Protesters converged once again on Michigan’s capitol building in Lansing to demand an end to the stay-at-home orders issued by the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. On 30th April, demonstrators packed the area. Some were armed, many were without protective masks, and a number of people used the coronavirus protest to champion violent and racist ideals by brandishing Confederate flags, nooses, and swastika-decorated signs.
Following his words of praise for a previous protest in Michigan in mid-April, President Donald Trump once again sided with the demonstrators, encouraging Whitmer to cede to their demands. “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people,” Trump tweeted the following day. “But they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2020
Warning that these kinds of demonstrations will only exacerbate the ongoing health crisis, Whitmer did not meet with protesters. Instead, as the head of one of the worst affected states with more than 42,000 confirmed cases and 3,800 deaths, Whitmer issued a new executive order extending Michigan’s state of emergency until May 28. The order, aimed at continuing efforts to mitigate the pandemic, means that restaurants, bars, cinemas, gyms, and other non-essential businesses will remain closed.
“Whether you agree with me or not, I’m working to protect your life if you live in the state of Michigan,” Whitmer told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union. “I’m going to continue to do my job regardless of what tweets come out or what polls come out or what people think that makes sense. We’re going to listen to facts and science because we’ve got to get this right.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, a White House coronavirus task force official, had an opposing response to Trump regarding the protests. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Birx voiced concern over the ramifications of the rally. “It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally, because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or an unfortunate outcome they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” said Birx. “So we need to protect each other at the same time as we’re voicing our discontent.”
During her State of the Union appearance on Sunday, Whitmer said the protest showed “some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history in this country.” This protest was a repeat of the 4,000 demonstrators who showed up in mid-April for a rally called “Operation Gridlock.” Following “Operation Gridlock,” Trump tweeted an inciting message encouraging states to “liberate” themselves suggesting that they should continue their efforts.
In the latest protest, demonstrators not only called for Whitmer’s impeachment but threatened her with violence, reports Vanity Fair. A number of demonstrators carrying semi-automatic rifles went into the state capitol building and brandished their weapons right outside the door of Whitmer’s office. According to Michigan state law, open-carry is allowed in and around the capitol building.
Still, the sight of armed protesters wandering the building led many lawmakers to wear bulletproof vests. One Michigan state senator, Dayna Polehanki, tweeted photos saying that men carrying rifles were yelling. “The Confederate flags and nooses, the swastikas, the, you know, behaviour that you’ve seen in all of the clips, is not representative of who we are in Michigan,” said Whitmer.
Trump’s encouragement of these protesters contradicts some of his previous responses to rallies and reinforces the idea that he only supports his base — in this case, at the cost of public health guidelines. In 2017, Trump defended the people who participated in a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Despite Nazi salutes, violence, and hundreds shouting antisemitic slurs, he excused their behaviour, calling them “very fine people.” Yet, when Black Lives Matter protesters assembled, Trump described them as “looking for trouble,” adding that it was “a disgrace that they’re getting away with it.”
Trump has not yet responded to Michigan’s extended stay-at-home order.