Coronavirus: Armed Michigan protesters defy stay-at-home orders

Thousands demonstrate at State Capitol over tough regulations imposed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Protesters at the  ‘Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine’ at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing. Photograph: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Protesters at the ‘Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine’ at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing. Photograph: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

 

Thousands of demonstrators – some openly carrying rifles and handguns – have been protesting in the US state of Michigan against stay-at-home orders imposed to combat the coronavirus

Protesters in cars with horns honking thronged around Michigan’s State Capitol in Lansing on Wednesday in opposition to the orders imposed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to combat coronavirus.

Traffic around the Lansing statehouse was jammed for hours by the rally, dubbed “Operation Gridlock” and organised by the Republican-aligned Michigan Conservative Coalition to challenge the Democratic governor’s social-distancing measures – among the strictest in the nation.

The boisterous but peaceful midday rally drew at least 2,000 vehicles filled with protesters, their horns and car radios blaring.

About 100 emerged on foot – some draped in American flags or “Don’t Tread on Me” banners, some wearing red Trump 2020 campaign hats. They converged on the Capitol steps and surrounding the grounds, most without face coverings and none observing safe social-separation guidelines.

Supporters of the Michigan Conservative Coalition protest against the state’s extended stay-at-home order. Photograph: REUTERS/Seth Herald
Supporters of the Michigan Conservative Coalition protest against the state’s extended stay-at-home order. Photograph: REUTERS/Seth Herald

The crowd included militia members and individuals carrying assault-style rifles and other guns, a reflection of Michigan’s “open-carry” firearms laws.

There were shouts of “lock her up,” a chant that became a staple of Mr Trump’s campaign rallies and originally referring to his 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Appearing on CNN on Wednesday, Ms Whitmer defended the stringent nature of her stay-at-home orders. “We have to be really aggressive here to save lives,” she said.

Michigan has faced one of the country’s fastest-growing infection rates for the new coronavirus, with more than 27,000 confirmed cases and nearly 1,800 deaths from Covid-19, the highly contagious lung disease caused by the virus.

The latest version of her executive order bars residents from travel between homes or using motorboats, and it prohibits retail sales of home furnishings, garden supplies or paint while leaving marijuana dispensaries open.

Michigan is one of 42 states where governors have ordered residents to remain indoors except for necessary outings like grocery shopping or doctor’s visits, while closing schools, universities and non-essential businesses.

Although the unprecedented restrictions have worked to curtail the spread of the virus, they also have strangled the US economy, idling millions of workers, upending financial markets and leading to forecasts of a deep recession.

The backlash against Ms Whitmer’s stay-at-home directive, which she last week extended through to the end of April while toughening the terms of the order, has taken on political overtones.

Critics of Ms Whitmer, widely seen as a potential running mate for presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, object to what they call inconsistencies and over-reach in her response to the public health crisis.

Ms Whitmer also is a co-chair of Mr Biden’s campaign and previously drew national attention by trading jabs with President Donald Trump over the spread of the coronavirus in her state.

Mr Trump, who before the pandemic had touted a vibrant US economy as a pillar of his November 3rd re-election bid, has pressed for reopening commerce, despite health authorities warning that doing so prematurely risks a resurgence of the outbreak.

The debate over how and when to reopen the economy has led to friction between Mr Trump and the states, particularly Democratic governors whom he branded as “mutineers.” – Reuters