Anti-racist activists say that a massive grassroots movement rising up in opposition to proposed restrictions on gun ownership in Virginia may be rooted in white supremacist sentiment.
Nine out of 10 Virginia counties have declared themselves “Second Amendment” sanctuaries in response to Democrat-backed gun control bills.
The Guardian became one of the first non-conservative news outlets to cover the state’s growing pro-gun movement when it published a wide-ranging feature on the topic on Friday.
The piece, written by senior reporter Lois Beckett, framed the issue around fears that Virginia gun owners’ concerns are being co-opted by extremists.
“The backlash to gun control in Virginia is being fueled by conspiracy theories and misinformation, and some observers worry that the escalating rhetoric may spark violence,” Beckett, who often expresses left-leaning views on Twitter, wrote.
According to The Guardian, Richmond residents fear that a gun rights rally scheduled at Virginia’s state capitol on January 20 will turn violent, like the 2017 Unite the Rally in Charlottesville.
Beckett spoke with anti-racism activists who endorsed the view that opportunistic white supremacists were seeking to capitalize on the moment.
Matthew Christensen, a Charlottesville-area activist who has expressed sympathy for antifa on Twitter, told The Guardian he believes the “Second Amendment sanctuary” movement in Virginia is “rooted in white resentment.”
We have a gun problem in the USA but even more than that we have a domestic terrorism problem. White supremacists are regularly carrying out terrorist attacks. Last week it was a garlic fest in CA, yesterday it was a Wal-mart in TX. Where will it be next? They aren't stopping.
— Matthew Christensen (@mchri5ten5en) August 4, 2019
“As white people, taking away privilege can feel like an attack, when it’s just a leveling of the playing field. And I think that’s where a lot of people are right now: they’re feeling attacked, and this is a way they can lash out,” Christensen said. “It almost seems like people are looking for a reason to pull a Bundy and attack the government.”
He also told the outlet he was “shocked” by the number of gun owners who showed up to a recent local government meeting in Albemarle county.
Christensen described the pro-gun crowd as “overwhelmingly white” and said the atmosphere was “tense.”
Alex Friedfeld, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League, said white supremacist groups see the conflict in Virginia as having the potential to kick off a civil war that will bring them to power.
“The story they’re telling is that the Jews and immigrants are responsible for turning Virginia blue, and they’re coming to take your guns,” Friedfeld told The Guardian.
“You’ve got white replacement. You’ve got what they’re calling Jewish gun grabbers, and the people rising up, saying the government is illegitimate,” he added.
Friedfeld said he’d been monitoring the growing use of the term “boogaloo,” a reference to civil war, by “extremist groups” on the internet.
“This is a great piece”
Proponents of gun control on social media praised Beckett for tracing the supposed link between Virginia’s grassroots pro-gun sentiment and extremism.
“This is a great piece,” tweeted anti-fascist writer Isaac Butler.
Thank you for the work you are doing for us. @guardian @GuardianUS has become one of my most often read sources. Two years ago I set up an auto monthly donation because I know good journalism requires resources. Hope anyone seeing this who can give $, will give $.
— lrossnola (@lrossnola) January 10, 2020
Many commenters characterized Virginia gun owners as unhinged.
The use of the term ‘boogaloo’ isn’t ironic in this context, as you say, it’s racist. Why not talk about these people’s looong obsession w race war?? @guardian
— Neils Gore (@heyd0la) January 10, 2020
Others even urged violence against the pro-gun crowd:
good place for a drone strike. that'll well-regulate the militia.
— bob loves becca (@bbihlmayer) January 10, 2020
Another commenter, who claimed to work in law enforcement, replied to Beckett’s article by characterizing gun owners as dangerous “nutjobs” who “need to be stopped.”
As someone who works in a law enforcing capacity, these nutjobs are completely off base and dangerous, and it's a general sentiment among law enforcement that they need to be stopped, but our legal methods of recourse are limited.
— Sonador (@sonacoon) January 10, 2020
Others piggybacked on the idea that the Virginia pro-gun movement and the issue of race were intertwined.
The threat is to the gun owners ability to kill , threaten, dominate women and people of color. He can't, his identity depends on it.
— Aschleigh Jensen (@AschleighJ) January 10, 2020
Virginia gun control
Virginia finds itself in the midst of a fierce ideological battle over the issue of gun control.
The state’s Democrats, who in November seized control of both houses of the state’s legislature for the first time in more than two decades, made gun control laws a focus of their campaigns.
Democrats’ electoral triumph sparked concerns about increased restrictions on firearms possession, which the state’s pro-gun advocates say infringe on their Second Amendment rights.
Several proposals, including an “assault weapons” ban backed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, prompted outrage in a wide swathe of rural localities across the state.
Democrats announced earlier this month they were amending the pending ban on “assault weapons” in the face of political pressure.
An early draft of the bill would have made it a felony to possess any firearm defined as an “assault weapon.” Gun rights groups were particularly concerned by the lack of an exception for those who already possess such weapons.
The move to confiscate guns faced immense grassroots opposition in the state, which has seen an overwhelming majority of its counties declare themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.”
One southwestern Virginia county went even further, passing a resolution authorizing funding for the formation of a well-regulated militia.