State officials say there are credible threats of violence related to Monday’s gun rights rally in Richmond.
Governor Ralph Northam has issued a temporary state of emergency for the area around the capitol building starting Friday night. Weapons and firearms will be banned from the area through Tuesday night.
"We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally on Monday," Northam said at a news conference Wednesday. "This includes out-of-state militia groups and hate groups." Northam said some of the threats made online have included weaponizing drones and storming the capitol building. He also said indivuals have been on capitol square surveilling entry and exit points. "No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017," Northam said.
Northam asked non-essential state employees who work in the area to stay home Monday, though it’s already a holiday for most. State Police also warned city residents and businesses about the possibility of large crowds and street closures around the capitol Monday.
Access to Capitol Square will be restricted to one entry point at 9th and Grace Street on Monday. Colonel Steve Pike, chief of Capitol Police, said this is similar to access restrictions enforced during inaugurations. The square will be closed from 5:00 pm to 7:00 am starting Friday.
Northam noted that one pro-gun rights lobbying effort, organized by the National Rifle Association, had already occurred peacefully this past Monday. He called on the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the main organizer of the next rally, to disavow anyone with violent intent and to discourage out-of-state groups. Phillip Van Cleave, the head of the VCDL, said making Capitol Square a gun free zone won't make the rally any safer. "If there’s a danger there, I would rather be carrying a gun to protect myself," Van Cleave said Wednesday. "I don’t appreciate him disarming people like me. If there’s a threat, that’s when you need to be able to protect yourself.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday is also known as Lobby Day around the capitol. Because many people have the day off from work, advocates for all sorts of causes rally around the capitol and meet with legislators. Upset with Democratic legislation restricting access to firearms, gun rights supporters have promised to show up in large numbers this year.