(TMU) — In various states across the U.S., groups of conservative and far-right protesters both small and large gathered over the weekend to denounce the ongoing stay-at-home measures taken by state governments to curb the coronavirus pandemic as health experts warn that relaxing quarantine rules could lead to a possible explosion of new CoViD-19 cases.
Waving American flags and holding placards that conveyed a mixture of messages—ranging from denunciations of “tyranny” on the part of state governments to outright denial that the health crisis is real—the protesters in at least 20 states appeared united by anxiety about the economic woes unleashed by the pandemic and an eagerness to get non-essential businesses operational again, regardless of the expected deadly cost of such a move.
Images went viral on Sunday from the protests in Denver depicting two healthcare workers clad in scrubs and N95 masks standing defiantly and blocking the cars of protesters who were converging on the State Capitol to protest Colorado’s stay-at-home orders. Photos from the dramatic scene were posted to social media by photojournalist Alyson McClaran.
Health care workers stand in the street in counter-protest to hundreds of people who gathered at the State Capitol to…
McClaran told New York Times that the protesters basically threatened to run over the workers. She said:
“They were blocking the roads until the police force stepped in … People were putting their cars right up against them.”
In one video clip of the confrontation posted to Facebook, a truck can be seen coming dangerously close to the male medical worker.
Healthcare workers standing in the path of protesters. This was right from my apartment and it’s such a strong and powerful statement.
Posted by Eric M Hansen on Sunday, April 19, 2020
In another clip posted to Twitter, an unidentified protester holding a sign reading “Land of the Free” shouts at the workers:
“This is a free country, Americans are free! Go to China, go to China!
You go to work, why can’t I go to work? I’ve saved people’s lives too!”
Two nurses, who have witnessed first hand the toll Covid is taking in Colorado, stood up and peacefully counter protested. Here is how they were treated. I had join them. pic.twitter.com/iJnNcqZxSv
— Marc Zenn (@MarcZenn) April 19, 2020
On Friday, Trump tweeted support for similar protests in Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia, claiming protesters were going to “liberate” their states from quarantine rules. On Sunday, the president redoubled his support for the protesters even as Democratic governors said that they were receiving death threats. Denying that he was inciting the often armed protesters to violence, Trump said:
“They have got cabin fever. They want their life back. Their life was taken away from them.”
In one of the biggest rallies against lockdowns, about 2,500 people—including armed protesters—gathered at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia to slam Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, openly defying the ban on gatherings of 50 or more people. In spite of emphatic pleas from rally organizers to wear face coverings and masks, few did—and many gathered closely despite the public health officials’ advice to maintain a six-foot distance to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to Reuters.
— Danli Wang (@danli_wang) April 19, 2020
On Sunday, Gov. Inslee denounced state Republican lawmakers who have openly called for a “revolution” against social-distancing measures. In a statement, the governor said:
“Comments in the news by some Republican legislators calling for ‘open rebellion,’ claiming a ‘deep state’ plot and other radical statements are irresponsible and could needlessly lead to more people getting sick.”
A motley assortment of far-right groups such as the neo-fascist Proud Boys organization and Three Percenters militia have eagerly joined the demonstrations alongside other supporters of President Donald Trump. Gun rights advocates, religious fundamentalists, anti-vaccination groups, and lawmakers have also taken part in the rallies, which have been tied in some states to Republican Party fundraising groups and “dark money”-funded organizations linked to the Koch brothers, according to an investigative report by the Guardian.
Who's gonna explain to her that when she voted for Trump she affirmatively voted against having a choice over her own body and that only a man can really hold up this sign and maintain a modicum of accuracy… pic.twitter.com/MY9MgnGWxi
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) April 19, 2020
While protest organizers have focused on denouncing the quarantine measures as “tyranny,” messaging from rank-and-file participants has been mixed. Some signs at protests have focused on Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director appointed by President Trump to the CoViD-19 task force, with some reportedly calling the nation’s top epidemiologist “Fascist Fauci.” Others called the pandemic a “#fake crisis,” while one protestor in Huntington Beach, California, earned online notoriety by waving a sign that read, “Social Distancing = Communism.”
Sure is weird how these definitely homemade and definitely not astroturfed protests signs look the same, just a coincidence i guess pic.twitter.com/L7tBX2IPJn
— metal dot txt (@metaltxt) April 19, 2020
Other bizarre signs included:
“Give me liberty or give me COVID-19!”
People gathering for Olympia Protest—- pic.twitter.com/DaZjOyKoeC
— Chris Daniels (@ChrisDaniels5) April 19, 2020
“Trust in Jesus not the New World Order.”
Signs in Tennessee today:
“Fauci is NOT our president”
“Trust in Jesus not the New World Order” pic.twitter.com/NoiKI4iI9B
— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) April 19, 2020
“Let MY People GO-LF!”
Something about this protest doesn’t feel it was about the coronavirus pandemic at all 🤔 pic.twitter.com/KWcOPGqZPL
— The Travelers Club (@TravelersClubSD) April 18, 2020
And the ever-popular demand: “I want a haircut.”
— Khary Penebaker (@kharyp) April 19, 2020
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s Friday protest looked suspiciously like a Trump rally.
— emma (@bymyelf) April 17, 2020
See more images here: https://www.frostonflower.com/Events/2020/Reopen-Minnesota/
The growing protest movement has appeared while the United States struggles with at least 752,960 confirmed cases of coronavirus and over 36,096 deaths caused by the disease—a grim toll that continues to climb by over 2,000 deceased per day, according to a New York Times database. The crisis has already pushed many medical systems across the country toward the brink of collapse.
According to a machine learning model developed by the MIT to predict the spread of CoViD-19 based on public data, any move to relax quarantine measures prematurely could lead to an “exponential explosion” in the number of infections. A report on the model starkly warns that by “relaxing quarantine measures too soon … the consequences would be far more catastrophic” than if the rules remained in place.