Northam warns extremists with “ill intent” to avoid Richmond
Security is heightened amid FBI warnings of potential for violent protests
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a warning to anyone “with ill intent in your heart” to abandon their plans to come to Richmond as part of an armed protest of the state legislature.
The governor said the state government is prepared for security concerns around the General Assembly’s annual Lobby Day event, which is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
On Jan. 11, the FBI warned law enforcement agencies that armed protests and violence by far-right extremists are possible at all 50 state capitals and again at the U.S. Capitol between Jan. 17 and Jan. 20, Inauguration Day for President-elect Joe Biden. In a news release Thursday, the U.S. Secret Service, which is leading security efforts in Washington, D.C., announced numerous road closures starting at 6 a.m. Saturday and concluding 6 a.m. Jan. 21. Closures include Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Potomac River from Arlington Cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial, but the majority of closed streets are in the immediate area of the National Mall.
As for the commonwealth’s capital, “Richmond is aware, and we have been planning for weeks about Lobby Day,” said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, noting that the city has declared a state of emergency and also outlawed firearms in certain buildings. “The violence and the insurrectionist activities we saw at the nation’s Capitol will not be tolerated in Virginia’s Capitol.”
Capitol Square in Richmond will be closed through “at least” next Thursday, Jan. 21, said state Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran and fences are being erected on the Capitol grounds. He also said there will be additional precautions at the Science Museum of Virginia, where the Virginia State Senate is meeting during the General Assembly’s 2021 session, which began this week.
More than 2,400 Virginia National Guard members are in Washington, D.C., assisting with federal security efforts, noted Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins. Guards also are participating in COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts in the state, and National Guard members will be available in the Richmond area during Lobby Day, Northam said, although he did not have a specific number.
Last year’s Lobby Day brought approximately 22,000 people to the state Capitol area, many of whom were part of a gun-rights protest helmed by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Because firearms were banned from Capitol Square ahead of the rally, many protestors stayed on the streets and sidewalks downtown. Only one person was arrested — a woman who was wearing a mask, although charges were later dropped. This year, VCDL is planning a “rolling caravan” with demonstrators driving decorated vehicles near the state Capitol, although Richmond police plan to shut down some roads Sunday and Monday.