A demonstrator stands outside a security zone before a pro-gun rally, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Thousands of pro-gun supporters are expected at the rally to oppose gun control legislation like universal background checks that are being pushed by the newly elected Democratic legislature. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
11:00 p.m. update
RICHMOND, Va. – Many protesters are back home Monday night after traveling to Richmond by the busload.
They returned home exhausted but encouraged that their voices had been heard at the Capitol.
“It was nice to see how many people feel the same way about this issue,” said rally attendee Rocky Stanley.
More than 100 people traveled from Safeside Tactical in Roanoke and Lynchburg to Richmond for Lobby Day.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to go to this kind of extreme to get the people together, but it is good that folks are standing up for what they believe in and standing up for their rights," said Matthew Jones with Safeside Tactical.
“It was nice seeing such a wide variety of people, people from every walk of life," said Stanley.
They hoped the people inside the Capitol listened to the crowd and will keep paying attention to their concerns about more gun control laws.
“It’s very encouraging, and hopefully our lawmakers will dial it back a little bit. I truly believe that if not, there’s going to be quite a few of them that will be losing their jobs," said Stanley.
Another group left from Roanoke County to attend the rally.
5:00 p.m. update
Capitol Square is now closed for the day. Thanks to everyone who patiently waited to enter for today’s rallies & to lobby their legislators. Capitol Square & the surrounding area saw crowds of tens of thousands & only one arrest was made. Capitol Square will reopen tomorrow at 7a— VACapitol2020 (@VACapitol2020) January 20, 2020
4:42 p.m. update
Gov. Ralph Northam released this statement Monday afternoon:
"We are all thankful that today passed without incident. The teams successfully de-escalated 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.
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 people came to Richmond to make their voices heard. Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully. The issues before us evoke strong emotions, and progress is often difficult. I will continue to listen to the voices of Virginians, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our Commonwealth safe."
3:51 p.m. update
Police said that a Richmond woman was arrested during Monday’s pro-gun rally in Richmond.
At about 1:30 p.m., Mikaela Beschler, 21, was arrested by a Richmond police officer who was working Lobby Day.
She was charged with one felony count of wearing a mask in public in the 800 block of East Broad Street.
According to police, 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.
Beschler was released on her own recognizance.
3:39 p.m. update
An estimated 22,000 people attended today’s rally – approximately 6,000 people on Capitol Square and 16,000 outside the gates, according to VACapitol2020.
This number is updated from a previous tweet by VACapitol2020.
2:58 p.m. update
2:11 p.m. update
As of about 1:40 p.m., Capitol Square had emptied out and no arrests were made, according to Virginia State Police.
Southwest Virginians make their voices heard
Among the massive crowd that is gathering at Capitol Square, hundreds, if not thousands, are from southwest Virginia.
10 News reporter Jessica Jewell met up with some of them this morning. They say they woke up at 2 a.m. to board buses to be part of this rally at the Capitol today.
Many of them come from places that have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries.
Despite threats of violence today, demonstrators from southwest Virginia say that wasn’t going to stop them from exercising their First Amendment right to protect their second.
While there have been threats of violence, everything 10 News crews have seen has been peaceful so far.
A Franklin County man who spoke to 10 News this morning has been able to meet up with lawmakers this Lobby Day. He told 10 News he was frustrated because he tried to schedule appointments with Democratic lawmakers and none of them were allowing that.
Congressman Morgan Griffith also made the drive to Richmond with a group from Lee County.
Sending a message through open carry
There are crowds of people demonstrating outside the Capitol grounds on closed-off side streets nearby as thousands continue to make their voices heard in Richmond.
10 News reporter Tommy Lopez says it’s been passionate yet peaceful here so far today.
Thousands of people are here standing, chanting, holding signs -- a unified statement against stricter gun laws.
Hundreds are from our region of Virginia -- and at least hundreds more have traveled from farther away.
This event has caught attention from national media and people around the nation.
Some took a day's drive to be here -- among the crowds.
“It’s impressive and I’m happy to see it. It’s been a really good crowd, people who are peaceful, doing what they need to do to let their cause be known," said Erik Lehtinen, New York resident.
Many people are carrying weapons, and they’re allowed to do that as long as they’re outside the Capitol grounds. They say carrying is a part of their statement, that they want to protect their rights.
Thousands are here with that message hoping to sway the General Assembly not to pass stricter gun laws.
Far-right figure drives tank through downtown
According to NBC 12, far-right conspiracy theorist and radio show host Alex Jones was seen driving a tank through downtown Richmond.
Info Wars host Alex Jones is at the Capitol driving around, yelling into a megaphone, supporting gun rights demonstrators. pic.twitter.com/DYEycriqzg— Tommy Lopez (@TommyLopezTV) January 20, 2020
Security remains tight
Security has been tight all day in and around Capitol Square -- which is part of the governor’s State of Emergency order.
People are still trickling in, although the lines to go through dozen or so metal detectors here don’t seem to be as long as they were this morning.
The line seemed to move smoothly, and everyone appeared to be abiding by the no weapons rule.
Inside Capitol Square, state troopers and Capitol Police are everywhere.
One man who spoke with 10 News says the security seems a little much, others, however, had no complaints.
“These guys have done a fine job. Security is tight. Technically, there’s no safer place in Virginia today than behind one of these troopers," said J.B. Call, a gun-rights supporter. "There’s no guns in here and we’ve got troopers standing all the way around. If anything happens, I feel sorry for the person who tries to get out.”
9:30 a.m. update
Gates to Capitol Square opened at 8 a.m., and thousands of demonstrators have gathered as Lobby Day gets into full swing.
10 News reporter Tommy Lopez says the rally has spread all the way down Bank Street, which runs next to the Capitol.
Thousands and thousands at this gun rights rally, all the way down Bank St, which runs adjacent to the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/YrOffNFtY9— Tommy Lopez (@TommyLopezTV) January 20, 2020
10 News reporter Colter Anstaett heard chants of “we will not comply” and “USA” coming from the crowd on the street outside Capitol Square.
7 a.m. update
Law enforcement officers are already out in large numbers in Richmond around 7 a.m. as hundreds of people from our area prepare to flock to the capitol.
Crowds are also starting to form Monday morning as activists and demonstrators get ready for the day.
Crowd is building here at the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/pF1Laoa0Xg— Tommy Lopez (@TommyLopezTV) January 20, 2020
Thousands of Virginians are expected to rally against the governor and the Democratic-controlled legislature on Monday for Lobby Day, but it’s those from outside the commonwealth that has law enforcement worried.
Police fear extremists groups will come. Three members of one group planning to travel to Richmond were arrested in Maryland on Thursday.
There is some speculation that members of Antifa may attend Lobby Day with bad intentions.
Gun rights supporters say they want a peaceful demonstration as they seek to oppose stricter gun laws.
Republicans who oppose the gun laws are telling protesters from out of state they are not welcome.
“There’s no room for people out of Virginia coming in to cause trouble," said Virginia Sen. Ryan McDougle. “It’s not acceptable and they should not come.”
House of Delegates Republican leader Todd Gilbert is even more direct in his statement, saying “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.”