Local and state law enforcement agencies are preparing with the FBI to secure the city of Richmond after federal officials warned that the inauguration of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday could be preceded by armed protests in every state capital as soon as this weekend.
With the Capitol Square complex already locked down and with new temporary fencing and boarded windows and doorways in place, Richmond police are planning road closures there and around the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, where frequent racial justice protests and confrontations occurred last year.
In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam, Mayor Levar Stoney and state officials discussed planning underway after a mob supporting President Donald Trump overtook the U.S. Capitol last week as Congress was certifying the results of the presidential election.
“If you’re planning to come here or up to Washington with violent plans, you need to turn around right now and go home. You are not welcome here or in our nation’s capital,” the governor said. “And if you come here and act out, Virginia will be ready.”
State officials said more than 2,400 Virginia National Guard soldiers have been deployed to the nation’s capital. They said additional troops will be on standby to assist law enforcement in Richmond if needed. The governor did not provide specific troop counts locally.
“I’ve just heard the intelligence ... that all 50 capitals in this country are potentially under attack this weekend and during inauguration,” Northam said. “We take those seriously. We’re going to be prepared.”
The threats come as the General Assembly begins its annual session. The House of Delegates is meeting entirely online, but the Senate is convening at the Science Museum of Virginia on West Broad Street in Richmond.
Officials said a Unified Command that includes the local and state police departments are coordinating plans to keep both sites safe.
The city recently declared a state of emergency, allowing the mayor to expedite contracts, purchases and hires to prepare for the potential civil unrest.
The city activated emergency declarations last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the frequent, sometimes destructive, protests last summer following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
“Let me be clear: The violent lawless insurrection and assault on democracy and its institutions that unfolded last week in Washington, D.C., will not be tolerated in the city of Richmond,” Stoney said.
Last year, an estimated 22,000 people attended a massive gun rights rally at the state Capitol in response to proposals by Northam and new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to expand restrictions on firearms.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, the gun rights group that organized last year’s event, is planning to bring “car caravans” from around the state on Monday for annual “Lobby Day” efforts that usually draw various special interest groups to the state Capitol.
The Department of General Services, the state agency that manages the Capitol complex, said Tuesday that it had denied requests by four groups that had planned to gather on Capitol Square for Lobby Day.
The four groups that were denied permits are: the Virginia chapter of Care in Action, which represents domestic workers; the Virginia Center for Public Safety, which seeks to reduce gun violence; and the progressive public interest organizations Progress Virginia and New Virginia Majority.
“Efforts by our agency and our law enforcement partners to prepare for reported civil unrest in the coming days mean resources that would have been available to accommodate those events will be dedicated to other areas,” said Dena Potter, spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, on Tuesday.
Brian Moran, the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, said Thursday that officials have been planning for several weeks for activity around the Capitol on Monday. He said the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol, however, led to “enhanced preparation.”
“The public can expect to see an abundance of local and state law enforcement personnel posted in stationary points and patrolling throughout the city,” he said.
“We will not be able to discuss operational tactics but want to assure city residents, workers and business owners that law enforcement is well-prepared for rapid response and mitigation if an incident or act of violence should occur around our Capitol or at the Science Museum.”
Additional information from the Unified Command, including up-to-date road closures and other advisories, will be available on Facebook and on Twitter, @VACapitol2021.