Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a response to the large rally in front of the state Capitol and said he would “continue to listen to the voices of Virginians, and will do everything in my power to keep our Commonwealth safe.”
In a statement, Northam suggested that the security decisions that were made ahead of the rally “successfully deescalated what could have been a volatile situation. This resulted from weeks of planning and extensive cooperation among state, local, and federal partners in Virginia and beyond.”
He added: “Virginia’s law enforcement and first responders demonstrated tremendous professionalism. I’m proud of their work. I have spoken with Colonel Settle of the State Police, Colonel Pike of the Capitol Police, and Chief Smith of the Richmond Police Department, as well as leaders of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, and thanked them for keeping Virginia safe.”
Thousands of demonstrators arrived at the state Capitol grounds on Monday morning before dispersing without incident, and state officials said that the rally was peaceful. Police said that one person was arrested for refusing to take off their mask. In a statement later on Monday, Virginia Capitol Police wrote that Mikaela E. Beschler, 21, “was charged with one felony count of wearing a mask in public in the 800 block of East Broad Street. The arrest resulted after the officer saw Beschler for a third time with a bandanna covering her face. He had repeatedly warned her on two separate occasions to adjust the bandanna.” She was later released.
Ahead of the rally, Northam declared a state of emergency and banned all weapons from the capitol premises. Photos and videos taken at the event showed a heavy police presence and security barriers around the Capitol grounds.
Many protesters chose not to enter the designated rally zone, where Northam had imposed a temporary weapons ban, and instead packed surrounding streets, many dressed in tactical gear and camouflage and carrying rifles as they cheered on the speakers.
“I love this. This is like the Super Bowl for the Second Amendment right here,” said P.J. Hudson, a truck driver from Richmond who carried an AR-15 rifle just outside Capitol Square. He was one of the few African American rally-goers in a crowd that was mainly white and male, and was frequently stopped and asked to pose for pictures wearing his “Black Guns Matter” sweatshirt.
An estimated 22,000 people attended, according to authorities, who said one woman was arrested on felony charge of wearing a mask in public.
The rally drew the attention of President Donald Trump. “The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights,” he wrote on social media. “This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!
The Associated Press contributed to this report.