A chaotic scene erupted at Capitol Square on Saturday when competing rallies drew a few hundred people on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
An “End Sanctuary Cities Rally,” organized by the Corey Stewart for Governor campaign this week, was quickly countered by one organized by ICE Out of RVA, a local group committed to keeping federal immigration authorities out of the city.
The afternoon protest was noisy, but not violent, as the ICE out of RVA protesters tried to drown out the speeches of the Stewart rally.
Some supporters of Stewart carried guns and got close to the line of Capitol police officers separating the two groups. And some protesters shouted in the faces of the other side, banging drums, hurling expletives at Stewart and chanting “racists, go home” and “immigrants are welcome here.”
A few Stewart supporters carried megaphones and attempted to drown out the protesters with even more noise, making it difficult to hear to the Stewart rally speeches.
A scuffle seemed imminent a few times, but officers got between the instigators. People on both sides could be heard trying to convince officers that someone on the other side had violated their space.
“I want to start by thanking all these lunatics over here for bringing out the press,” Stewart said when he first took the stand.
Speaking to a recent directive from Richmond's mayor, Stewart said, "Levar Stoney is more concerned about making sure that he doesn’t offend anybody than protecting the lives and the rights of the city of Richmond." He pledged to defund any cities that didn't cooperate with federal immigration officials as governor.
Stoney has expressed a desire for an inclusive and welcoming city, but he has stopped short of calling Richmond a sanctuary city.
Stewart also praised President Donald Trump, for whom he served as the Virginia campaign chairman from December 2015 to October 2016. Stewart is running against Ed Gillespie for the Republican nomination for governor.
“To get rid of these sanctuary cities, we need somebody that’s going fight for us,” said Thaddeus Alexander, a friend of Stewart’s and the rally organizer. “I definitely can’t be talking about that swamp monster Gillespie who’s been there forever.”
Earlier speakers told stories of crimes they say were committed by undocumented people and called for the punishment of sanctuary municipalities.
Capitol police told the first protesters with the counter-rally to arrive that they couldn’t hold signs inside Capitol grounds, as they didn’t have a permit. But as the group grew larger inside the grounds, the protesters formed a tight pack on one side of the brick walkway and held banners and signs.
The commotion started before the Stewart rally when supporters of Stewart began an “all lives matter” chant and the protesters countered with “black lives matter.” Chants from the ICE Out of RVA rally continued during the 45-minute long Stewart rally.
Both groups numbered fairly evenly – with between 100 and 150 on each side. There were around 20 to 30 police officers, as well as about a dozen legal observers from the ACLU.