Conservative activists applauded in some cases by Donald Trump promise to intensify street protests against imposed blockades to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, arguing that the restrictions violate their civil rights and threaten their ability to earn a living.
The demonstrations in recent days echo the anti-establishment upheaval that led to the rise of the Tea Party movement a decade ago and involved activists who tend to defend more traditional right-wing causes – such as the fight against gun control measures.
Denny Tubbs, 67, a local leader at Ohio Stands United, an arms defense group, said he would participate in a protest on Saturday in the state capital of Columbus against shutdowns ordered by Republican governor Mike DeWine.
“I’m not saying that it doesn’t need to be treated [but] shutting down and crushing the economy is not the way to do it, ”said Tubbs, a sniper by profession. “Our civil rights have been trampled on.”
While the hustle and bustle so far has involved only a relatively small number of people in states like Minnesota, Michigan, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Florida, it does occur when the US president raises expectations for a lifting of restrictions while the death toll in the U.S. from the pandemic is rising approaches. 35,000.
Trump took to Twitter to support the protests on Friday, the day after he withdrew from claims that he had “full” authority to reopen the economy and said that state governors should make such decisions, based on his guidelines.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA”, he wrote, before adding, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”, referring in both cases to the Midwestern states where protesters targeted the restrictions ordered by Democratic governors.
Asked if he was fomenting civil unrest, Trump said he believed some of the protests were justified, given the “very harsh” restrictions imposed by a handful of governors.
“They are people who express their opinions,” said the president in his daily White House briefing. “They seem to be very responsible people to me. But they were treated very harshly. “
Several hundred people gathered on Friday in front of the residence of Tim Walz, Minnesota’s Democratic governor, to protest with placards with slogans such as “Facts are not afraid”. Images from the event revealed that the overwhelming majority of them did not practice social detachment.
In Michigan, the state with the fifth highest number of Covid-19 cases, protests broke out after Gretchen Whitmer, a Democratic governor who was seen as a possible vice president for Joe Biden, tightened and tightened the restrictions.
Matthew Seeley, a member of the Michigan Conservative Coalition who organized protests against the governor’s policies, said he supported the initial blockade. But he said new restrictions – such as which items can be sold in stores – are intolerable.
“The solution cannot lock all Americans in your home, let the economy collapse and, when the last case is resolved, you can emerge from your hole in the ground,” said Seeley, a Republican councilor in a Detroit suburb. “It is not sustainable”.
Some companies have also raised objections. In Columbus, Ohio, the owner of Gilded Social, a store that offers bridal parties, filed a lawsuit against Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health who was dubbed “Doctor Death” by some of her critics.
Maurice Thompson, head of the 1851 Constitutional Law Center, which represents Gilded Social, said the process “is not a hay generator, suggesting that the government cannot have regulations to protect people from a pandemic”.
He said companies should be able to appeal and also request that they be considered an essential business, mainly because the penalty of disobedience is up to 150 days in prison.
Resistance was strengthened by the conservative media. Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson interviewed New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy this week about his order to stay home and asked, “With what authority did you override the Bill of Rights?”
Tom Zawistowski, a well-known conservative Ohio activist, said “civil disobedience” would be the next step if the situation was not remedied by May 1. “We are going to tell them to go to hell, you can’t tell me what to do,” he said. “Our government’s job is to represent us, protect our rights and instead they become tyrants, including a Republican like Mike DeWine “.
Surveys suggest that most Americans support blocking measures, with a survey by the Pew Charitable Trust saying that two-thirds are concerned that restrictions are lifted too soon.
Nan Whaley, Democratic mayor of Dayton, Ohio, said Trump was “detached from reality” in bringing about an end to the blockades because cities lack the ability to implement the Covid-19 tests needed to reopen safely. She estimates that 20% of people in her state harbor anti-blocking feelings.
“There are groups of people who value their economic freedom over someone else’s human life,” she said. “We want to recover people’s freedom when we have PPE [personal protective equipment] and test. But I have difficulty with the ‘let them die’ attitude. “
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