A group of armed demonstrators protesting North Carolina's stay-at-home order walked the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina, this weekend, weapons slung over their shoulders, and were captured at a restaurant in photographs that went viral.
Travis Long, a photojournalist with The News & Observer, said he shot the photos inside a Subway on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.
One photo shows a protester carrying what appears to be an AT4 rocket launcher and two pistols in holsters on his waist. Another shows a protester holding a large weapon over his shoulder as he appears to take a selfie. Two of the demonstrators who appear in the photos are wearing masks.
The photos, which have been retweeted over 6,500 times, have gone viral on social media and gained the attention of celebrities like Patton Oswalt, Kathy Griffin and Mia Farrow.
Saturday's demonstration was organized by a group called Blue Igloo, according to The News & Observer. The group responded to a request for comment about the event by email late Sunday. "The walk on Saturday wasn't a protest, it was a gathering to support our God given freedoms as Americans," the group said in an email. "We headed out for a walk to get some fresh air, sunshine, and some much needed exercise."
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"We are a peaceful group, and wish to keep it that way at all costs," the statement said. "We aren't looking for a fight. We in fact, want the opposite. We want to put on a smile, shake some hands, and be friendly. An armed society is a polite society."
In a video posted on the group's Facebook page, members can be seen entering the sandwich shop and walking up to the counter to order meals.
"Do you guys mind if we eat here?" the person recording the video can be heard asking. "We don't want to make it look like we're threatening or intimidating anyone, which is why I ask."
The demonstration Saturday took place during the first full day of North Carolina's phased-in reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first phase, which began Friday evening, parks and certain businesses were allowed to reopen while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Gatherings remain limited to no more than 10 people.
As of Sunday night, there had been 14,764 confirmed cases and 547 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in North Carolina.