Despite fears of violence, militias lay low following Capitol attack

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he stage was set for a showdown. Less than two weeks after the US Capitol building was overrun by rioters, amid calls from extremist groups for similar actions at state buildings across the country, armed protesters converged in Virginia for an annual gun rights rally.

Last year, at the same event, thousands of gun rights activists, Neo-nazis and militia groups gathered outside the Capitol building in Richmond in a show of strength to lawmakers who might consider gun control legislation. Some warned of insurrection.

In the wake of the Capitol attack in Washington DC, officials feared a repeat this year — perhaps worse. But when the day came only a small smattering of armed protesters showed up. A convoy of protesters in cars passed through without incident.

Instead, the event turned into a media frenzy for the various armed groups whose memberships have swelled during the upheaval of the Trump years, and prompted more questions than answers about their future.  

In the streets outside Richmond’s Capitol building, a handful of members from the far-right Proud Boys marched past armed members of the Original Black Panthers, who subsequently marched around the block and past a gathering of Boogaloo Boys, an armed anti-government group whose members wear Hawaiian shirts — both sides raising their fists in recognition. At times, journalists outnumbered protesters.

At an event that many feared would be a follow up to attack at the US Capitol, few seemed eager to talk about it. A lone man sold t-shirts with the words “Biden is not my president.” Most stuck to the message of the day.

“The only answer to our problem, the only answer to this governmental infringement,  is armed revolt. I am proudly guilty of sedition,” said Mike Dunn, a Boogaloo member, flanked by a man with a Go-Pro camera on his helmet.

They were there to protest gun control measures passed in Virginia last year, and to stand against any further legislation that they believed would infringe on their Second Amendment rights. They carried out their protest in full military attire and camouflage clothing, dressed as if they were heading for a war in a foreign land. They threatened insurrection through bullhorns as bored police officers watched on.

“We’re here openly carrying in pure defiance of this unconstitutional city ordinance,” Mr Dunn said, referring to a measure which banned the presence of guns around Capitol Square. “We’re rocking mags with double the legal limit and I do it proudly. If you want to arrest me, arrest me. If you want to charge me, charge me. But I’ll stand by the constitution.”

Police later issued a statement clarifying the ordinance only applied to groups of larger than eleven people. Mr Dunn’s group did not meet the threshold to be in violation.  

Nonetheless, Mr Dunn promised that “any further gun legislation will be seen as an act of war.”

Members of BLM 757 stand outside the capitol building in Richmond, Virginia

(Richard Hall / The Independent )

Around the corner, a member of the Proud Boys who declined to give his name said he was there to protest with anyone who was in favour of gun rights. The group, which is a haven for white supremacists, strolled by a gathering of Original Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter 757 — an armed group not affiliated with the national movement.  

On any other day, there might have been a risk of violence between the two groups. But Mike Pain, who described himself as a general in the Original Black Panthers, said they were focused on their shared support for gun rights.

“We’re just focused on our task at hand. As Black people we walk through life and see these things on a regular basis, in our jobs. We’re kinda used to that. It doesn’t bother us,” he said.

“We came out to show action and be a beacon of light to all Americans and let them know you can come to a place like this regardless, never fear, arm yourselves. It’s something good for every American,” he added.

The hodgepodge of armed groups around the Richmond state capitol may not have been large in number, but federal authorities are increasingly concerned about the rising threat of extremist violence as Donald Trump’s presidency comes to an end.





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