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Enhanced Security and Potential Delays Ahead of Monday Gun Rally

Virginia State Capitol
The Virginia State Capitol, boarded up and fenced off ahead of planned rallies Monday. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Residents and public officials in capital cities are holding their breath this weekend, as they prepare for potential armed protests leading up to the presidential inauguration. Richmond is no exception. 

The city declared a State of Emergency Monday following FBI warnings and had already planned for large crowds, many carrying firearms as part of the annual pro-gun Lobby Day protest organized by the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League.    

Capitol Square was closed to the public Thursday and will remain closed through at least Jan. 21.

Conversations about potential attacks on state legislatures followed the events of Jan. 6 when mostly white pro-Trump extremists breeched the nation’s Capitol. 

Michael Edison Hayden with the Southern Poverty Law Center said rhetoric among far-right extremist groups has only grown more heated and different factions are uniting. 

“Hate groups are using every technological tool at their disposal. They say they’re ready to fight and kill in Trump’s name,” Hayden said.  

It’s unclear which groups plan to show up in Richmond over the coming days. Many individuals involved with anti-government movements have been removed from social media platforms.  

The U.S. Joint Terrorism Task Forces, led by the FBI and the Department of Justice, held a press conference Friday to discuss security leading up to the inauguration and after. 

“All 50 state FBI JTTFs in the four territories are working 24 hours a day to pursue every lead, every credible threat and run that to ground.” said U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Matthew S. Miller. “It is truly a whole of government approach.”

Gun ban sign
A sign announcing the gun ban in downtown Richmond (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Richmond Police have posted signs throughout the city to inform people planning to gather that firearms are banned at permitted events and events that would otherwise require a permit, as well as at areas adjacent to such events.

The signs say “firearms prohibited beyond this point.” 

A tweet about the signs was met with criticism from some on social media Friday, who said they didn’t expect Richmond or Capital Police to enforce the city ordinance. Others called the signs vague and confusing.   

Meanwhile fencing surrounds the front entrance to the state Capitol and streets have been closed across downtown Richmond. Bus service may run into delays; GRTC will provide updates on their website.

Graphic of closed roads
A graphic showing downtown street closures. (Graphic via Richmond Police on Twitter)

Virginia Commonwealth University warned students, employees and VCU Health patients to allow extra time for travel and to be aware that individuals may be carrying firearms.  

Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday the state is “ready” with a unified downtown presence of state and local law enforcement as well as the Virginia National Guard. 

Lawmakers in the House of Delegates are meeting remotely during the General Assembly session, which began this week. The Senate is meeting at the Science Museum of Virginia, where Capitol Police are stationed. 

Capitol Police reported a possible bomb threat at the Supreme Court of Virginia Friday afternoon. They closed North Ninth Street to traffic and reopened the building around 2:30 p.m.