FBI working with Virginia law enforcement regarding 'threats of violence' before Monday's gun rights rally
Posted January 19, 2020 2:52 p.m. EST
CNN — The FBI and local law enforcement are working together regarding "threats of violence" and Virginia clergy leaders are urging prayer and peace as the state's capital braces for a guns rights rally on Monday -- a date which coincides with the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr's legacy.
"On the very day we set aside to honor the life and enduring legacy of Dr. King, these dark and dangerous forces threaten to converge on our city and our Commonwealth, bringing hate and violence," prominent faith leaders warned in a statement released Sunday. "In this difficult moment, and in the face of these threats, we seek to muster Dr. King's moral courage."
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the FBI Richmond field office said the agency "would provide assistance as deemed appropriate to ensure public safety."
Spokeswoman Dee Rybiski said in a statement: "In response to a request for assistance from the Virginia Division of Capitol Police, FBI Richmond has been working with our local and state law enforcement partners in relation to threats of violence at the rally on January 20, 2020."
Federal authorities arrested a number of suspected neo-Nazis around the country this week out of concern that they were planning violent acts at Monday's gun rights rally in Richmond, a senior FBI official said Friday. Seven men accused of belonging to a white supremacist group called The Base were arrested this week in separate raids in Delaware, Georgia, Maryland and Wisconsin, according to authorities.
And Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency this week after law enforcement learned of the threats and that out-of-state militia groups and hate groups are expected to attend the rally. Firearms and other weapons have been banned on state Capitol grounds.
There have been threats on law enforcement posted on their official social media sites in the last 24 hours, according to an official with the Virginia State Police. The threats have appeared on social media pages of the Richmond Police Department as well as the Virginia State Police.
The threats, which are considered credible by law enforcement, come from mainstream channels and alternative dark web ones used by violent groups and white nationalists from outside of Virginia, according to Northam. The governor added "the conversations are fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories."
Northam said the state of emergency will extend into Tuesday evening. The firearm ban includes open and concealed firearms and other weapons like sticks, bats and chains, according to the emergency declaration order.
Among the calls for calm, the Virginia House Republican leader said anyone spreading "white supremacist garbage" is not welcome in Richmond after the state of emergency was declared.
"Any group that comes to Richmond to spread white supremacist garbage, or any other form of hate, violence, or civil unrest isn't welcome here," Todd Gilbert said Saturday in a statement.
"House Republicans reject any attempt by any group to infuse any kind of twisted or extreme worldview into this fundamentally democratic exercise," Gilbert's statement continued. "So there's no mistake, this is my message to any group that would subvert this event: you are not welcome here."
Gilbert acknowledged that although there may be policy differences among the state's GOP and Democratic lawmakers, it was important for all elected officials to stand together against hate.
"While we and our Democratic colleagues may have differences, we are all Virginians and we will stand united in opposition to any threats of violence or civil unrest from any quarter," Gilbert said. Gilbert represents the 15th district in the Virginia House of Delegates.
A Richmond Circuit Court Judge denied the application for a temporary injunction of Northam's executive order banning guns at Monday's rally, which was filed by Gun Owners of America Inc., the Virginia Citizens Defense League, and three private individuals.