(This is guest commentary from Goad Gatsby, a citizen journalist that has been documenting fringe political movements in recent years.)
2020 has been the longest year of my life as I have been dedicated to following the activities of fringe political movements. This caused me to cross paths with the most controversial elected official in the Commonwealth of Virginia, State Senator Amanda Chase (R), from Chesterfield County.
This is in no way an exhaustive look into her life or politics, but rather the times I have lived the ‘Amanda Chase experience.’
My first encounter with Senator Chase was on January 10th outside of a meeting for the House Rules Committee in Richmond. I was waiting in the hallway because the committee room was at capacity by the time I arrived. The committee was meeting to vote on the prohibition of firearms in the Capitol Building. I witnessed the moment that Senator Chase stormed out of the committee room fuming about how she was now prohibited from open carrying a pistol in the halls of the legislative building. Looking back, she was not just irate about her right to carry a gun, but also about no longer having any power. The Republican Party was no longer the majority party for the first time since she was first elected in 2015. The Democratic leadership could not care any less about her concerns.
The next week was the start of the new rule banning guns at the state Capitol. It was also the Lobby Day for the National Rifle Association (NRA), not to be confused with the much larger lobby day put on by Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). My friend Molly Conger was in town and we decided to walk around and sit in on the Virginia Senate session. While we were seated, an aide for Amanda Chase sat in front of us and recorded the session. I recognized him from the week before because he stayed close to Senator Chase. We thought it was unusual that he was recording the monitor from the galley when he could have just screen-grabbed it from a computer.
After we left and had gone about our business, a local reporter told us that Senator Chase claimed that Antifa was stalking her aide. I don’t know the full claim, but had the suspicion that Senator Chase was going to try and create a boogie man out of people who cover her activities. As the legislative session continued, I got to learn the daily routines of different legislators. Senator Chase was the only legislator who did not have a party caucus, meaning she was usually the last legislator on the way to the Senate chambers. Sometimes she was accompanied by security guards during her walk to legislative chambers – no other legislator needed that. There was no apparent threat to her, her biggest threat at the time was the women lobbying for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. https://twitter.com/GoadGatsby/status/1217471210415689730
The next week was the VCDL Lobby Day where thousands of gun rights supporters gathered at the state Capitol in Richmond. I never saw her on the streets of Richmond that day, but I do know she was in action. I have seen footage of her giving a speech with Joshua Macias handing her the microphone while Proud Boys stood around her in a restricted space. Those Proud Boys were on Alex Jones’ show the night before, but Macias proved to be the tainted individual that would come back to haunt her later.
After the large turnout of the VCDL Lobby Day, it was business as usual for the rest of the week. Two days later, the Senate committee on the Judiciary heard the bulk of the gun bills that would eventually go on to become law in Virginia. Senator Chase had a bill in that committee that same day, I sat in the room with all the big names from the pro-gun and gun control lobbies. At this point, Senator Chase had become so partisan that Democrats would not vote for any of her bills.
None of Chase’s bills made it out of committee during a year where over 600 laws were passed. She had recently called the Democrats traitors for attempting to pass gun control laws while giving a speech on the floor of the Senate. In committee, that comment came back against her while she presented her bills, which all failed along party lines.
Senator Chase was only assigned to one committee, Local Government, by GOP leadership. I was interested in this committee because any new laws that would give localities the power to remove Confederate statues would have to come through here. This is where I really expected her to dig her feet in and fight, however, she just briefly spoke against it and the bill passed along party lines. I wondered at the time if Senator Chase would give up on being the firebrand conservative and try to find ways to be a more effective legislator now that she is in the minority party. Instead, I found out that she would be doing the complete opposite.
Two weeks later Senator Amanda Chase announced that she would be running for Governor of Virginia in 2021. The timing did not seem advantageous to her because Virginia legislators are not allowed to fundraise while the legislative body is in session.
This was supposed to be her moment in the spotlight and she announced her candidacy for Governor on the steps of the Capital on a business day. While other Senators and Delegates were in committees hammering out details on bills, Chase wanted the cameras to be on her. Chase supporters that showed up on that Monday afternoon included members from the Virginia Flaggers, America Guard, and people with Q Anon patches on their clothes. Two of the supporters standing beside her were Anthony Lamotta and Joshua Macias – these two will come back again later.
Later that week, I sat down and watched the annual charity basketball game between the House of Delegates and the Senate. I wanted to get good pictures and video of the game, so I arrived early and sat in the first row at center court. Senator Chase and her entourage including her husband sat beside me. An unexpected encounter with her as she made a Facebook live video and talked with the people around her.
Ever since the House Rules Committee implemented the prohibition on firearms at the Capitol, Senator Chase had been carrying around a handbag designed for holding a pistol. Most people recognized it because it was being sold at the local gun range. However, because Senator Chase is an elected official, she is not stopped while entering the Capitol Building. I have assumed that the handbag carries her pistol while she circumvents the rules by concealing her firearm. However, that night during the game, she left her handbag unattended for several minutes while at VCU Siegel Center, I can only make a guess if her gun was in that handbag that night.
I stopped encountering Senator Chase as the legislative session was winding down and things wrapped up in March. She then continued her campaign for Governor by making many stops outside of Richmond. She has posted many of these campaign stump speeches on Facebook, which made it easier to follow her without coming into contact with her again. I can tell she has regained her confidence while speaking to her core-base of supporters, instead of other politicians.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I began to wonder if she would give people helpful advice on mitigating the spread, or if she would embrace her base and echo the conspiracy theories.
Obviously she went mask off.
She had confederate lost-causers, second amendment enthusiasts, and militias as a core group of supporters, but the anti-vaxxers were now pulling her to go harder against taking precautions against COVID. In late April, the General Assembly had to meet one more time and Senator Chase encouraged a protest outside of the Capitol grounds.
All of the Senators and Delegates met outside for one day in the spring to deal with vetoes and amendments to bills that were passed during the regular legislative session a few weeks earlier. On that day, there were protests demanding that Virginia cease its COVID-19 restrictions. Protesters drove in circles around the Capitol grounds honking their horns. Senator Chase and the rest of the Virginia Senate were over at a different facility on the other side of town, however. Chase would not get to experience a ‘Reopen Rally’ until the following month.
In what seemed like a total fan service to her ‘Reopen Virginia’ base, Chase organized a rally outside of the building where Governor Northam was providing a COVID-19 update to the commonwealth. A coalition of anti-vaxxers and Confederate militias showed up to support Senator Chase. This day really changed how I looked at her supporters. One of them came up to me and asked me why I was out here covering this event, I told that supporter that I follow the activities of far-right groups. That supporter told me that God has a purpose for me, but that wasn’t it. I lost my temper that day because I knew this pandemic was in the process of killing thousands of people and Chase supporters were more concerned about how I was perceiving their denial of the events. As the event ended I snapped this picture of this Hummer with Lamotta and Macias, I promise that I will get to them eventually.
The summer saw widespread protests across the country in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Richmond was not excluded from this. I kept myself preoccupied by following those protests and the response from the Richmond Police. On July 4th, a rally of over 100 people happened outside the Virginia Capital put on by Mike Dunn who is a self-described Boogaloo Boy. The Boogaloo movement is dedicated to starting a second American Civil War with a veil of irony. Senator Chase made an appearance and gave a speech during this event.
This was the first time I got to see Senator Chase with an AR-15, I had only seen her with a pistol before. She looked uncomfortable – the weather was extremely hot and a crowd of unmasked people surrounded her. People from the Boogaloos, Black Lives Matter, and the crypto-white nationalist organization the ‘Propertarians’ were in the crowd. My take on the whole day was that everyone wanted to shout, but few people wanted to listen. https://twitter.com/GoadGatsby/status/1279460293052182528
Things slowed down, I did not cross paths with Senator Chase for months after that. The Presidential election happened and I sat at home waiting for the results. The last couple of states were still counting and it looked like a Trump defeat was inevitable. Then late one night, I saw a news article about two men from Virginia that were arrested outside of the Philadelphia Convention Center where votes were being counted. I scoured around to see if there were any mentions, photos, or videos of the men arrested. I immediately recognized them to be Antonio Lamotta and Joshua Macias, along with their Hummer. These two die-hard supporters of Amanda Chase were arrested for illegal weapons charges and it remains to be seen if they were attempting to tamper with the election. They drove overnight from Chesapeake, Virginia to Philadelphia because they were upset with the results coming in for the election showing a Biden lead.
Senator Chase was set to have her own ‘Stop The Steal’ event in Richmond just two days after their arrests. She went on as planned even though all the press was going to be about her association with the two men who were still in jail in Philadelphia. She initially denied that she knew the two supporters, but the evidence shows the many times that she has publicly interacted with them. After initially denying being close to the two men, the day of her ‘Stop the Steal’ event, she told the crowd that the men were just peacefully protesting.
Senator Chase was not happy to see me that day. This is the final time I encountered her this year. I made eye contact with her whenever I had a chance to. I had the privilege of seeing her deliver her speech on how she felt that the election was stolen from Trump as it was announced that Joe Biden won the election. Her frustration with losing the things she thought were guaranteed have slipped away from her. She is now struggling to find her role in politics, while she remains popular among her core base and holds her Senate seat for three more years, what can she actually accomplish? It seems impossible for her to work with other legislators, and her own party has implemented measures to keep her from winning the nomination for the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
I leave you with the only time either Chase or myself spoke to each other.
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