Trouble looms in US State of Virginia on Monday, where a state of emergency has been declared by Governor Ralph Northam as thousands pf gun activists gather for a rally, in Richmond, the capital.
President Donald Trump has expressed support for the rally and he has criticised Virginia Democrats who are pushing to tighten the state’s gun laws.
In some tweets on Friday night, Trump said that the U.S. Constitution was under attack in the state, even as gun control activists said they have been receiving death threats online.
“Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter Friday night, referring to the amendment in the Bill of Rights that gives Americans the right to keep and bear firearms. “That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away,” Trump provocatively tweeted.
Hilary Clinton won the state in 2016 and Democrats took full control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation in November, as candidates made passing stronger gun control laws a central campaign theme.
The Virginia Senate late on Thursday passed bills to require background checks on all firearms sales, limit handgun purchases to one a month, and restore local governments’ right to ban weapons from public buildings and other venues.
Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency after receiving “credible intelligence” that armed militias and hate groups are expected to be present — increasing the potential for civil unrest at a gathering expected to draw thousands.
Meanwhile, three suspected members of a white supremacist group face federal charges after the FBI apprehended them days before the gun rights rally, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
The suspects are allegedly part of a fringe group known as The Base, and law enforcement officials say the timing of their arrests is related to the event in Richmond, which the men planned to attend.
Law enforcement officials say the men have been under FBI surveillance for months, and agents made their move since Monday is also a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
Two of the suspects — Brian Lemley, Jr., 33, of Elkton, Maryland, and Newark, Delaware; and William Bilbrough IV, 19, of Denton, Maryland — were charged with transporting and harbouring aliens and conspiring to do so, according to the complaint. In addition, Lemley was charged with transporting a machine gun and disposing of a firearm and ammunition to an alien unlawfully present in the United States.
That person was identified as Canadian national Patrik Mathews, 27, allegedly a main recruiter for The Base. He was charged with being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Both Virginia legislative houses are expected to pass the new laws including universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles, and “red flag” laws that would allow courts and local law enforcement to remove guns from people deemed a risk to communities, among other measures.
Supporters say more restrictive laws would help decrease the number of people killed by guns each year. Gun-rights activists assert that the constitution guarantees their right to possess any firearm.
Militias, neo-Nazis and other groups have vowed to swarm the capital of Richmond and police are expecting several thousand people at the pro-gun rally on Monday.
There are fears the rally could ignite a race war reminiscent of a 2017 white supremacist rally in nearby Charlottesville.
That rally proved a critical moment in the rise of the “alt-right,” a loose alignment of fringe groups centered on white nationalism and emboldened by Trump’s 2016 election. Trump was criticized from the left and right for initially saying there were “fine people on both sides” of the dispute between neo-Nazis and their opponents at the rally.