RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The City of Richmond continues to prepare for possible armed protests after major security threats were made against State Capitol buildings ahead of next week’s Inauguration.
Virginia authorities are preparing for the chance of civil unrest as well as Monday’s Lobby Day; security measures seemingly getting tighter by the day.
In the last twenty-four hours, 8News has learned that Capitol Square will be closing for at least one week, effective on Thursday, access to certain buildings will be restricted, and all Lobby Day permits have been denied.
“Because it is a State Capitol we understand and have to appreciate that it’s a high-targeted area,” said Joe Macenka with Virginia Capitol Police.
Macenka goes on to say that the department is preparing for every possible scenario ahead of and after the Inauguration. Major threats to security and possible violence have put a halt on organized gatherings on Richmond’s Lobby Day.
The Department of General Services released a statement to 8News, reading in part:
“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.”
Department of General Services Spokesperson
As the state legislative session began on Wednesday, members of New Majority Virginia gathered at the Science Museum, pushing for voting rights, access to healthcare, rent control, and more.
“It’s the crises that our community is facing today that compelled us to come out here today,” said Thomas Assepha, organizing director of New Virginia Majority.
The social justice organization can no longer assemble on Capitol grounds on Monday. New Virginia Majority is one of four groups to have their Lobby Day permits denied due to increasing security concerns.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Jon Liss, Co-Executive Director of New Majority Virginia. “If there was a security concern, it was when you had 20,000 armed people, that’s a security concern.”
Liss is referring to last year’s Lobby Day when 22,000 gun rights advocates peacefully assembled at the State Capitol on Lobby Day. He goes on to say the organization chose not to participate last year, fearing the worst, but this year they didn’t have a choice.
“Last year we figured it didn’t make sense to have a group, mostly of people of color, marching through an armed crowd,” Liss explained. “We have the right to participate and protest too. I feel like this is the second year in a row that our rights are being trampled to create space for others.”
In response to Governor Northam’s Executive Order, only ten people or less were allowed to convene on Capitol grounds in a designated time slot, however that was before permits were pulled.
Despite security concerns, Liss feels like organizations should still be able to exercise their rights on Lobby Day.
“We waited in line, signed up, and we should have access to the bell tower,” said Liss.
The Department of General Services announced on Wednesday that Capitol Square will be closed on Jan. 14 until at least Jan. 21. Sources tell 8News fencing and plywood will be going up on Thursday and Friday to secure buildings in and around the Capitol.
Richmond Police has posted signs around the area reminding people that firearms are banned near permitted events. The department has also listed a number of street closures that will take affect in the coming days.