Prominent far-right activists and groups banned from rallying with weapons in Charlottesville, Virginia, after the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally are headed back to the state for a pro-gun rally in Richmond, where tensions are running high.
The demonstration was triggered by a package of gun control bills backed by Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, and set to be passed by the Democratic-majority state legislature. The laws would, among other things, require mandatory background checks for gun buyers and institute a monthly cap on firearm purchases.
In response, dozens of Virginia jurisdictions have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” and refused to enforce any future gun laws. Internet hoaxes have proliferated about Northam’s plan, falsely claiming that the governor is set to shut down the electric grid or even team up with the United Nations to disarm Virginians.
The pushback is set to reach fever pitch Monday at the state capitol, where the Virginia Citizens Defense League, an anti-gun control group, has organized a “Lobby Day” for gun activists.
The VCDL has tried to tamp down some tensions, urging attendees not to bring long guns as a “distraction.” On Friday, lawmakers banned guns from the Capitol building ahead of Lobby Day, which is also expected to draw some pro-gun control activists. It’s not clear how close gun rights supporters will be able to carry their weapons to the Capitol; the Virginia government is also considering potential changes to rules about possessing guns outdoors in the Capitol area, according to the Washington Post.
The event has also drawn militia groups from across the country, and plenty of internet chatter that Monday could kick off the “boogaloo”—far-right slang for a violent American revolution or civil war. It’s also drawn in at least four people and organizations who were in Charlottesville on the day of the “Unite the Right” rally when white supremacist James Alex Fields killed counter-protester Heather Heyer with his car.
Right-wing internet personality Tammy Lee, for example, has described herself as a Charlottesville rally organizer and is currently barred under a consent agreement with the city from rallying there with weapons. Lee has been promoting an event called “Militias March on Richmond” on Monday, and plans to attend with her group, “Declaration of Restoration.”
Other militia figures banned from armed protest in Charlottesville, including New York Light Foot Militia member George Curbelo and Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia member Christian Yingling, have also discussed plans to attend events in Richmond.
Lee and Yingling didn’t respond to requests for comment. Curbelo, who said his militia was only in Charlottesville to “curb the violence,” told The Daily Beast he is considering traveling to the event.
Far-right internet personality Joshua Shoaff, who has more than 540,000 Facebook fans under the pseudonym “Ace Baker,” has been urging his audience in livestreams to rally in Richmond on Monday. In 2018, Shoaff and his group, American Warrior Revolution, also signed an agreement with the city of Charlottesville that bans them from returning to the city to rally while armed.
Shoaff, a Tennessee resident, has gone further than most other right-wing personalities in his calls for violence in Richmond. In a December broadcast, he advocated for the hanging of Rep. Donald McEachin, an African-American congressman, after McEachin suggested Northam could use the National Guard to enforce new gun laws.
“I hope to see you personally on Lobby Day, because I would love nothing more than to tell you to your face that you’re a coward, you’re a tyrant, committing treason,” Shoaff said in a December livestream. “And as a good friend of mine said just a few minutes ago, treason is punishable by death. I’m not telling you that I’m going to kill you, I’m telling you that your acts constitute treason, and the punishment for treason is hanging in the middle of the street.”
Shoaff continued to promote violence against the legislator later in his broadcast.
“You should be pulled out of office by the hair on your head, walking down the streets of the capital, walked up to the steps of a swinging rope that’s placed around your neck, because you, sir, are a tyrant and you’re committing treason,” Shoaff said. “And you would be a good example to set for the other elected officials who are doing the same thing.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Shoaff stuck by his calls for lawmakers who support gun control laws to be hanged.
“If you think that our founders were against hanging tyrants, then you really need to study, bro,” Shoaff said.
Shoaff has also promoted the idea that the Richmond event could set off a new civil war or revolution, saying in one Facebook broadcast that he’d be “excited” if the event becomes “the second shot heard round the world.”
Shoaff isn’t alone among Richmond attendees in flirting with the idea that the Richmond “Lobby Day” and related events could end in a violent clash. While the VCDL has tried to position itself as a more moderate voice among the Monday rallygoers, a video posted to its Facebook page in December asked whether the “boogaloo” would “begin in Virginia.” Chris Hill, a member of the Three Percenter militia, repeatedly described the Monday events as a prelude to “boogaloo” in a YouTube video.
“It’s looking like Boogaloo!” Hill said. “Hey, if you’re down with a boogaloo, if they want to bring the fucking boogaloo, thumbs up! Thumbs up, guns up!”