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Lobby Day 2020: Live updates and reports from the Capitol

View of crowd from Pocahontas Building
A view of the crowd from the Pocahontas Building Monday morning. (Photo Credit: Jenn Michelle Pedini)

The Virginia Citizens Defense League has been organizing this lobby day at the Capitol for years. Usually, before the rally on Capitol Square, these gun-rights advocates meet with lawmakers in their offices. 

Diana Yabar says she’s here to defend more than just her Second Amendment right. 

“What’s coming down the pike is abortion, over-taxation of the people. We have no voice or vote, but that’s not the way it goes. We can’t just sit by and let them run all over us,” Yabar said. 

Todd McManus traveled to Richmond from Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He told VPM he’s here to defend his Second Amendment right. 

“This is about losing one of the base freedoms that we have. Without it, all the others fall right behind it,” McManus said. 

More people than usual are attending this year after a series of gun control measures passed the Virginia legislature. Gov. Northam declared a state of emergency due to "credible intelligence" that dangerous groups were planning to attend. 

Usually, there is another rally on this lobby day with gun-control groups. But, because of threats of violence from extremist groups, organizers called it off.  Other groups that attend lobby day, like Rise for Youth and Brown VA, decided to not come as well.

“We didn’t want to have the children and teenagers that were there — we didn’t want them to see the optics of racist men with big guns,” Jewel Jordan, the Executive Director of Brown VA, said.

Gov. Northam also told all non-essential state employees to stay home. Some lawmakers, including Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas), say they are going to be absent during the legislative session. Del. Carter told VPM he’s received several death threats.

As others gathered in support of the Second Amendment, faith leaders held a prayer vigil for peace -- to honor Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. 

The vigil began at 9 a.m. at a church a few blocks away from the Capitol. One of the organizers, Rabbi Michael Knopf, said they were gathered both "to celebrate the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. of creating a beloved community," and "conversely, to confront the ideologies of hate and violence that are descending on the city today."

Normally, they'd be at a Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service event, Knopf said, but, "We saw that one after another of those events were being canceled out of fear of threats of violence and attacks ... We created this gathering to say, we are not afraid, and we are going to keep working together to build the just, inclusive society that Martin Luther King envisioned."

Reverend Corey D.B. Walker read a letter signed by more than Virginia 30 faith leaders. He said, “Our nation once again faces a moment of profound crisis. Intolerance and bigotry are all on the rise, emboldened and empowered through the silence and sympathy, encouragement and incitement of too many of our leaders.”

Walker also read from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. King originally wrote the letter as a rebuke to moderate white religious leaders who said they supported civil rights, but not the way King campaigned for them; Walker said it was written at a moment of deep crisis in American Democracy as well. 

Reverend Drew Willson says he and other faith leaders wanted to foster a sense of peace and community in the city. 

“We wanted to provide a counter witness to potential strife, and certainly some of the conflicted relationships that’s going to be seen today,” Rev. Willson said. 

Organizers said in a statement that “In this difficult moment… we seek to muster Dr. King’s moral courage, speaking words of fellowship and community.” 

Legislators met for uneventful sessions despite the massive rally outside. In addition to Carter, three other legislators were absent from session: Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News), Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), and Del. Joe Lindsey (D-Norfolk). Price's aide said she had other business at the Capitol, but calls to Convirs-Folwer and Lindsey were not returned.

After speeches by Republican lawmakers and gun rights advocates, the event ended without any reports of violence. Demonstrators have left the Capitol area. Police say there were no arrests, and they would not comment on earlier reports of a man allegedly climbing a nearby building.

Police updated press with news that one arrest was made. A 21-year-old local woman on the 800 block of E Broad St was arrested for wearing a bandana over her face. Police say she was warned twice before they charged her with one felony count. When asked about gun rights demonstrators wearing masks earlier today, police said they were "focused on public safety."

Authorities estimate more than 20-thousand people attended the rally. That includes out-of-state militia groups, whose members were heavily armed with military-style weapons.

Others, like Mike Regan from Fairfax, left their guns at home. He said he’s open to universal background checks, one of several proposals pushed by Democrats in the General Assembly, but balked at others. “But registration and confiscation? No, that’s out of bounds,” Regan said.

Governor Ralph Northam has also proposed bans on bump stocks and assault weapons. The governor and other Democrats say their proposals are popular with voters and will help save lives.

Total crowd estimate was 22,000, police said, with 7,000 inside the square and 15,000 outside the gates. Police later corrected the estimate: 6,000 inside, and 16,000 outside.

As of 2:30 p.m., GRTC buses were operating on a regular schedule and most roads are open.

VPM had multiple crews following events at the Capitol. Stay with VPM for updates on air at 88.9 FM and on social media. This article was updated with our latest news.
VPM Reporters Ben Paviour, Whittney Evans, Yasmine Jumaa and Roberto Roldan contributed to this reporting. 

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