US right-wing protesters, supported by Trump, organize against stay-at-home orders

Conservative groups are organizing protests across the US in defiance of the stay-at-home orders imposed in different US states, with explicit backing of the president

April 18, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Protesters at the entrance of Michigan State capitol with right-wing flags and guns. (Photo: Matt Schmucker/The State News)

Different States in the United States are faced with threats of armed resistance from right-wing and conservative groups who are opposing measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. So far, Michigan and a few others States have had or are set to have thousands of protesters defying stay-at-home orders passed by their respective governments. Unsurprisingly, president Donald Trump has come out in support of such dangerous acts.

On April 17, president Donald Trump tweeted in support of these right-wing protests in the States which are led by Democratic governors. The tweets include content like “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA”, in what is widely seen as open incitement to citizens to violate stay-at-home orders.

What has happened so far?

On Wednesday, April 15, in Michigan, armed protesters blocked roads, hospital entrances and the state legislature. They were defying the stay-at-home orders passed by governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Following the protests on Wednesday, president Donald Trump, on Thursday, laid out a plan to ease restrictions and lockdown orders in 29 of the nation’s 50 States, before May 1. Trump has been at loggerheads with State governments, especially those led by Democratic Party governors, over the matter of easing restrictions on movement and non-essential businesses in different parts of the country.

On Friday, after the protests in Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota also saw similar protests by conservative and liberatarian groups. More protests are scheduled to take place in States like Maryland, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina today.

Trump has been pushing for an early reopening of the economy, as the US experiences unprecedented levels of job loss and decline in commercial activity. The State governments, on the other hand do not feel that the worst is over yet in the pandemic, and have recommended an extension of the lockdown and its repeal in a phased and gradual manner.

Some of the State governors had earlier formed regional blocks to coordinate plans to reopen the economy.

Conservative and right-wing groups, often backed by business interests, have opposed the containment measures arguing that the shutting down of non-essential production and services hurts the economy

What happened in Michigan?

Michigan is one of the worst COVID-19-affected States in the US with over 28,000 cases – the fourth highest in the country. It has the third highest deaths reported due to COVID-19 – over 1,900. Michigan recently joined the list of States where stay-at-home orders have been issued by governors in view of the rising number of infections. The right-wing lobby group, Michigan Conservative Coalition, organized the protest dubbed “Operation Gridlock”, calling on people to drive to the capital, Lansing, and congest the roads.

A large numbers of right-wing protesters descended on the streets of Lansing in their cars on Wednesday, blocking major intersections and hospital entrances. Dozens of them stormed the entrance of the Michigan State capitol building which houses major offices of the government and the legislature. Several protesters at the capitol were also seen armed. 

The Michigan Conservative Coalition, led by a Republican state legislator, is leading the opposition to the lockdown and the enforcement of social distancing measures. Protests are also targeted against State governor Whitmer with the slogan “She’s driving us out of business. We’re driving to Lansing”.

Another conservative group, Michigan Freedom Fund, was also behind Wednesday’s protest. It is largely supported by Republican Party big-wigs Dick and Betsy DeVos. Betsy DeVos currently serves as education secretary under the Donald Trump administration.

The governor admonished the protesters for defying the stay-at-home orders and disrupting essential medical services. “The sad irony here was the protest is they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order and they may have just caused a need to lengthen it,” she said.

Protesters held placards reading “Lock her up” and “Recall Witmer”, in reference to the governor. Flags with alt-right and neo-nazi symbols were also on display along with pro-Trump signs, including a trailer that read “Trump Unity”.

Wave of protests to come

Inspired by the Michigan protests, right-wing groups launched the ReOpen Virginia campaign in Virginia to replicate a similar ‘gridlock’ in the state capital, Richmond. There were a few demonstrations already taking place in different parts of the State. The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a right-wing “gun rights” lobby, is the one credited to be behind the organizing of the protest. A similar campaign is also set to hit Maryland, called ReOpen Maryland.

Minnesota and Kentucky have also witnessed minor demonstrations and are expected to witness larger waves of protests, comparable to Michigan, as reactionary forces combine behind them. Groups ranging from gun rights lobbies, libertarian Tea Party activists and neo-fascist ‘Proud Boys’ to anti-vaccination groups, anti-abortion organizations and other right-wing forces are seen to be converging against a common cause – what they claim to be an infringement on liberties.

Despite the prominence of these protests and rebellions, the larger public opinion seems to be in favor of the lockdowns. Michigan’s Whitmer, for instance, has recently witnessed a major spike in her popularity. Recent polls suggest that over 70% of Michigan’s residents approved of her measures.

Even in the rest of the US, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that over 66% of the survey respondents were concerned that State governments will be lifting outbreak-related restrictions too early. In the same survey, it was found that over 65% of the respondents felt the Trump administration responded too slowly to the pandemic and 73% believe that the worst of the outbreak in the US is yet to come.

The United States is the worst hit nation in terms of numbers, with more than 700,000 reported infections (31% of global numbers) and 37,000 deaths as of April 17. Friday alone witnessed an addition of 32,000 new cases, or 37% of new reported cases around the world.

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