Anti-Lockdown Protests Are A Thing Now

17 Apr, 2020

A wave of planned anti-lockdown demonstrations that have broken out around the country to protest the efforts of state governments to combat the coronavirus pandemic with business closures and stay-at-home orders have included far-right groups as well as more mainstream Republicans.

While protesters in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and other states claim to speak for ordinary citizens, many are also supported by street-fighting rightwing groups like the Proud Boys, conservative armed militia groups, religious fundamentalists, anti-vaccination groups and other elements of the radical right.

On Wednesday in Lansing, Michigan, a protest put together by two Republican-connected not-for-profits was explicitly devised to cause gridlock in the city, and for a time blocked the entrance to a local hospital.

It was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which Michigan state corporate filings show has also operated under the name of Michigan Trump Republicans. It was also heavily promoted by the Michigan Freedom Fund, a group linked to Trump cabinet member Betsy DeVos.

But the protest also attracted far right protest groups who have been present at pro-Trump and gun rights rallies in Michigan throughout the Trump presidency.

Placards identified the Michigan Proud Boys as participants in the vehicle convoy. Near the state house, local radio interviewed a man who identified himself as “Phil Odinson.”

In fact the man is Phil Robinson, the prime mover in a group called the Michigan Liberty Militia, whose Facebook page features pictures of firearms, warnings of civil war, celebrations of Norse paganism, and memes ultimately sourced from white nationalist groups like Patriot Front.

The pattern of rightwing not-for-profits promoting public protests while still more radical groups use lockdown resistance as a platform for extreme rightwing causes looks set to continue in events advertised in other states over coming days.

In Idaho on Friday, protesters plan to gather at the capitol building in Boise to protest anti-virus restrictions put in place by the Republican governor, Brad Little.

The protest has been heavily promoted by the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), which counts among its donors “dark money” funds linked to the Koch brothers such as Donors Capital Fund, and Castle Rock, a foundation seeded with part of the fortune of Adolph Coors, the rightwing beer magnate.

IFF have added their slogan for the event, “Disobey Idaho”, to stickers which they plan to distribute among the crowd.

The event is also being promoted on a website dedicated to attacking Little for his response to Covid-19. That website was set up by the Idaho businessman, pastor, and one time Republican state senate candidate, Diego Rodriguez.

Rodriguez launched the website at an Easter service held in defiance of the governor’s orders on Easter Sunday, which was also addressed by Ammon Bundy, the leader of the militia occupation of the Malheur National wildlife refuge in 2016 that become a rallying point for the anti-government right in the US.

Bundy has been holding similar gatherings for weeks in Emmett, Idaho, where he now lives. On Sunday, he repeated his opposition to the Idaho orders, writing on Facebook: “We all have a duty to defend what is right and to make sure, that what God has given, man does not take away. Especially that great gift of agency, YES freedom!”

Ada county, Idaho, where the capital, Boise, is located, has so far suffered 541 cases of Covid-19 and nine deaths, in a state which has a far worse outbreak than neighboring Oregon, which is 2.4 times more populous.

Nevertheless, the ad for the rally on Rodriguez’s website advises, “We feel that wearing face masks and gloves is counterproductive to the movement, and should be avoided”.

In Washington state, meanwhile, which for now has brought one of the worst outbreaks in the country under a measure of control, a Republican State committeeman, Tyler Miller, has organized a protest at the state capitol on Saturday.Advertisement

Miller, who is active in the Kitsap county Republican party, was involved in passing a resolution in January in support of representative Matt Shea, who was excluded from the State House’s GOP caucus after a report commissioned by house found that he had participated in domestic terrorism.

Hundreds of Facebook users have indicated that they will be attending his “Hazardous Liberty” rally, and a parallel event in Richland, Washington.

Included in that number are members of the 3% of Washington, a group which has held a series of open carry rallies in Seattle, featuring speeches from the far right protest leader, Joey Gibson.

As for Shea, he is speaking on Saturday at an online “Saving America” conference which will discuss an alleged erosion of rights “that’s been ramped up in unprecedented ways during this Covid-19 crisis”.

He is scheduled to appear alongside the likes of close ally Pastor Ken Peters, who has been holding monthly services outside Spokane’s planned parenthood clinic; the actor, Maga personality and congressional candidate, Mindy Robinson; and the New Zealand-based anti-communist speaker and author, Trevor Loudon.

Other similar events have been advertised for Saturday by an anti-vaccination activist in Oregon, and for Friday by a Boston group with alt-right connections.

The Guardian

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