23/09/2020

With a gun rights rally scheduled for Monday in Richmond, Virginia, residents says they fear their own Charlottesville.

RICHMOND, Va. As gun rights activists, white nationalists and militia groups prepare to rally at the state Capitol on Monday to protest proposed gun control laws, residents are praying it wont be a repeat of the violent 2017 rally in Charlottesville that ended in a woman’s death.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, which organizes the annual gun rights rally, said it wants a “peaceful event,” but the crowd is expected to be larger than usual because Democrats took control of the Legislature last year and are proposing several gun control bills that would limit handgun purchases and require background checks, among other regulations.
The proposals come after a mass shooting in May in Virginia Beach, in which a disgruntled city employee killed 12 people in a municipal building.
Im very worried, Francisca Benavides, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, said.
Benavides, who’s studying photography at the 31,000-student public research university, wanted to attend the rally to document it but is having second thoughts after Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency last week in anticipation of the event. He said “credible intelligence” indicated the rally would draw armed militias and hate groups.
All my friends are trying to convince me not to attend, Benavides said, adding she was reassured when Northam temporarily banned guns and other weapons from the grounds of the Capitol, and the state Supreme Court struck down the rally organizers’ challenge to the order.
“All my friends are trying to convince me not to attend,” Virginia Commonwealth University student Francisca Benavides said.Carlos Bernate / for NBC News
But on Thursday, three members of a neo-Nazi group called The Base, which advocates for a white ethno-state, were arrested on the East Coast, and law enforcement officials said they had been planning to attend the rally. The next day, officials announced the arrests of three men from Georgia and one from Wisconsin, all allegedly members of The Base.
Richmond residents said they were glad to see the men apprehended, but it doesnt do much to calm their nerves. President Donald Trumps tweet Friday, saying Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia, was seen by some as a call to join Mondays rally, further stoking anxieties.
Gabby Safley, a VCU student from Charlottesville who studies history, saw what happened to her city when neo-Nazis marched through the streets and white supremacist James Alex Fields ran over and killed counterprotester Heather Heyer. She had friends near Fields car when he sped into the crowd, students she mentored who were traumatized by the day’s events, and her aunt served on the jury for Field’s trial, she said.
Safley fears Mondays rally will be Charlottesville all over again.
Im not surprised its happening, she said, and it wouldnt be surprising if it turns into something like Charlottesville.
A security checkpoint at the Virginia State Capitol grounds ahead of a gun rights rally in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 18, 2020.Jim Urquhart / Reuters
She said she will stay away from the Capitol on Monday but is upset by the strong response to what she views as practical gun control measures.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
My family hunts, but I think gun control is necessary, she said. You shouldnt be worried if youre not doing anything illegal.
Anthony Berrios, who lives near the Capitol, said he will stay with his girlfriend, who lives in a different part of the city, on Monday. He said the premise behind the rally is misguided.
Its a myth that the government is trying to take their guns away, he said. I just wish people would really take an objective look at whats best for society versus whats good for themselves.
Just a block from the Capitol, Quisha Jefferson manages a 7-Eleven convenience store that’s usually open round-the-clock, but she plans to shut it down Sunday night and reopen Monday when calm returns.
Im not gonna do it, she said. Were gonna close. We dont want to be a part of whats going on.
Even if she wanted to stay open, it would be difficult for her employees to get to work because road closures forced by the rally will impede bus routes, and they are nervous about showing up for their regular Monday shifts anyway.
I dont want to put them in danger, and I dont want to put myself in danger, Jefferson said, pointing to the stores large glass windows that she thinks would make them vulnerable to an attack. Im gonna lose a lot of business, but Id rather my workers be at home, be safe.
Some Richmond residents, whose jobs are near Capitol Square, said they dont want to go to work Monday either, but they have no choice. Many area businesses will be closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but a few retail and service employees whose workplaces will remain open still have to show up.
Were terrified, said one woman, who can see the Capitol from her place of work and asked not to be named because she feared retribution from her employer.
I hope its worth it, she said of her employers decision to stay open to avoid losing a day of business.
In Jackson Ward, the citys historically black neighborhood, Marvin Smith is taking a different approach from that of his neighbors, who are leaving town. The barbershop he owns about a mile north of Capitol Square won’t be open, but he will be in his store.
Im gonna be here for the community, Smith said. I want to know whats going on and be on call.