Gov. declares state of emergency, citing ‘threats of violence’ at planned rallies at Capitol

By: Staff Report | Twitter: @PGJournal
Posted: January 15, 2020 | 4:32 p.m.

Order places ban on firearms, other weapons on capitol grounds starting Friday

VIRGINIA – Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Wednesday ahead of planned demonstrations Monday in Richmond as the General Assembly continues to consider changes to the state’s gun laws, citing “credible threats of violence surrounding the event.”

In a statement and accompanying executive order, Northam said the declaration was made “based on credible threats of violent extremism,” along with “white nationalist rhetoric and plans by out-of-state militia groups to attend” planned demonstrations at the capitol next week. Within his order, which will go into effect this Friday at 5 p.m. through late Tuesday afternoon, it places a ban on all weapons, including firearms on the capitol grounds while providing “joint law enforcement and public safety agencies the resources they need to keep demonstrators, policymakers, and all Virginians safe.”

“Credible intelligence gathered by Virginia’s law enforcement agencies indicates that tens of thousands of advocates plan to converge on Capitol Square for events culminating on January 20, 2020,” the governor’s executive order read. “Available information suggests that a substantial number of these demonstrators are expected to come from outside the Commonwealth, may be armed, and have as their purpose not peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection. Assuring that Virginia’s Capitol Square and surrounding public areas are sheltered safe places for those who come to participate in the democratic process, as well as those who work on or near Capitol Square, is my greatest priority.”

Northam added his action was in an effort to prevent a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017, where protests over the proposed removal of a Confederate statue turned violent, ending with a number of arrests and the death of Heather Heyer, who was killed when self-proclaimed neo-Nazi James Fields, Jr. drove his car into a crowd of protesters, leaving over 30 others injured.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia is a welcoming state,” the governor said. “Virginians understand that diversity of opinion keeps our democracy strong. The more voices involved in our political dialogue, the stronger we are. Civil discourse, even and especially, amongst those who disagree, is critical to our democracy’s evolution and success. When the civility of that political discourse breaks down, the Commonwealth suffers. Three years ago, Virginia and the nation, watched horrified as civil protest was marred by violence and hate. The events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia demonstrated what can happen when peaceful demonstrations are hijacked by those who come into the Commonwealth and do not value the importance of peaceful assembly. We lost three Virginians. We must take all precautions to prevent that from ever happening again.”

On Monday, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the organization who has led a grassroots effort to encourage gun owners to urge their local boards of supervisors, city and town councils to declare themselves as Second Amendment sanctuary localities, plans to hold its Lobby Day Rally at the capitol, with dozens of buses and carpools of gun rights and Second Amendment supporters expected to attend and share their thoughts on legislation moving through the House and Senate, including limits on handgun purchases, universal background checks, and red flag laws, which would temporarily restricts a person’s access to firearms if the court finds they pose a serious risk to themselves or to others.

According to their website, 130 localities have passed some form of a resolution stating their support for the Second Amendment or outright declaring themselves a sanctuary locality, where they pledge to not enforce laws that they believe would encroach on their residents’ Second Amendment rights.

“If you care about your gun rights in the slightest, then it is vital that you show up at this rally,” a message on the organization’s website shared.

In a message to its members, the VCDL stressed that Monday’s rally is “a peaceful day to address our legislature.”

“Yes, we hold a rally but, the point of the day is communication with our Representatives,” adding, to their knowledge, “there are no credible threats of violence” and urged members who plan on attending to “practice appropriate situational awareness.”

“IF YOU SEE A BAD ACTOR,” their message said, “flag down a police officer and point it out. If someone tries to provoke you, smile and walk away. There is probably someone secretly recording the interaction with the intent of capturing some kind of inappropriate reaction on your part. Don’t take the bait. It’s not worth the bad press.”

They continued, “The eyes of the nation and the world are on Virginia and VCDL right now and we must show them that gun owners are not the problem. Lead by example. We have been and continue to be in close contact with several law enforcement agencies and will keep them informed of all potential threats that we become aware of,” noting law enforcement “will be in abundance at the event, both uniformed and plainclothes.”

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