Americans Protest : Protesting in the Age of Coronavirus
Protesters across the U.S. rally against stay-at-home orders aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus. In the United States in April 2020, protests were organized by pro-Trump Republican and far-right groups and individuals in several locations across the United States. The protests opposed the measures state governments were taking to combat the coronavirus pandemic, such as business closures and stay-at-home orders, and demanded that their state be “re-opened”. The protests made international news. One of the first protests was in Michigan on April 15, 2020. It was organized via a Facebook group called Operation Gridlock, which was created by the Michigan Freedom Fund and the Michigan Conservative Coalition. A spokesman for the Michigan Conservative Coalition encouraged groups in other states to copy the Operation Gridlock wording and templates. Protesters in numerous other states said they were inspired by Michigan, and they used Michigan’s material on their own websites, Facebook groups, and Reddit pages to promote their protests. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer called attention to the fact that the Michigan Freedom Fund is funded in part by the DeVos family, but a spokesman said the family had nothing to do with the protests.
The Trump campaign declined to answer whether it was directly involved with organizing the protest in Michigan, but key protest organizers who did identify themselves were Meshawn Maddock, the wife of Republican state representative Matt Maddock and a member of the national advisory board for Women for Trump, and Marian Sheridan, who serves as a vice chair on the Michigan Republican Party. The protest in Washington State was organized by a county Republican Party, and speakers included three Republican state legislators. FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group associated with the Tea Party Movement, published a “#ReOpenAmerica Planning Guide”. Protesters opposed the shelter-in-place orders in their states for various reasons. Many said they want businesses reopened so they can go back to work. Many others displayed pro-Trump banners, signs, and MAGA hats. Still others insisted the lockdowns were a violation of their constitutional rights. One militia leader told a reporter, “Re-open my state or we will re-open it ourselves.” The anger driving the protests was called “both real and manufactured,” with conservative groups engaging in Astroturfing via centralized organization backed by anonymous donors.
The reopen protests have generally been small, with protestor numbers ranging from a few dozen to the low hundreds; the first protest in Michigan drew several thousand. Protesters included mainstream Republicans, but also far-right groups including Proud Boys and armed militia movement supporters. A large number of “anti-vax” advocates have attended, and some have been the organizers of local protests. Ben, Chris and Aaron Dorr, three guns-rights activist brothers from Northfield, Minnesota, are the organizers of protests in several midwestern states.