Fearing a repeat of the deadly violence that engulfed Charlottesville more than two years ago, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary emergency Wednesday banning all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square ahead of a massive rally planned next week over gun rights.
The governor, a Democrat, announced the plans at a news conference Wednesday afternoon because of credible threats of potential violence and extremism, one official said.
“Let me be clear. These are considered credible threats by law enforcement agencies,” Gov. Ralph Northam said.
Northam’s announcement comes days after Democratic leaders used a special rules committee to ban guns inside the Capitol and a legislative office building. That ban did not include Capitol grounds, which are under the governor’s control and are where thousands of gun-rights advocates are expected to rally Monday.
Northam decided to ban all guns from the grounds of Capitol Square after receiving reports for weeks about inflammatory online postings by out-of-state pro-gun and militia groups who are promising to attend Monday’s rally.
“No weapons will be allowed on capitol grounds. This includes everything from sticks and bats to chains and projectiles,” Northam said.
Northam says State Agencies received several credible threats involving hate groups planning to come into the city and cause harm.
Threats include storming the Capitol building and weaponized drones flying over.
“There have been individuals who have been on Capitol Square that had surveillance operations looking at our entry and exits points,” Northam said.
Another official cited one posting that included a photo of an AR-15 and said there are “great sight angles from certain buildings” near Capitol Square.
“Violence will not be tolerated and if that is your group or your intention on Monday then you are not welcome,” Virginia State Police Chief Gary Settle said.
This is a joint effort by the State, Capitol and Richmond police who are all working together to keep the thousands of people safe Monday.
Police are already placing fencing around Capitol grounds and it will close down Friday afternoon at five.
Grounds will reopen Saturday morning at seven but tourists will have limited access.
Officials say there will be one way onto Capitol Square Monday morning.
The entrance will be at the intersection of 9th and Grace Streets.
Those entering onto Capitol grounds Monday will have to enter through metal detectors.
Several streets around the Capitol will close including.
Ninth Street will close from Cary to Broad Streets.
Main Street will also shut down from 14th to 18th Streets.
“Hate, intimidation and violence has no place here,” Northam said.
Virginia law enforcement officials have been criticized for their planning and response to a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that involved heavily armed protesters. One woman was killed and several more were injured when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters.
Northam’s declaration will also ban items like helmets and shields, items that some white nationalists carried in Charlottesville. The ban will stay in effect until Tuesday evening.
Gun laws have become a dominant issue in this legislative session and there’s been heavy police at the Capitol.
Democrats have full control of the statehouse for the first time in a generation and are set to pass a number of gun-control restrictions, including limiting handgun purchases to once a month and universal background checks on gun purchases.
Republicans and gun-rights groups have pledged stiff resistance. Gun owners are descending on local government offices to demand they establish sanctuaries for gun rights. More than 100 counties, cities and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and vowed to oppose any new “unconstitutional restrictions” on guns.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Alan Suderman and Denise Lavoie and Eric Perry