With Virginia on edge over gun rally, Trump says the wrong thing

Trump has a painful recent history when it comes to Virginia, right-wing activists, and violence. Has he learned from the experience?
Image:
A Greyhound bus passes a police cruiser, Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Richmond, Va. Steve Helber / AP
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By Steve Benen

Virginia voters swung in a decidedly "blue" direction last year, and as a result, Democratic officials will control the levers of power in the commonwealth for the first time in a generation. It opens the door to progressive governance on a variety of fronts, including efforts to prevent gun violence.

Indeed, among the top legislative priorities for Virginia Democrats in the upcoming session is a bill to require background checks on firearm purchases. The possibility of gun reforms has led to a protest in the state capital today, led in part by a group called the Virginia Citizens Defense League, and as NBC News reported, there are growing concerns about possible violence.

As gun rights activists, white nationalists and militia groups prepare to rally at the state Capitol on Monday to protest proposed gun control laws, residents are praying it won't be a repeat of the violent 2017 rally in Charlottesville that ended in a woman's death. [...]

Organizers say thousands of people will be at the Capitol on Monday as the Virginia Citizens Defense League buses people in from across the state, while other rallygoers are expected to travel from out of state.

As the New York Times noted, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) recently declared a state of emergency, which temporarily banned weapons on Capitol grounds, citing credible "threats of violence." That sparked a lawsuit, though the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the temporary ban last week.

Nevertheless, fears of violence persist, and those concerns grew more intense last week when members of a neo-Nazi group, who were reportedly planning to participate in today's event, were arrested by the FBI.

We know that Donald Trump is aware of the situation, largely because he's said exactly the wrong things.

"Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia," the president wrote on Twitter. "That's what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!"

In other words, with Virginia on edge, and officials confronting the possibility of violence, Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to inflame the situation -- on purpose, with demonstrably ridiculous rhetoric -- as part of an election-year political strategy.

The president has a painful recent history when it comes to Virginia, right-wing activists, and violence. Either the Republican has learned very little from those experiences, or he sees value in deliberately stoking simmering embers.

* Update: Trump added some additional online missives this morning, including a tweet that read, "The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights. This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!" Soon after, the president published another item showing activists at the rally singing the National Anthem.

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