About 100 people from militia groups gathered Sunday night for a rally-eve dinner at the Ruritan Club of Glendale, a rural area southeast of downtown Richmond, not far from Richmond International Airport. When organizers asked who was from out of state, more than half the attendees put their hands in the air.
Tammy Lee, a militia activist who led a convoy from Oklahoma and helped organize the dinner, was there. So were members of the South Carolina Light Foot Militia and the Louisiana Oath Keepers.
“This is the Woodstock of the 2nd Amendment,” said Jeff Hulbert of the Maryland-based Patriot Picket. “The sheer numbers of people turning out and the far-flung places people are coming from — as far away as California. … What political activity in Virginia has created is a national meet-up day for people who consider themselves the people’s militia. Most of the time, we’re in touch on the Internet.”
Virginia has some of the most permissive gun laws in the country. Even if the bills being pushed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly are adopted, the state’s laws would not be the most restrictive, acknowledged Hulbert, a contributor to the Truth About Guns blog.
What’s stirred people up, Hulbert said, is how the state’s gun politics were upended in the space of just one election.
“The biggest issue is the shock of the change that’s washing across Virginia,” he said. “It has alarmed people in a way unlike Maryland or other places, where the politicians chip away, several laws at a time, several years at a time.”
James Walker, 50, a municipal water operator, was motivated to make the 10-hour drive from Schaumburg, Ill.
“It’s tyrannical governing and it has to stop,” he said. “It’s not just a Virginia thing. It’s an American thing.”
Mike Dunlap, 53, a construction consultant from Suffolk, Va., about 90 minutes away, said he was “blown away by the people from out of state.”
Dunlap, a hunter who owns weapons with extended magazines that could be banned under proposed legislation, has never been big on political demonstrations. But he said the “Second Amendment sanctuary” movement has drawn him to at least a dozen town hall meetings since November.
“It’s a heck of a grab,” he said of the Democrats’ proposed gun control bills. “I bought all my guns legally. Now you’re telling me I’m going to be a felon?”
John Cody, head of the South Carolina Light Foot Militia, carried a neat white binder labeled “The Militias March on Richmond Command Operations Briefing.”
Cody addressed the gathering with calm formality.
After leading the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag, he flipped to a section of the briefing book and read an invocation. This was the fundamental underpinning of why they had all come here.
“Almighty father, we need your help for our country, the United States of America,” he began.
Cody prayed for guidance “to return America to the principles and values of our Founding Fathers.” He outlined some: sovereign states and a weak central government. A Constitution delivered “by divine providence.”
He described a people so distracted by material gain that they had lost sight of their deepest rights and obligations. He didn’t mention the Second Amendment or the right to bear arms, but he didn’t have to for this crowd.
“We stand ready and willing to return our nation back to you,” he prayed. “Give us wisdom and fearlessness to stand against those who want to destroy your land.” And he asked that those who don’t know “about the chains that our government is wrapping around us” would be enlightened and spurred to action.
After the prayer, Cody asked that all Virginians go first to eat at the buffet of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes. But only a couple of people rose. This group was overwhelmingly from outside the state. License plates in the parking lot were from Ohio, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland and more.
Cody said he had 500 members coming from Light Foot militia groups in several states. All of them, he said, were coming with peaceful intent. “Why would you show up and use this as an excuse to be violent, when there’s no need?” he said in an interview. “Some people haven’t figured that out.”