RICHMOND, Va. — Tens of thousands of protesters, many decked out in tactical gear and toting assault-style rifles, are amassing in the streets of Virginia’s capital city in a show of defiance against stringent new Democratic gun control measures.
State, local and legislative police have turned out in kind, herding crowds of people past miles of chain-link fencing and crowd-control barriers for fear of a repeat of the deadly violence that marred a white-supremacist rally in nearby Charlottesville in 2017.
By mid-morning, however, the sprawling protest had shown no signs of tension, nor any indication of the far-right or anti-racism factions officials had feared could trigger a clash in the midst of the heavily armed crowd.
Much of that fear was the product of an alleged plot to sow violence at the event by members of an avowed neo-Nazi group — foiled last week when the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested three of the group’s members, including Patrik Mathews, a former Canadian Forces reservist.
Officials were also anxious to avoid a repeat of Charlottesville, where a woman was killed by an avowed white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of protesters clashing with far-right activists — a flashpoint described by President Donald Trump as having “very fine people on both sides.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and the target of much outrage among protesters on hand Monday, declared a state of emergency last week based on what he called credible intelligence from law-enforcement agencies of threats of violence during the rally.