A 21-year-old Richmond woman was charged Monday with wearing a mask in public following the gun-rights rally in Richmond.
Police said a Richmond officer warned Mikaela E. Beschler, of the 1100 block of North 34th Street, on two earlier occasions that day to adjust the bandanna covering her face. She was arrested the third time the officer working the event saw here around 1:30 p.m. in the 800 block of East Broad Street.
Beschler was released on her own recognizance.
The 1950s-era law — aimed at unmasking the Ku Klux Klan in Virginia — makes it illegal for anyone over the age of 16 to conceal their face, and therefore their identity, in public. The felony carries a maximum of five years in prison.
The arrest was made about 1.5 hours after the official end of the Lobby Day rally. Police said the Capitol grounds were cleared around the same time as the arrest, which was less than half a mile north on Broad Street.
Hundreds of people attending the event covered their faces. Some may have done it to keep from being identified, though many were bundled up from the cold with temperatures in the 20s and 30s throughout the day.
22,000 attended Richmond gun-rights rally, police say
Police estimated 22,000 people attended Monday’s gun-rights rally in Richmond.
Estimates from the Joint Information Center, made up of spokespeople from Capitol, Richmond and Virginia State Police, say about 6,000 people were allowed into Capitol Square with another 16,000 outside the gates.
Organizers had said they expected 50,000 people to attend.
- Ali Rocket, Times-Dispatch
No charges expected for man detained while climbing to roof of Main Street building
2:45 p.m.: A man who was detained by security after climbing the outside catwalk to the roof of the Mutual Building, 909 E. Main Street, was released and there are no charges expected.
The incident happened shortly before 11:30 am, while the pro-gun rally was still going on at the capitol just a couple blocks away.
The man carrying a backpack climbed the catwalk, on the Cary Street side of the building, and was detained by security, according to Chuck Potts, senior regional operations manager for Admiral Security Services, which handles security for the building. He was questioned, searched and released. He was not turned over to police and there are no charges expected.
The man did not have any guns or weapons visible but was “dressed to be up there” with hat and gloves, Potts said.
"The guy figured it was the best vantage point for him to take pictures," Potts said.
- Paige Mudd, Times-Dispatch
1:57 p.m.: Law enforcement officials posted on the VaCapitol2020 social media accounts at 1:39 p.m. that Capitol Square has emptied out.
"No arrests have been made at this time."
Gun-rights rally organizer: 'This is what happens when you threaten the rights of Americans'
1:15 p.m.: The main event Monday was a rally on the steps of the Capitol Building.
With thousands standing on the grass below, Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave and others criticized the gun control measures making their way through the General Assembly.
“This is what happens when you threaten the rights of Americans,” Van Cleave said, leading the thousands inside the fenced-off area in a “no more gun control” chant.
Stephen Willeford, who shot a mass shooter in Texas in 2017, said the fight against gun control is a national battle.
“We will stand together,” he said. “They will not disarm us.”
While most of Monday’s attendees were from Virginia, there was a large contingent from outside the state, including one person who chose to stand on Bank Street waving a Texas flag.
Erich Pratt, the senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, said Democrats’ gun control proposals, which include universal background checks and an assault weapons ban, among other things, are ill-targeted.
“Gun control doesn’t stop bad guys with guns,” he said.
Republican members of the General Assembly echoed that sentiment.
“I’m not sure what part of 'shall not be infringed' they don’t understand,” said Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico.
The rally lasted about an hour, with some attendees choosing to stay on the grounds and take pictures while others left to join the thousands outside the fenced-off area.
Police started clearing the streets around the Capitol around 1:15 p.m.
- Justin Mattingly, Times-Dispatch
"If I can’t go inside, I thought I might as well wear my gun"
11 a.m.: Just beyond the entrance to an eerily quiet Virginia Capitol were some of the loudest, most energetic sections of Monday’s gun-rights rally.
The area offered a clear view of the main stage for rallygoers who refused to leave their firearms or flag poles behind in order to go inside Capitol Square.
A large navy blue flag that read, “Trump 2020,” waved above a smattering of yellow, “Don’t tread on me” flags. The same words were also superimposed on a rainbow gay pride flag.
Nearby, someone waved a cardboard sign that read, "Gun control is Jim Crow," as the crowd chanted "We will not comply," and, "Northam's gotta go."
Law enforcement officials declined to estimate the crowd size at the start of the program organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
David Treibs, 55, brought a flag bearing an AR-15, a star and the words, “Come and take it.” Treibs drove from Fredericksburg, Texas to “stand with the people of Virginia in support of the Second Amendment.”
Treibs says a version of the flag bearing a cannon goes back to an 1835 conflict between Texan colonists and Mexico. The flag can be seen throughout Texas, he said, and he hoped to display it at Monday’s rally.
Two of his sons held a larger version on the corner of West Grace Street and 9th Street.
“We wanted to bring our flags, but they don’t allow poles inside,” Treibs said, standing with a long gun strapped around his chest, a flag on one hand and a stack of pamphlets on the other.
“If I can’t go inside, I thought I might as well wear my gun.”
Near the gun-rights rally, a small pro-Communist group briefly held signs and chanted “revolution,” prompting counter chants of “four more years” in support of President Donald Trump.
- Mel Leonor, Times-Dispatch
A lively discussion inside the legislative offices
11 a.m.: Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, engaged in a spirited debate with a group of gun rights supporters in the hallway of the legislative office building about the proper way to protect people from gun violence.
The lobbyists pressed her on red flag laws, which allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms with a court order if a person is believed to be a danger to themself or others, arguing that it shirked due process protections and that it would be better to give the person help and protection from all potential weapons.
Boysko said that lawmakers were proceeding carefully on the laws because people on both sides of the aisle wanted to ensure due process rights are protected.
"I've held three or four town halls," Boysko said. "I'm actually listening and taking notes. I'm from Alabama and Arkansas. I grew up around guns. I'm not afraid. However, I do think there are a small number of things we can do that would help reduce violence."
One veteran said he'd be appalled if Virginia passed laws that would make possessing a certain number of rounds of ammunition a felony because it would make him, who fought wars overseas, and other "everyday citizens" felons for not complying with a law they believe is unconstitutional.
Boysko said that she did not support Senate Bill 16, which banned assault firearms and made other limits on guns and magazines, because she and other lawmakers did not think that the bill was carefully thought out.
A few people in the crowd thanked her for rejecting the bill.
Brandon Howard, who was leading a lobbying group and is running for the Hopewell City Council, told Boysko if the legislature is concerned about gun violence, it should be looking at mandatory minimum sentences.
"Ninety percent of a lot of the gun violence that happens -- especially in Hopewell -- are by convicted felons who are out," Howard said.
Other lobbyists emphasized the importance of focusing on helping the mentally ill and keeping criminals off the streets, rather than focusing on guns.
"I appreciate that you all are here," Boysko told the group at one point during the debate. "Democracy works best when we have civil conversations. You can vote at the ballot box next time. That is how we make change."
-- Bridget Balch, Times-Dispatch
As crowds fill streets, lobbying goes on inside General Assembly offices
10:30 a.m.: Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, was sitting quietly in his office with the door open as gun-rights lobbyists milled outside.
Mason was preparing for bills before Senate Commerce and Labor Committee in the afternoon.
“It looks like every Martin Luther King Day to me,” he said.
A state holiday, Martin Luther King Day long as been an occasion for gun-rights and other public advocates to lobby legislators.
“This has always been a really interesting day in Capitol Square,” Mason said.
However, the sound of the rally in the square as crowds thronged on North 10th Street were audible in his fifth-floor office.
“I hope no one gets hurt out there,” Mason said.
In the hall outside his office, John Flynn was directing two 10-person teams lobbying senators for the VCDL.
He had split the team in half to make its size more manageable. Each team was assigned four senators.
“The teams are a little bigger than they are most years,” he said.
This is the fourth Lobby Day for Flynn, a volunteer from Midlothian.
He said league members are disappointed in the new rule banning firearms in the legislative office building and Capitol, but it hasn’t stopped them from coming unarmed.
“The people serious about lobbying said, ‘We’re going to do what we’re going to do,” Flynn said.
- Michael Martz, Times-Dispatch
No arrests as of 10 a.m.
10 a.m.: As of 10 a.m., the Joint Information Center, which is manned by a contingent of spokespeople from Capitol Police, Richmond Police and Virginia State Police, reports that there have been no arrests.
They are receiving regular updates from Capitol Square and haven’t reported any incident, except a medical emergency that forced one person from the line and into an ambulance. An official said the medical condition didn’t appear serious.
Large crowds of gun-rights supporters radiated out on streets surrounding Capitol Square.
Along 8th Street, a supporter of President Donald Trump encouraged gun-rights supporters to register to vote.
On Grace Street, a gun-rights supporter carrying a large American flag strode away from the rally. He said he needed to go sit in his truck for a few minutes because it was so cold he couldn’t feel his fingers.
-- Ali Rockett and Andrew Cain, Times-Dispatch
Capitol Square and surrounding streets fill with protesters
9:45 a.m.: With bands of well-armed and armored militia groups standing watch around the Capitol, throngs of protesters are hoping to use their voice as part of the show of force happening at the Virginia General Assembly.
Holding a sign warning gun-control supporters that they could trigger a “civil war,” Mackenzie Mcgough, 25, of North Chesterfield, said he thinks today’s event could mark a historical moment.
“You’re going to start something you wish you hadn’t. I don’t own a gun personally, but I know a lot of people who are going to be upset,” he said. “I think we’re allowed to bear arms. I think they’re trying to push the goal post. They don’t want us to have any guns. That’s not going to happen.”
Others with similar sentiments traveled from afar to be in Richmond on Monday.
Smiles Welch, 41, of Athens, Ohio, held a sign quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. in honor of the civil rights leader whose namesake holiday in Virginia has become a day of lobbying for interest groups around the state, since many people are usually off work and available to come to Richmond.
When asked why he selected that quote, he said he sees a parallel between the Civil Rights movement and the people rallying today.
“None of us want to use the weapons that we want to keep to preserve peace. We’re here for safety and everyone’s freedom,” he said. “Although the cause we’re here for today is not exactly the same as the cause he fought for, they are directly linked. We all stand for freedom and equality, and the well-being of all people of America.”
A few blocks down Ninth Street, about two dozen people wearing body armor stood silently in the road, facing the Capitol, guns in hand. A man who appeared to be in charge said the group was not affiliated with any organization, and that most of them were from Central and Northern Virginia.
- Chris Suarez, Times-Dispatch
Inside the Pocahontas Building: 'Lobby Day is when you peacefully petition your legislators'
9 a.m.: The public lines moved smoothly into the Pocahontas Building on Monday morning as people wearing orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers prepared to visit lawmakers for the annual Lobby Day for members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
League members dismissed concerns about outside nationalist groups swamping the annual lobbying event with agendas beyond protecting gun owner rights.
“People are conflating Lobby Day with things Lobby Day is not about,” said David Yarashus, who came from Annandale with four of his seven children. “Lobby Day is when you peacefully petition your legislators.”
The issue for league members is solely gun rights, said Yarashus, who was preparing to visit lawmakers with one organized group.
“I believe self-defense is the one of the most basic of human rights,” he said. “We need laws. That allow people to protect themselves.”
Thomas New, of Henrico, says some lawmakers are more willing to listen than others.
“Dick Saslaw doesn’t have the guts to talk to us,” New said of Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax. “Creigh Deeds does.”
Deeds is a Democratic senator from Bath County whose district includes Charlottesville.
New is a Revolutionary War re-enactor — he portrays a frontier scout — who said he worked for a security alarm company when Richmond was “the murder capital of the country.”
He contends that the one-gun-a-month law passed under then-Gov. Doug Wilder contributed to gun violence in the city, while concealed carry of firearms helped.
“If you send a message to criminals, they get it,” New said.
Kevin Brown came to Richmond from Southern California, but not for the rally.
Brown, 30, is a computer software engineer who is visiting for work training.
But he’s also an amateur historian — wearing a shirt with the Virginia state seal — who is concerned about government taking away firearms as a first step to total control.
“I’m here primarily because inch by inch the government has been basically taking the firearms,” he said.
Brown called “red flag” legislation that would allow temporary confiscation of guns from people found to be dangerous a “literally Soviet Union style snitching law.”
- Michael Martz, Times-Dispatch
Thousands gather around Capitol Square in Richmond ahead of gun-rights rally
8:45 a.m.: Thousands of gun-rights supporters, some of them heavily armed, are massing outside of the Capitol grounds ahead of today’s gun-rights rally scheduled for 11 a.m.
The gun-rights rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League is slated from 11 to noon.
Chants erupting in the crowd outside the perimeter have ranged from “USA, USA” to “Northam out” and “Treasonous Democrats.”
Gun-rights rallies have been an annual part of Lobby Day at the state Capitol. This year’s rally is much larger than usual because the legislature’s new Democratic majority is seeking gun-control measures that have sparked concern among gun-rights advocates.
State authorities beefed up security for the rally, warning that militias and white supremacist groups from other states were threatening to come to Richmond, seeking to attach their causes to the rally.
'Northam out' chants around Capitol Square
8:15 a.m.: Inside the fenced-in area, gun rights supporters voiced their displeasure with not only the gun control proposals but Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
Protesters chanted “Northam out” while holding up an enlarged photo of a picture from Northam’s medical school yearbook that shows a man in blackface and another in a KKK robe.
As many rally inside, thousands of others are outside on Bank Street, some carrying guns they were told couldn’t come into Capitol Square.
- Justin Mattingly, Times-Dispatch
‘Northam out! Northam out!’ shout pro-gun protestors gathering at foot of Capitol Square, where open-carry folks - men and women - are brandishing combat-style long rifles and stubby, self-defense shotguns.— Jeff E. Schapiro (@RTDSchapiro) January 20, 2020
Thousands gather at The Diamond to board shuttles to Capitol Square rally
8:15 a.m.: Thousands gathered at The Diamond on Monday morning to board shuttles headed downtown for the Virginia Citizens Defense League's Lobbying Day rally.
Those in line came from all over the state and beyond to participate in the group's annual event with gun control legislation proposed by Virginia legislators sparking renewed vigor in Second Amendment organizations.
Brian Scholten, a 21-year-old Virgina Tech student from Strasburg in Shenandoah County, said the recent legislation in Virginia had been a wakeup call for him and others.
"I think all the organizing shows Virginia people are not happy," Scholten said.
Scholten said he and his friends were on the road by 3 a.m. to participate in the event, which volunteers have said will be the largest lobbying day crowd they'd ever seen.
Chris Williams, 42, said he has helped with the last several events and estimated today's crowd was around three times the size of last year's nearly 800 people.
William's said those who showed up today were not here to protest but to lobby and open up dialogues with elected officials.
He said he hopes people come away with stronger relationships and a new commitment to getting more involved with public action.
"When I see crowds like this I think there's a bright future for Virginia," Williams said.
Johnnie Leggette, a longtime attendee now retired and living in Pennsylvania, said he was worried if other states saw Virginia pass gun control laws uncontested then they would take up similar bills elsewhere.
Leggette's concerns were echoed by others who had traveled from Maryland and North Carolina to voice their concerns.
Leggette said he hopes people around the country see what he and others are doing today and become encouraged to take similar action.
- Samuel Northrop, Times-Dispatch
Video: Crowd at Capitol for lobby day
Medical emergency in line at Capitol Square
7:30 a.m.: A man is stable after having a medical emergency while waiting in line to enter Capitol Square.
Just before 7 a.m. an ambulance took the man to a local hospital for treatment.