Governor Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency in advance of Monday’s planned pro-gun-rights rally on Capitol Square, citing “credible threats of violence” identified by law enforcement intelligence analysts along with white nationalist rhetoric and plans by out-of-state militia groups to attend the event.
Northam said Virginia’s law enforcement agencies have indicated that tens of thousands of advocates will converge on the Capitol for the rally, which coincides with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
“Available information suggests that a substantial number of these demonstrators are expected to come from outside the commonwealth, may be armed, and have as their purpose not peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection,” Northam said in his Wednesday announcement.
The emergency declaration prohibits all weapons, including firearms, from Capitol grounds and provides joint law enforcement and public safety agencies the resources they need to keep demonstrators, policymakers and bystanders safe.
“These are considered credible, serious threats by our law enforcement agencies. This intelligence comes from mainstream channels, both offline and online, such as alternative dark web channels used by violent groups and white nationalists from outside Virginia,” Northam said at a Wednesday press conference. “These conversations are fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories.”
Northam said the administration has been preparing extensively to protect public safety at Monday’s rally, and wanted to avoid a repeat of the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
“Assuring that Virginia’s Capitol Square and surrounding public areas are sheltered safe places for those who come to participate in the democratic process, as well as those who work on or near Capitol Square, is my greatest priority,” Northam said.
Richmond City Mayor Levar Stoney, speaking at the press conference, said the city’s law enforcement officials had been coordinating with state and Capitol police to prepare for the rally.
“I hope it’s not lost on anyone that the person we celebrate on Monday, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, gave his life in the non-violent pursuit of equal rights for all Americans,” Stoney said. “Regardless of the day or event, we expect everyone who lives, works and visits our great city to conduct themselves peacefully, non-violently and responsibly.”
Gary Settle, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said Virginia State Police will have a significant presence in and around the Capitol Square on Monday.
“Violence will not be tolerated. And if that’s your group or your intention on Monday, then you’re not welcome,” Settle said.
The state of emergency will last from 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17 until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21.