This year’s “Virginia Citizens Defense League Lobby Day”, held on January 17, 2022, in Richmond, Virginia, went much quieter than in recent years. Nonetheless, as with years prior, armed far-right groups appeared alongside friendly media. Front and center of the spectacle in the Virginia capital–once again–were members of the waning “Boogaloo movement”.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) is a gun lobbying group to the right of the National Rifle Association founded in 1994 and incorporated in its current form in 1998. The VCDL Lobby Day, first held in 2002, is a longstanding event organized by the organization, typically scheduled for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. In the past, Lobby Day mobilized a broad swath of the right and “gun rights” movement.
The 2020 VCDL Lobby Day (January 20, 2020) drew the largest mobilization of armed and unarmed activists ever. The 2020 event came as part of a broader mobilization in Virginia, responding to Democrats’ success in gaining control of the Virginia state government and related fears of impending restrictive gun laws. As a result, thousands of demonstrators from around the country descended on Richmond, many openly carrying and wearing face masks, a crime in Virginia pre-pandemic dating back to the time of the active Klan.
In many ways, the 2020 VCDL Lobby Day served as a sign of things to come in 2020 and 2021. An extremely large chunk of the traditional right and far-right mobilized for the event. Proud Boys (including Jeremy Bertino, who gained prominence for being stabbed in DC at a “Stop the Steal” protest), ”citizen militias”, members of the “Boogaloo movement” (including the now-defunct “Patriotwave” constellation), QAnon followers, skull mask aficionados, messianic “Jews”, street preachers, MAGA Boomers, and more all came together for the rally and to open carry. A similar broad base of right-wing actors and groups stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, after a build-up of anti-lockdown and “Stop the Steal” protests at State Capitols in 2020.
Based on credible threats ahead of the 2020 VCDL Lobby Day, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency. Although many demonstrators ignored these postings, he implemented a “gun-free zone” near the State Capitol. Additionally, in the days ahead of Lobby Day 2020, the FBI arrested members of the neo-Nazi group the Base who, among plans to murder individuals they believed to be members of “Antifa”, had discussed plans to open fire on the gathered open-carrying crowd to incite deadly conflict with law enforcement and kick-off further domestic strife. Fortunately, the 2020 Lobby Day occurred without notable violence.
Like the 2022 Lobby Day, the 2021 Lobby Day, held on January 18, 2021, netted a much smaller crowd. The 2021 Lobby Day, due to COVID-19 restrictions, centered around a large caravan from the VCDL rather than a massive on-the-ground gathering. It is likely that fears of bad optics in the immediate aftermath of the storming of the Capitol, which occurred less than two weeks before the 2021 Lobby Day, were also part of this consideration.
Many familiar faces attended the 2021 Lobby Day. On the ground, Virginia Militia organizer turned VICE News star turned Boogaloo leader Mike Dunn attended with his crew of “Boogaloo” adherents, as did JaPharii Jones and the reactionary BLM 757 group, which the larger BLM movement disavowed, and a crew of Proud Boys. We previously wrote on Mike Dunn and the BLM 757 group. Also present were men sporting patches from the antisemitic New Black Panther Party, who living original Black Panthers have disavowed, and the RVA Fred Hampton Gun Club. The latter previously appeared with the hateful antisemitic conspiracist and laughingstock Dr. Umar Johnson. Kal Moliet, of the “anarcho”-capitalist group “Liberate RVA” also appeared with an open-carrying contingent.
The 2022 Lobby Day saw an even smaller and sadder group of on-the-ground actors. Goad, a Richmond progressive activist, attended the event and shared what he saw on Twitter, including a look at the legislative side of the event. Ahead of the 2022 Lobby Day, the VCDL asked people not to attend with firearms. The 2022 Lobby Day also came on the heels of a winter storm that strongly affected travel infrastructure in Virginia. Additionally, the Lobby Day occurred as many who participated in the storming of the Capitol, and may have attended the 2022 Lobby Day, face criminal charges. Most notably, the 2A community seems shaken following seditious conspiracy charges against Stewart Rhodes and 11 other members of the Oath Keepers militia announced on the Thursday before Lobby Day.
The far-right activists who did attend consisted of odds and ends. The “Virginia Kekoas” group of “Boogaloo” adherents appeared open-carrying with friendly media. Mike Dunn was notably not present. The Virginia Kekoas are another Boogaloo gathering from Virginia that have disassociated and attempted to regroup from Mike Dunn’s previous Virginia-based organizations, the Virginia Militia and the Virginia Knights. Nearly every one of their armed actions since the group’s formation has been recorded by Ford Fischer of News2Share. Kal Moilet and other Liberate RVA “anarcho”-capitalists attended and spoke politely with local police when given a map indicating the areas near the State Capitol where they are allowed to open-carry. JaPharii Jones again appeared with members of the reactionary BLM 757 group. Jones announced a long-shot run for Congress before being interrupted by police for lacking a permit for the use of the bullhorn he is usually spotted wielding in public.
Cops inside and around the State Capitol outnumbered the open-carrying protestors, and the press came close to outnumbering the activists as well. A small number of unarmed VCDL members were in the area, including the organization’s president. The VCDL paid for a plane to circle the State Capitol with a banner reading “REPEAL ALL GUN CONTROL VCDL”.
The 2022 Lobby Day was a far cry from 2020 and was even more sparsely attended than 2021. Many of the groups that participated in the 2020 Lobby Day are now defunct due to both petty in-fighting and legal troubles for members. While the 2020 Lobby Day served as a precursor for January 6, 2021, the 2022 Lobby Day highlighted the current inability of groups to effectively mobilize. We will continue following these groups and similar groups in the South, with a particular eye towards the 2022 midterm elections.