Martin Luther King Day at the Virginia Capitol featured groups lobbying to get the attention of elected officials about their various causes. The Virginia Citizen Defense League holds their annual event with hundreds of their members showing up. The VCDL is like the NRA with gun rights lobbying but confined to Virginia. The attendance for their event has not reached the same level since the VCDL’s largest rally in 2020 when attractions came to Richmond like Alex Jones screaming from an armored truck.
My opinion on the biggest attraction this year was Brandon Howard’s gun valet. To accommodate gun owners who wanted to go on Capitol grounds but didn’t want to disarm themselves for more than a block, they could check their firearms. Brandon Howard is the President of Right to Beat Arms Virginia and loves to have over-the-top displays of his Rock Island VR60 12 Gauge semi-automatic shotgun with a magazine with exactly 19 rounds, the legal limit.
The VCDL’s president Philip Van Cleave (now with a beard instead of a mustache) read his speech from his phone and introduced the other speakers during freezing temperatures. The crowds cheered with his talking points about how Martin Luther King was a gun owner, leaving out the fact that King was murdered with a gun. Additionally, he opposed emergency risk protection orders or “Red Flag Laws” while also claiming that he wants to arm people without a background check like women who have abusive exes threatening them. The solution always seems like both sides need firearms and never deny anyone access, even the abusive exes.
Philip Van Cleave is used to having crowds in front of him that already agree with him. This event was not useful to winning over new converts to their side.
As the speeches continued, something more exciting was happening then VCDL’s lawyer John Pierce give details about lawsuit against localities that ban firearms in public parks. The militia group the Virginia Kekoas were posing for pictures in front of the entrance to the Capitol Building. They didn’t check-in their AR-15’s at Brandon Howard’s gun valet. Virginia Capitol Police stood in front of them before the tensions eased up and the militia guys moved back to the Richmond streets where it is legal to carry firearms.
Following the militia men was a woman named Brianne Chapman from Washington DC known commonly as Anarchy Princess. She is a live-streamer who antagonizes the Trump personalities that come to the national capital, most notable case is Peter Navarro.
Anarchy Princess began jeering insults at the militia group as well as other people open carrying firearms in the designated area. She decided to go onto the Virginia Capitol grounds with a sign that read “346 School Shootings in 2023.” Youtuber Jared Yanis of Guns and Gadgets was speaking at the time and demanded that the Virginia Capitol Police “do their job” and members from the VCDL’s crowd began to shove her away until Virginia Capitol Police detained her and removed her from the VCDL’s rally.
Anarchy Princess said that the militia guys in their tactical gear, body armor, and rifles were nicer than the “boomers” who were unarmed and attending the rally. As the event was wrapping up, Anarchy Princess thanked the militia men for offering her a cookie as she was holding different sign that read “Welcome To The Small Penis Rally.”
My day wasn’t done at the Capitol because afterwards came an anti-vaccine rally. The Virginia Medical Freedom Alliance held their lobby day as well. It began to sleet and snow as I sat through individuals advocating their belief in prescribing Ivermectin to treat COVID and telling the audience to avoid vaccines. Any credibility for them actually believing in medical freedom waned when multiple speakers condemned gender affirming health care to transgender individuals.
At the top of the hill on the Capitol grounds were loud chants. The New Virginia Majority was also holding their lobby day. Their lobby day crowds caused a line to get into the building that stretched around the block with their signature orange hats. The other groups lobbying aligned with right wing politics, but NVM represents left of the political spectrum with a diverse coalition. Issues like voter access, worker’s rights, and tenet’s rights are major platforms unlike the other groups nailing themselves to a single platform.
Inside the General Assembly Building was another diverse coalition of Virginians that were lobbying. Convenience store owners packed into a room on the third floor instead of gathering outside for speeches. Their goal was to advocate for a return of “skill games.” The games that are like video slot machines but for some legal reasons beyond me are not slot machines were ruled to be removed from gas stations and convenience stores. The Senate committee agreed to advance a bill that would return skill games to the corner stores.
Did the overwhelming support in the Senate Committee room change minds? Not likely. The bill was already likely going to pass out of committee, but it did show that the group of small business owners are capable of having a mass mobilization in Richmond.
As it got colder and the snow picked up in Richmond, the lobbying group for gun control took the space that was held by the VCDL just a few hours earlier.
Many people use Martin Luther King Day as a chance to use the day off on a holiday to do community service. While at the Virginia Capitol, different groups use that day to engage in politics. Some are effective while others are performative and counterproductive.
Main photo: Militia Virginia Kekoas marching in Richmond, Virginia on January 15, 2024.
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