Virginia House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert said white supremacists and other extremists planning to attend a pro-gun rally in Richmond on Monday are “not welcome” as tensions mount ahead of the controversial event.
Thousands of activists are expected to descend upon the Virginia State Capitol for Lobby Day, a rally officially billed as a peaceful event to protest gun control measures pushed by the state’s Democratically-controlled legislature.
But the event has drawn interest and threats of violence from some far-right extremist groups, prompting Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to declare a state of emergency and temporarily ban weapons on Capitol grounds.
“Lobby Day is a time for people to peacefully assemble and petition their government,” Gilbert said Saturday in a statement. “It is not a place for hate or violence.”
“Any group that comes to Richmond to spread white supremacist garbage, or any other form of hate, violence, or civil unrest isn’t welcome here,” he added.
Law enforcement agencies have uncovered credible threats of violence surrounding the rally, Northam said Wednesday.
“This includes extremist rhetoric similar to what has been seen before major incidents, such as Charlottesville in 2017,” he wrote in a statement, referring to the violent white supremacist rally in the state that left one counterprotester dead.
Authorities have arrested six suspected neo-Nazis who were potentially planning to commit violence at the rally on Monday. Several of them believed a race war might ensue, reported The New York Times, citing the FBI.
Gilbert said Virginia House Republicans “reject any attempt by any group to infuse any kind of twisted or extreme worldview” into the rally.
“So there’s no mistake, this is my message to any group that would subvert this event: you are not welcome here,” he said in his statement. “While we and our Democratic colleagues may have differences, we are all Virginians and we will stand united in opposition to any threats of violence or civil unrest from any quarter.”
Although Virginia lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have issued statements seeking to quell any potential acts of violence, President Donald Trump on Saturday stoked fears of Second Amendment rights activists who say Democrats are out to snatch away their guns.
“Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia,” the president tweeted. “That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away.”
The three gun control measures facing approval in Virginia’s House of Delegates as early as next week seek to limit purchases of handguns to one each month, require universal background checks for gun buyers and allow the government to ban guns in parks and public buildings.