Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of a gun rights rally planned for Monday in Richmond. He warned that militia groups have made threats against the government and that some potential attendees have used white nationalist rhetoric, similar to that used in the Charlottesville protest.
“Intelligence shows the threat of armed militia groups storming our capitol,” Northam said in his announcement Wednesday afternoon.
Northam said that there have been threats online and offline, including dark web channels used by violent groups and white nationalists. He said that many of the threats have been fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories.
In his executive order declaring the state of emergency, Northam said that tens of thousands of people are expected to protest Democrats’ gun control agenda. Although the organizers have not called for violence, Northam said that intelligence has found legitimate threats of armed confrontation from some potential attendees, which includes militia groups from out of the state.
The executive order temporarily prohibits any person from carrying weapons on state property that is near the capitol during the state of emergency, which will begin at 5 p.m. Friday and end at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The weapons prohibition includes firearms, sticks, bats, chains, projectiles and other items. It will not apply to knives commonly used for preparing food or a tool used by a person in his or her trade.
Northam has requested that all non-essential state workers stay home during the rally, rather than come into Richmond. He also said there will be a unified enforcement of the law with the help of state police, capitol police, Richmond police and first responder teams.
“We’re seeing threats of violence,” Northam said. “We’re seeing threats of armed confrontation and assault on our capitol.”
The governor requested that the organizers, Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), disavow anyone who uses this rally to advance a violent agenda. He said that the organization should seek to conduct the protest similar to the National Rifle Association’s recent protest, in which there was no violence.
“Virginia is always open for citizens of our state to meet with their elected leaders peacefully,” Northam said.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said police will respect everyone’s right to protest, but that every person must conduct himself or herself peacefully. He said that violence would not be tolerated.
Richmond Police Chief William Smith said all people who attend the protest must respect everyone’s rights to express their viewpoints.
“We'll take immediate action if people choose otherwise,” Smith said.
The VCDL had not issued a public statement in response to the governor's announcement by the time of publication. It previously stated that it will have its attorneys look into the situation if Northam issues a state of emergency. The organizers have said that their protest was not intended as an armed or violent one.
In August 2017, a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville turned deadly when an Ohio man drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 19 others.