Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency in Richmond — banning guns and all other weapons from Capitol Square ahead of a scheduled gun rights rally that has already drawn “credible threats.”
The Democrat governor announced Wednesday that authorities found inflammatory online postings by pro-gun and militia groups, some from out of state, who are planning to attend the rally on Monday.
“Let me be clear,” Northam said. “These are considered credible threats by law enforcement agencies.”
“No weapons will be allowed on capitol grounds,” the governor continued. “This includes everything from sticks and bats to chains and projectiles.”
Threats include storming the Capitol building and flying weaponized drones over it, Northam said.
“There have been individuals who have been on Capitol Square that had surveillance operations looking at our entry and exits points,” the governor told reporters.
One person even shared a photo of an AR-15 and said there are “great sight angles from certain buildings” near Capitol Square, according to Virginia State Police Chief Gary Settle.
“Violence will not be tolerated and if that is your group or your intention on Monday then you are not welcome,” he said.
In a tweet, Northam said he supports “citizens’ rights to peacefully protest and express their views to their elected officials.”
“But we must also keep the public, as well as those who work around Capitol Square, safe,” he explained.
The announcement comes days after the state’s Democratic leaders used a special rules committee to ban guns inside the Capitol and a legislative office building, but the regulations did not apply to Capitol grounds — the location of Monday’s rally — which is under the governor’s control.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, the organizers behind Monday’s rally, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch as many as 50,000 people are expected to protest gun control legislation proposed by Democratic legislators.
Philip Van Cleave, the president of the organization, told the paper that he has encouraged peaceful demonstrations — but said the group will push back on the governor’s decision.
“We believe it is illegal what he is doing,” Van Cleave said. “At this point, we’re going to try to take the governor to court. So it may mean guns aren’t banned on Monday.”
“The rally is going on no matter what,” he declared.
The heightened security measures come more than two years after the state’s law enforcement officials took heat over their planning and response to the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, attended by heavily armed protesters.