Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday declared a temporary state of emergency in the capitol of Richmond and banned the carrying of weapons at a gun rights rally scheduled for next week, citing threats of armed demonstrators storming government buildings.
"We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally that is planned for Monday," Northam said in a press conference announcing the state of emergency.
The order (pdf) ends on Tuesday, January 21 at 5:00pm.
The declaration was triggered by credible threats of violence discovered by law enforcement from potential attendees of the rally. Northam said some of the "out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence" cited the white supremacist violence in the nearby city of Charlottesville in 2017, where a young woman named Heather Heyer was murdered, as inspiration.
"Please know that we have been preparing extensively to protect public safety at Monday's rally," said Northam. "But no one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville."
According to VICE reporter Tess Owen, the violence that occurred in Charlottesville looms large over the order and the expected enforcement:
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In addition to banning weapons on Capitol grounds, Northam also said he'd established a unified command between state police, Capitol police, the Richmond police department, and the city's first responder teams. This is a critical move—one that's likely borne out of the lessons learned from the massive law enforcement failures during Unite the Right, which left one dead and dozens injured. Months after that rally, an independent review team released a searing 220-page report analyzing how law enforcement’s disorganization and failure to coordinate across agencies allowed the violent, ugly scenes that unfolded that day.
The rally, "Lobby Day," is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
As NPR reported:
On a Facebook page organizing the gun rights demonstration hosted by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, several commenters expressed frustration at Northam's move to restrict guns from the capitol grounds. One wrote, "This is simply a move to infringe on not only our 2nd Amendment rights but our 1st Amendment rights as well."
"This isn't about the Second Amendment," said activist Molly Conger, "this is about threats of terrorism."