VCDL philip van cleave
Jeff Hulbert for TTAG
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By Jeff Hulbert

With the eyes of the 2A Nation turned toward the land of George Washington, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson, there is new name that has become known outside the boundaries of the Old Dominion.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League.

The gun rights group has played a pivotal role in the surprisingly successful  Second Amendment sanctuary campaign playing out over the past two months—a movement that has caught the attention of firearms activists as far away as Alaska.

For the record, the VCDL got its start 25 years ago fighting the Commonwealth’s “May Issue” system—a scheme that parceled out concealed carry permits by way of local favoritism.

Within a year, the VCDL had helped get “Shall Issue” pushed through the General Assembly to provide CCWs to all law-abiding citizens who request them.

VCDL Philip Van Cleave
Philip Van Cleave of the Virginian Citizens Defense League (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Working his way up through the group’s leadership in the mid-1990s was software developer Philip Van Cleave, who soon set about hitching VCDL’s growth to the burgeoning use of emails that were streaming out on the newly-popular world wide web.

Twenty five years later, Virginia’s leading gun rights organization—with Van Cleave at the helm for more than two decades now—is regularly sending out an estimated 35,000 email alerts to rally gun rights supporters to local and statewide activism.

It was in early November—after Democrats had recaptured the Statehouse—that the VCDL leadership sensed the energy of a grassroots Second Amendment sanctuary movement erupting in a far off corner of the state.

As VCDL President Phil Van Cleave tells it, it became his group’s mission to highlight and harness that political prairie fire in a blizzard of VCDL alerts.

In a remarkable development that has stunned gun control proponents, 87 of Virginia’s 95 counties have now declared that they will ignore any new Second Amendment infringements adopted in 2020 by Bloomberg-financed Statehouse Democrats.

Virginia Second Amendment sanctuary movement
Courtesy VCDL

In some county seats as many as 3,000 gun rights supporters have turned out on a single night—with nearly all sporting the orange, VCDL-supplied “Guns Save Lives” stickers—as they pack county meetings.

TTAG sat down with Phil Van Cleave earlier this week for an extended interview to discuss the “freedom wave” that has washed over Virginia in the last seven weeks, and to talk about future demonstrations, lobbying, the militia involvement, a possible statehouse grounds gun ban, and the explosive subject of political compromise on the Second Amendment.

The Truth About Guns:  How many members are there in the VCDL, and how many do you reach with your ALERT emails?

Philip Van Cleave: We were at 8,000 members when all of this hit, but we think we are probably doubled by now over the last month or so. We are sitting at close to 16,000 by now. And the email reach, that was at 29,000. Now it’s at 35,000…up 6,000 in the last month.

Accomack County Virginia Sanctuary vote
Courtesy Jeff Hulbert

TTAG:  Do you think Virginia’s Governor and his fellow Democrats have overreached with their gun control plans?

PVC: Absolutely. Everything he has put in is affecting law-abiding citizens— and not going after criminals—and so this is strictly paying back Michael Bloomberg.

TTAG: At what point did the VCDL latch onto the Second Amendment sanctuary movement?

PVC:  It was just after Election Day [on November 5th]. Two counties in the far southwest [of Virginia] started it and we looked at it and said, you know, this is the way to go in Virginia. This is truly grassroots. This is people talking to people, saying we’ve had enough.

We said this is great and we love this, and then we got involved. We got to the 29,000 people that we email, and [the sanctuary movement] started spreading like wildfire.

This is totally grassroots. That is what the Democrats don’t understand. This is not AstroTurf like Bloomberg, where he pays people to do this. These are everyday people taking off work or doing whatever they have to do in huge numbers to say no more gun control. The Democrats don’t get it.

Virginia Second Amendment sanctuary movement
Courtesy VCDL

TTAG:  In the wake of Democrats gaining control of the Virginia House and Senate, were you surprised at how many counties and towns have voted to embrace the Second Amendment sanctuary movement?

PVC:  Yes, I am surprised at the intensity. It is wonderful. We were screaming [before November] this year is different!” and you guys gotta vote, and people where not listening. Now, they’re listening, in big numbers.

TTAG:  Has the VCDL been sending out leadership teams to every county?

PVC:  I have shown up at a lot of counties and a lot of our executive members—of which we have 60— have gone to different counties to show support but we did not have coordination in place.  We put out the “Alerts”.  Those spread, people knew the times to show up and they showed up!  We were a player in this, but we were not the driving force.  That’s what’s incredible about this.

Philip Van Cleave (second from right) - Image: Jeff Hulbert
Philip Van Cleave (second from right) – Image: Jeff Hulbert

TTAG:  When did the VCDL start conducting the annual January “Lobby Day” activities at the statehouse?

PVC:  I want to say it was in the early 2000s.

TTAG:  How many gun rights supporters do you think will turn out January 20th in Richmond for your next Lobby Day, which is a Monday federal holiday?

VCDL Richmond gun rights lobby day
Courtesy Jeff Hulbert

PVC:  Fifty thousand, to one hundred thousand.  We’ve got buses coming from all parts of the state.  Normally we do, like, three buses.  There’s probably like 20 buses coming this time.  And it is also out-of state people coming to stand with us and show support.  I think the police are looking at a minimum of 30,000 people.  I think they are definitely low on how many are coming.

VCDL Richmond gun rights lobby day
Courtesy VCDL

TTAG:  Who are the big names who will be speaking in Richmond on January 20th?

PVC:  We have Steven Willeford— he used an AR-15 to stop a massacre in Texas.  We have Dick Heller of [the landmark court case] Heller v. DC.   We have Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpeper, who said he would deputize everybody if the Democrats were going to take their guns away—he would deputize them so they couldn’t.  This list is growing and I think we are going to have two hours of speakers.

TTAG: If, on January 8th, the Statehouse Democrats ban any citizens from visiting the Capitol complex while armed, will you move the January 20th Lobby Day event to the public streets outside the fence?

PVC:  There’s nowhere to move it. We’d have nowhere to move it without breaking laws.  Those streets are all controlled by the city of Richmond. They’d have to give us permission to do that.

Yeah, I mean it’s always possible police might just say you own the street, but we would not push that I don’t think. Our long-term goal is to play by the rules.

So what they might do is have a rule that says “you can’t carry here”, which means if they found out you were carrying they would ask you to leave and if you didn’t leave they could charge you with trespass.

TTAG:  Is it possible, then, you might have two rallies—a rally inside the fence with no openly carried firearms, and people lining the sidewalks outside the fence of the Statehouse grounds carrying their guns in plain view?

PVC:  Our [armed citizens] may be lined up all the way down the street. I mean, we will be looking down a long street and they may be lining it all the way down. The trouble is, will the speaker system reach that far? We don’t really know, but I am going to put out the legal advice to our members and say here’s the deal, and tell them what the rules would be.

TTAG:  Will there be a campaign to try to turn out gun rights supporters to testify at the Gun Bill Day hearings now scheduled by the Democrats on January 13th?

PVC:  I am trying to get supporters out for every day that there are any hearings. Prior to this we didn’t need a big turnout for the meetings of the committees and sub-committees. That’s gonna change. Now I am hoping we are going to flood these rooms. We’ll have a massive turnout for that, yeah.

TTAG:  Why have you asked all militia groups gathering at the Statehouse on the January 20th Lobby Day to consider leaving their long guns at home?

It’s just that we want the focus on our message. It happens every time: the media sees somebody carrying a long gun—especially and AR or AK—and they go running over to them taking photos and talking to them.

Everything we are saying is lost in the wash because the media is not listening to us—they are trying to get pictures of somebody carrying a rifle. We don’t want the distraction. That’s what it boils down to.

The [militias] are coming and we say if you want to help VCDL, dress mission appropriate. Don’t come with rifles.  Bring handguns if you want, and help us lobby. This is not a protest. This is a lobby day.

TTAG: What do you make of the Democrats’ claim that the VCDL and the Second Amendment sanctuary movement in Virginia has dangerously energized militia groups—not only in Virginia—but across the country?

PVC:  I say that it is the Governor, and Senator Saslaw [with his confiscation bill], and Congressman McEachin [suggesting that the National Guard be called out to enforce gun laws] that have activated the militias and everybody else.

It’s not us. It’s them. They are the ones that have lit the circuits up for all the gun owners by threatening them. We are not a militia. We don’t have any connections to them. Yeah, [Democrats] did it, this is their fault.

TTAG: Is the VCDL concerned about anti-gun groups showing up, like ANTIFA?

PVC:  Well, the anti-gun groups always show up. ANTIFA has never, so far, shown up at anything we’ve ever done and this may be a change to that. If they do, they do. That’s what we have police for, if they cause any trouble.

Virginia Second Amendment sanctuary movement
Courtesy Jeff Hulbert

TTAG: With the Democrats appearing now to backpedal on radical gun control and confiscation plans, what is the VCDL response to their expected fallback position—-that only current owners of scary black rifles can possess them in the future?

PVC:  No compromise on any of that! If a gun control bill in any way shape or form makes a law-abiding gun owner jump through another hoop, or give up any of his guns, give up his magazines, or adds any more restrictions the answer is no.

There is no compromise on that. We are just saying no. If they put in a bill to deal with criminals, or to help with mental health, we will back them on it.

TTAG: Are you surprised that this gun rights conflict is taking place in Virginia rather than Massachusetts, New York or California?

PVC:  Not really. All those states, gun owners are used to having very few rights. We have a long-running history with gun rights. If it had to start somewhere, Virginia makes sense. It’s started here last time. We will start it here again.

TTAG: And finally, do you think Richmond Democrats were caught off guard by the freedom wave in Virginia this month because they were spending too much time in their wine caves?

PVC: (Laughs) They were spending too much time talking to Bloomberg on a yacht. I don’t know what they were doing, but the [2A sanctuary movement] really caught them off guard.

The Democrats really set off a firestorm. They are the reason all this is happening. They cannot blame anyone but themselves.

A lot of Democrats own guns and their comes a point when you look at something and say, these people don’t represent me anymore. No way we are going to give up the gun rights for the next generation. Can’t do that. I have no authority to do that. Those AR-15s are going to belong to the next generation. We are not going to let [a ban] happen on our watch.


Jeff Hulbert is founder of the Patriot Picket.

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  1. So, I guess it can be said that the VCDL has – in a localized manner – tapped into the energy of POTG and taken action that the NRA formerly would have been expected to do.

    Kudos, VCDL.

    Are you watching this, NRA / Wayne / Marion?? Virginians have found their captain and are rallying.

    • I am thinking Northam will sign these laws into record and claim he is making Virginia safe, and then shut up about it. California had a 15% compliance rate for registration, and Connecticut had a 4% rate. Virginia will be about 5%. Northam will ignore it, and ignore the fact 85 counties never issue any citations.

      And someone who gets pulled over for a tail light and gets cited by an overambitious city cop for having a banned magazine will then file a lawsuit and be granted standing for being affected by the law, and then it will take years to battle out in the courts, eventually getting to SCOTUS.

      The media the whole time will likewise ignore the fact that the public refused to register their guns, and that the counties outside Richmond and Fairfax just go about business as usual and never cite anyone. And Northam and the media will ignore the fact the illegal laws had zero affect on gun crime or school shootings.

      Until eventually he gets an itch and passes another law to confiscate the “assault weapons”, now that he has a list of the 5% who were dumb enough to register them. Herring will send letters demanding they be surrendered, or fines will be assessed. They will never send cops out in mass numbers, to directly confront the gun owners, just keep assessing steeper fines until eventually garnishing wages or issuing liens on property.

      Northam can’t be dumb enough to try a massive enforcement, or to raid shooting ranges or go door to door with illegal searches. And there won’t be any reason to mobilize the guard as he will ignore non-compliance. He doesn’t know who has what anyhow.

      • If he passes them and we passively do not comply rather than show up in force and dare him to take action, we will lose.

        • I agree. There needs to be a confrontation of some kind or we lose by a slow attrition, where people just hide their guns and are afraid of even going target shooting or hunting and being arrested in ones and twos where police can manage the numbers.

          I’d like to see 5,000 to 20,000 citizens march through Richmond every Sunday with AR’s, AK’s and pistols with standard capacity magazines, daring him to arrest them and proving they are peaceful citizens who will not meekly surrender their right to bear arms. Then it will show he has no authority or ability to disarm them, and maybe they will eventually repeal the laws they are sure to pass in a few weeks.

      • “I am thinking Northam will sign these laws into record and claim he is making Virginia safe, and then shut up about it.”

        This has been the patter with similar laws. Advocates are primarily interested in the symbolic importance of the law as it reflects their social values. Once those values are institutionalized as laws they don’t much care whether or not the law actually accomplishes anything meaningful.

      • “And someone who gets pulled over for a tail light and gets cited by an overambitious city cop for having a banned magazine will then file a lawsuit and be granted standing for being affected by the law, and then it will take years to battle out in the courts, eventually getting to SCOTUS.”

        The difference now is, there is a High Court unafraid to grant cert. on 2A cases.

        “Judge Brett Kavanaugh has even gone so far as to contend that banning assault rifles would be akin to violating one of our most fundamental rights.

        “A ban on a class of arms is not an ‘incidental’ regulation,” he wrote in 2011 dissenting opinion as a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. “It is equivalent to a ban on a category of speech.””

        That’s some *powerful* stuff, right there. Combine that with the Heller decision proclaiming guns in common use as being explicitly constitutionally protected, and we have heavy weapons to bear on gun grabber scum… 😉

        • (I like to imagine Clarence Thomas reading that Kavanaugh quote and letting out a hearty *snicker*…;) )

        • I agree that we now have a better chance of getting a fair hearing, yet they denied cert for Maryland’s unconstitutional assault ban that the 4th circuit signed off on, which was a disastrous ruling! 4th found an AR isn’t even protected by the 2nd, ignored all of Heller, just bastardized the law and legislated from the bench. That decision from the 4th is what Coonman Northam and his AG are relying on here in VA decisions.

      • Correction. The compliance rate here will be 0.00%. Go out enough decimal places and you’ll see the two or three virtue signalers illegally slicing up their ARs. But that will be it. Virginia gun owners need to hold that line, and from what I’ve seen, it’s happening.

  2. Even though I live in PA, I just joined VCDL. We have to support that quality of leadership and advocacy.

    • VCDL is going to be a model for our movement to overcome the Left. In the end, State-Based 2nd Amendment Groups working together on the national political stage are going to be the future, as organizations like the NRA are just a part of “Conservative Inc.”; profiting off of the campaigning of and for gun-rights but doing nothing in action when they control the political operations of government.

      Ohio Gun Owners is loving what the VCDL is doing to kickoff the long term game that will keep us all thriving. I’m now a member of the VCDL, btw, even though I live in Ohio.

  3. Palmetto State Armory is selling lowers with proceeds going to VCDL. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat to see how this all goes down. Hopefully clearer heads prevail and egos stay out of it.

  4. Will they. Are you sure? I know several non-gun owners that want to have that option in the future. So until you personally walk through Virginia and ask door to door. I say to you, shut up.

  5. There were 8 million people in Virginia during the last census in 2010. Probably at least another 1/2 million have been added since then. Hard core gun owners equal about 3 per cent of the population which would equal about 255,000 people. 37 per cent own 1 or more guns which equals slightly over 3 millioin.. 63 per cent of the population own no guns at all which equals 5 million plus people. As you can see the non gun owners will be siding with the Dems and the Dems know where the votes are. The crowds at the Virginian meetings look big but are a pitiful pittance compared to the rest of the population and again the Dems know were the bulk of the votes are and will be at the next election. The pro-gun people are no more of an announce to the Dems that an occasional fly that slipped in when the doors were open in the summer time. Its a non-issue for the Dems because gun control brings in the votes to them.

      • There’s about 2 or 3 trolls that have multiple accounts each trying to sabotage this blogging website.

        Those who post these articles need to start banning these troll accounts from the IP Addresses. Vlad, Miner49er, and pwrserge are spiking these comment boards.

        • Seeing as how they have nothing going on in their lives other than smashing F5 all day everyday I half expect one or all of them to be operators of this very site out to increase page views by instigating these retarded squabbles.

          Otherwise what’s the point? No minds are changed and there’s no like-minded hive to praise them and definitely no boobs shown to white knight for.

        • To JP

          Yes everyone that does not pull your party line and salute with a stiff armed salute should be banned according to you. People like you are the first to ban the 1st Amendment while screaming about 2A rights. I do not agree with Pwrserge but I say let him rant. And Miner is not a troll when he takes a view opposed to your jack booted philosophy of ban everyone who disagrees with you. If you cannot take the heat get out of the kitchen. Quit whining that you cannot take the heat. Or is it that you have no reasonable response to some of these posts. The only person trying to sabotage the site is you by trying to turn it into a jack booted SS organization who tolerates no dissent. Becoming educated on an issue is not achieved by orchestrating a totalitarian site which you seem to lust after.

        • JP,

          PWRSERGE is not a troll; he knows firearms and posts good material. I always read his posts except when he is replying to some of the obvious trolls, like Vlad (under any of his pseudonyms).

        • Pwrserge just really hates commies. No one should be banned except that spammer guy that posts unrelated store front links. I know you shouldn’t feed the troll, but I’ll occasionally debate them. Sometimes people are prejudiced because they’ve been misinformed, and I think these guys believe what they say. Nothing wrong with shedding some light on the subject.

        • I agree with Dude. Allow for all (gun related) conversations here, even the positions we may not all agree with. That’s what a forum is for, right?

          But block the obvious store front links.

        • “Pwrserge just really hates commies.”

          And with damn good reason, having grown up with a real Russian communist jack-boot on his and his family’s throats.

          He’s seen it, first hand and up close. That’s a perspective only a very few here have.

        • It’s be nice if there were an “ignore” feature. So you can hide dribble people post over and over. We don’t need to ban the trolls and intellectually challenged people, but they get tiring.

    • I would be wary to trust any poll that states gun ownership numbers or percentages. I would personally guess that the actual numbers are higher than that site states. Plus, I would believe that the percentages are way higher in the rural areas of Virginia, even though the absolute numbers may be lower because of a less dense population. Either way, the local representatives are overwhelmingly siding with the 2A side because the 2A side is vocal and visualized. I would imagine that the state representatives would go along as well, just as Boch stated in his post yesterday.

      • “I would be wary to trust any poll that states gun ownership numbers or percentages.”

        Damn straight. It’s simple, even a Leftist can figure it out. Let’s break it down –

        Someone you don’t know call you claiming to take a survey. The caller asks if you have certain valuables in your house, the kind of valuables criminals *really* like.

        If I ever get a call like that, I’m not admitting to owning certain valuables. “Nope, no gun owners live here! We are proudly a gun-free home!’

        That ‘survey’ is worthless for accuracy.

        But it could serve a valuable purpose – Letting the Leftists believe there are far fewer gun owners in America. That could lead to a dangerous miscalculation in the strength of an enemy… 🙂

    • And if just 1% of the 3% of hard core gun owners feel backed into a corner, the politicians are screwed. Northam should not push the issue.

      Hopefully Northam just ignores the fact that less than 5% of the population will comply with his registration demands. California only had a 15% compliance rate. CT had 4%, and that was right after Newton.

  6. Well, early 2020 VA politics will be interesting to watch.

    We’ll see how that shakes out at the larger level, VA being the first kinda serious test case on the politics of this and all that. Sure VA went blue in 2016 but it’s been a pretty purple state in recent years and it has a history with guns that makes this, uh… well interesting to see how it plays out.

    They way the Dems rolled hard up front on this make me think that they either implode or go whole hog. They really can’t pull what they did in Colorado and just let it slide when 98% of the state just ignores the laws.

    • The X-Factors in turning the tide, long term in VA, is going to be whether or not we can flip a significant quantity of private-sector working class black and hispanic men to our column. Many of them exist in VA’s central atlantic coastal counties that are between the DC Suburbs and Richmond, as well as those outside the Hampton Roads area.

      They vote Democrat because their union-bosses tell them to do so, but they are ardent gunowners like the rural and small-town working and middle-class whites in the state. Plenty Those unionized black and hispanic men are a stepping-stone to begin converting immigrants and naturalized citizens that are economically similar to those exact black and hispanic men that I mentioned.

      • Wrong. Blacks and Hispanics are not the dummies you seem to think they are. They understand perfectly the gun violence in their communities and that the Republicans are doing nothing to stop it. They understand that it is Republicans that stand in the way of affordable health and drug care and affordable education for themselves and their children. They understand the voter suppression tactics of the Republicans who fear their vote so do not think you will ever win over people who are being ground into the dirt by the Republicans.

        • Blah, blah, blah… “they understand (insert radical left wing talking points verbatim here)”

          Sure, Vlad. Keep telling yourself that if it helps you sleep at night. Our rights don’t start where your triggered feelings end, and people of every race and religion are intelligent enough to see through left wing propaganda talking points.

        • to Erik

          ________________Our rights don’t start where your triggered feelings end, and people of every race and religion are intelligent enough to see through left wing propaganda talking points.———————‘

          Yes that is exactly why minorities vote Democrat because they do understand Left Wing talking points and how it benefits them and how Right Wingers screw them out of the right to vote, the right to health care and the right to an education.

    • Grumble grumble damn intrusive purity tests for my section of government work. I may be the only gun owner upstate that is actually in full compliance and even then you would be surprised what is still good to go until some nitwit figures out they missed something. Like flame throwers up till this summer.

  7. Face it — Bloombastard bought Virginia. In his three NYC elections, Bloombastard bought New York for $78 million, $74 million and $73 million. In comparison, Virginia was dirt cheap.

    Now it’s time for Virginians to take back what is rightfully theirs.

  8. VCDL is great and sorely needed but how Van Cleave survive that stupid skit he did with Sacha Baron Cohen?!

  9. If it’s any consolation enforcement of this draconian BS is scant…look at NY. Or a bunch of other states including ILLinois. Or Australia. Or NZ. Nope I’m not sending $. I got 99 problems and VA ain’t one of them! Send a check to Gunsavelife instead…

  10. How I wonder did the Democrats suddenly gain control of the state legislature and the governor’s office? Anyone is welcome to answer.

    • Here is a nice list:

      1. Republicans failed to run candidates in 22 districts.
      2. They failed in a few other districts to register for the election in time out of sheer negligence, meaning they became write ins.
      3. A lot of Republicans sat at home because there was no presidential election and don’t understand that the fight is going on at the state level, every single election. There is no sitting out an election, hoping it goes your way.
      4. A multitude of people moved to the urban areas from urban areas outside of the state. Urban dwellers are often indifferent to outright hostile to the right to keep and bear arms.
      5. Immigration has changed the landscape of the state and immigrants overwhelmingly vote for democrats. This is multi generational voting so the problem persists even beyond the initial generation to move to the country. As we are the only country that recognizes the rights of the people to keep and bear arms, they mostly do not vote for people that are in favor of the right.
      6. Lastly, the Democrats did some redistricting over the past few years which helped give them the advantage in future elections.

      Tim Pool gives a good run down on some of the immigration issues.

      • Never forget the Libertarians are for open borders. They have a part to play for this problem as well.
        It not just the Democraps and Repubfools.

  11. VCDL should rename to NCDL and go to all 50 states. The NRA has shown itself to be a paper tiger in expensive suits

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