VDCL president Philip Van Cleve speaks at a Lobby Day event in 2015

Philip Van Cleave, President, Virginia Citizens Defense League, speaks during a gun-rights rally during the 2015 Capitol Lobby Day.

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Commonwealth University issued a warning for students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors of the VCU Medical Center to remain “vigilant and aware of their surroundings” on Jan. 20 during the Capitol Lobby Day.

Lobby Day is an annual event held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day where hundreds of state residents and organizations lobby lawmakers on a wide range of bills on issues such as minimum wage, women’s and minority rights, criminal justice reform and gun rights.

This year, lobby day will coincide with a pro-gun-rights rally that's expected to draw thousands of people to the Virginia Capitol.

VCU will be closed but the VCU Medical Center will remain open. Clinical placements and internships are canceled for the day.  

This announcement follows Gov. Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency from Friday at 5 p.m. to Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 5 p.m., which will temporarily ban firearms from Capitol grounds, though VCU has noted that individuals near Capitol grounds will still be able to legally openly carry a firearm in public. 

Northam said in a press release on Jan. 15 that “law enforcement intelligence analysts have identified credible threats of violence surrounding the event, along with white nationalist rhetoric and plans of out-of-state militia groups” to be present in the city. 

On Jan. 16, the FBI arrested three alleged members of a white supremacist group called “The Base” on firearm-related charges in Maryland and Delaware, who are reported to have discussed bringing firearms to the Capitol during the Lobby Day. Northam has cited this as justification for the temporary state of emergency.

“These threats are real—as evidenced by reports of neo-Nazis arrested this morning,” Northam stated on Thursday in a follow-up press release. 

The event is expected to attract thousands of people. VCU encouraged students to avoid the area. 

The university said employees who have concerns regarding workplace accessibility and safety are encouraged to discuss alternatives with their management teams, which may include options for telework or to utilize paid time off. 

Multiple road closures are in place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and GRTC bus service will be rerouted near the Capitol. 

Suspicious or unusual activity near VCU facilities should be reported to VCU police at 804-828-1234. Virginia Capitol Police created a social media channel for updates regarding the event, which is @VACapitol2020 on Twitter.

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