LYNCHBURG, Va. – A group of armed citizens volunteered as security at the Lynchburg restaurant that was at the center of protests, which turned violent overnight.
It all started when Fifth and Federal supported a tweet from Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. that showed a picture of a face mask with the blackface photo from Gov. Northam’s yearbook page on it.
If you get extra made let us know! We would offer them to our staff as a mask option!— Fifth & Federal (@Fifthandfederal) May 27, 2020
The business has since issued a statement apologizing to anyone who thought they were supporting racism. Rather, they, "stand for freedom from the oppressive government actions of Governor Northam.”
Demonstrations were originally focused on the restaurant’s response to Falwell’s tweet, but then shifted to George Floyd and the treatment of African Americans.
Around 9 p.m., the situation became violent when protesters returned. Rocks, bricks and other objects were thrown through the windows of the restaurant while people hunkered down inside behind the bar.
“Everybody was just taking cover, some of them came really close to the building and we had to position our firearms and say, 'hey, look, don’t come in here’ ... they backed off," said Peter Alexander, one of the armed citizens.
Once officers arrived at the scene, police say protesters started throwing rocks and assaulting officers. Several officers were injured and one was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Authorities say the crowd in front of Fifth and Federal was told to disperse several times, and officers “deployed a chemical agent” when people refused to leave the area.
According to Alexander, there were hundreds of protesters at the restaurant.
“Because there was no police presence, there were literally hundreds just continuously pelting. We knew that they were not going to come in, we didn’t think that they would be that ignorant to come in and get physically hurt," said Alexander.
A number of area militias were asked to come help by the armed citizens working to protect Fifth and Federal, and some are still at the restaurant as of 5:30 a.m. Originally, there were around a dozen armed citizens at the restaurant. Once the militias arrived, there were around 40 people at the scene.
Alexander says that if he and the other armed citizens were not there along with the militias, he believes that protesters would have broken in and destroyed the restaurant.
“They were everywhere, these protesters were trying to surround the cops, law enforcement," said Alexander.