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Northam Declares State of Emergency, Citing Threats Related To Gun Rally

Man at podium
Gov. Northam declared a state of emergency for Monday, January 20. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency on Wednesday in advance of a gun rally on Monday that bans firearms and weapons from the grounds of Capitol Square. 

Northam and law enforcement cited credible threats of violence from extremist and hate groups related to the rally 

The governor declined to describe specific threats but said some involved weaponizing drones and militia groups storming the Capitol. He said bad actors had conducted surveillance and probed entry and exit points in Capitol Square. 

“These are legitimate,” Northam said. “These are real threats. And we are taking them seriously.”

Northam called on the group organizing the rally, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, to disavow violence and any members advocating it.

“Please do not dishonor Virginia or your cause,” Northam said.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the League, questioned Northam's legal authority to institute the ban and blamed him for the escalated stakes.

"He's the one that drove all these people here by threatening to take away their rights," Van Cleave said.

Republican leadership in the House and Seante also questioned the move's legality and said the move infringed on Second Amendment rights.

"We are concerned that the events of the last week, including the sudden and unannounced banning of firearms by the Joint Rules Committee and today’s announcement regarding Capitol Square, may be serving to heighten rather than assuage tensions," the leaders of the Senate's Republican caucus said in a statement.

Democrats banned guns inside the Capitol last week. The new order applies to the grounds of the capitol. 

Under plans unveiled by the governor, the perimeter of Capitol Square will be barricaded with a single entrance on Monday at the corner of West Grace Street and 9th Streets. There will be three exits.

Democratic lawmakers say they have a mandate to pass new gun laws after sweeping wins in November’s elections. A Senate committee approved several proposals, including reinstating the state’s one-gun-a-month law, in a meeting earlier this week.

And Northam has repeatedly said his package of eight bills would not infringe on gun owners’ constitutional rights.

But the statements have done little to reassure some gun owners, including some conspiracy theorists warning of a mass confiscation of weapons. At least two lawmakers have received death threats over proposed legislation. 

On the Facebook page of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, some users reacted to early reports of the plan by saying that they would defy it, though others urged caution. 

“If this happens, we should have a staging ground for those planning on exercising civil disobedience by carrying firearms anyway,” wrote a user named David-Kirsten Fischer. 

The Daily Beast reported several alt-right personalities involved in the 2017 Charlottesville riots plan on attending on Monday.

That includes Joshua Shoaff, who signed a consent decree to never return to Charlottesville after 2017 riots there, and who said in a Facebook post that he was “thinking of throwing a curveball” in Richmond.

*This article was updated with a quote from Philip Van Cleave.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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