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Capitol Square closing ahead of possible civil unrest: 'Richmond is going to be prepared'

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Posted at 6:02 PM, Jan 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 18:03:02-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia’s Capitol Square is closed to the public beginning Thursday as officials prepare for the potential of armed protests or “credible threats” of violence against state capital cities nationwide.

The announcement comes on the first day of the 2021 legislative session in the Commonwealth.

“In preparation for possible demonstrations around Richmond over the next week, and in light of the civil unrest in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, the Department of General Services is implementing precautionary measures to protect the employees, visitors, buildings and grounds at historic Capitol Square,” a spokesperson for the Department of General Services said.

The following changes are in effect, according to DGS:

  • Capitol Square will be closed Thursday, Jan. 14, through at least Thursday, Jan. 21.
  • Steps will be taken to enhance security for critical infrastructure, including installing additional fencing and fortifying buildings in and adjacent to Capitol Square, beginning Wednesday, Jan. 13.
  • Access to all DGS-controlled buildings will be restricted from Saturday, Jan. 16 through Thursday, Jan. 21.

Muhammad Abdul-Rahman joined a rally by “New Virginia Majority,” an advocacy group backing policies that support marginalized communities, on Broad Street Wednesday, despite the threats against capital cities like Richmond. He said watching the mob attack on the U.S. unfold “jerked a tear out of me” but also made him more resolute in sharing his voice publicly.

“You have to show courage,” Abdul-Rahman said. “I encourage all Richmonders, all Virginians to be the biggest American they can be right now. We the land of the free and the home of the brave. So be brave.”

A Unified Command comprised of Virginia State Police, Virginia Capitol Police, Richmond Police, and other emergency response agencies are coordinating security protocols during the General Assembly session and any unplanned events in the coming days.

Permits for the annual “Lobby Day” on the Capitol grounds, set for Monday, have been canceled because of the potential for civil unrest.

“We understand that people can protest. If they protest, they need to do it peacefully. If they come here looking for trouble, Richmond is going to be prepared,” said Governor Ralph Northam.

An internal FBI bulletin warned, as of Sunday, that the nationwide protests may start later this week and extend through Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, according to two law enforcement officials who read details of the memo to The Associated Press.

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to one official. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Senate of Virginia is meeting at the Science Museum in Richmond during session, and the House of Delegates is doing their work virtually.

Senators told CBS 6 they felt highly confident in the ability of local authorities to ensure safety, especially after last January’s gun rally where 20,000 mostly armed people swarmed downtown Richmond.

“It was orderly, and it was seamless. That what was missing in Washington,” said Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Petersburg), referencing the gun rally.

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) said their body plans to model how the democratic process is supposed to work.

“You have to lead on solutions, you have to lead on issues. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to have lively but respectful debate. We hope we’re going to model the conversation of politics we want to see across the rest of the country,” she said.

The Unified Command said the have the plans and resources in place to appropriately respond to any events that may unfold over the next week. Peaceful gatherings, authorities said, will be allowed but violence or intimation will not be tolerated.