatherings as well as groups that come together to enact community defense in a time of need, such as what the John Brown Gun Club did during Charlottesville. From this legal initiative, the work of community defense, of Robert F Williams, Medgar Evars, of WASP, AIM, the Deacons of Defense, and the Black Panthers will become increasingly prosecuted in Virginia. As fascism in the US creeps forward, liberals in the state of Virginia are putting legal hurdles in front of communities that can not depend on the police for protection.”

Supporting the Community

@TheQueerCrimer on Twitter put together a couple of really good resources for ways to support the community in Richmond in light of these events. Here is that thread:

Included is a call for emergency funds for local medics:

Things to add to this article? Contact us!