United States President Donald Trump on Friday voiced support for protesters, some armed with rifles, after they entered the capitol building in the US state of Michigan and demanded that Governor Gretchen Whitmer lift strict coronavirus lockdown orders, causing some lawmakers to reportedly don bulletproof vests.
“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump tweeted. “These are very good people, 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
Dozens of demonstrators crowded the lobby of the building in Lansing on Thursday, where they demanded to be allowed inside the chamber of the Michigan House of Representatives.
State police blocked them from entering the chamber, which was closed to the public to allow room for state representatives and reporters to spread apart.
The demonstration, dubbed the American Patriot Rally, was organised by a group calling itself Michigan United for Liberty.
“We do not agree with or consent to our unalienable rights being restricted or rescinded for any reason, including the COVID-19 pandemic,” the group said on its private Facebook page, where it has more than 8,800 members.
It was the second time this month that protesters have demanded Whitmer lift lockdown restrictions in the state, which has seen more than 3,500 people killed by the coronavirus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
On April 16, around 3,000 protesters, some of them also armed, descended on Lansing for “Operation Gridlock,” causing a massive traffic jam around the capital building.
A day later, Trump appeared to lend his support to them and scattered protests elsewhere, tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
That tweet and similar ones drew widespread criticism, with one governor accusing the president of “fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies”.
Thursday’s protest came a day after a Michigan court ruled that stay-at-home directives issued by Whitmer on March 24 do not infringe on residents’ constitutional rights, according to local media reports.
Anti-lockdown protests, many organised by conservative or some fringe groups, have sprung up across the US, including a small demonstration in New York and a larger one in California on Friday. But the protests appear to have little public support.
WATCH: Large crowds gathered in Huntington Beach to protest the closure of Orange County beaches — which Gov. Gavin Newsom closed because of large crowds at area beaches. https://t.co/FuksIg1cmJ pic.twitter.com/QInDR5Dt80
— NBC 7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) May 1, 2020
Whitmer’s handling of the virus crisis has been met with a generally favourable response, and polls show public anxiety about reopening before adequate testing and a vaccine are developed.
A PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll of 1,008 respondents released on April 29 found that without further testing, 91 percent of people think allowing large groups to attend sporting events is a bad idea – and 85 and 80 percent think children returning to school and restaurants opening for customers to eat inside are bad ideas, respectively.
This poll is roughly in line with others on the same subject.
Whitmer has previously stated that it is fine to be angry, but the restrictions are necessary.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Michigan is an extraordinary place to live because of the people who call it home. There are millions of Michiganders doing their part to slow the spread of #COVID19 every single day. We are going to get through this together,” Whitmer tweeted Thursday after the protests, without commenting directly.