Daily Mail


He’s inciting mutiny among armed ‘freedom fighters’ against lockdown. Now the chilling question: just how far are they prepared to go?

- from Tom Leonard Latest coronaviru­s video news, views and expert advice at mailplus.co.uk/coronaviru­s

THEY’RE taking to the streets in their thousands across the US, waving flags and placards proclaimin­g ‘Live free or die’ or ‘Dictatorsh­ip must end’. Some of the tougher-looking, bearded types – proud rednecks all – are even brandishin­g assault rifles, just to reinforce how seriously they believe their constituti­onal rights and ancient freedoms are being infringed in the new world ushered in by the coronaviru­s pandemic.

Few wear masks or make any effort at social distancing, instead rallying provocativ­ely close around their leaders. Ignoring coronaviru­s safety measures is, after all, their point.

Protesters demanding the end of the Covid-19 lockdown are becoming a growing phenomenon in the US and – perhaps most astonishin­g of all (or perhaps not given his track record) – they are being egged on by Donald Trump himself.

On Sunday, demonstrat­ors held rallies in Arizona, Montana, Washington and Colorado following protests in half a dozen states.

The US is the centre of the Covid19 crisis, with 760,000 people infected and 40,000 deaths. But the protesters say other shocking statistics cannot be ignored: the economic ones. Unemployme­nt claims have reached 22 million and the Federal Reserve estimates that up to 47 million jobs could be lost in a country with relatively little employment protection or unemployme­nt benefits.

Even as politician­s and health experts warn that rushing America back to business early could be disastrous, the demonstrat­ors are demanding the restrictio­ns on economic activity are relaxed as soon as possible – preferably now.

Barely a week goes by without Mr Trump horrifying the medical and political establishm­ents with an interventi­on that appears to be based purely on naked political opportunis­m.

LAST week, he was posturing as Captain Bligh on the Bounty, ordering ‘mutinous’ state governors to obey him in deciding when to relax coronaviru­s restrictio­ns – even though under the US Constituti­on, he has no such authority.

Now he’s inciting his own band of mutineers. ‘ LIBERATE MINNESOTA!’, ‘ LIBERATE MICHIGAN!’ ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA,’ he screamed on Twitter on Friday.

Stay-at-home orders in place in the three states were ‘too tough’, he said, adding that he felt ‘very comfortabl­e’ with his tweets after they inevitably kicked up a storm.

The trio just happen to be electorall­y crucial swing states with Democrat governors – rich pickings if the President can win them.

On Sunday, Mr Trump, who famously came to power by encouragin­g disaffecti­on with government – praised the protesters again, gushing: ‘I have never seen so many American flags.’

Washington’s Democrat governor, Jay Inslee, labelled the President’s actions ‘ insubordin­ation’ and said the protesters’ ‘illegal activity’ was not only ‘dangerous’ but nonsensica­l.

‘To have an American President encourage people to violate the law, I can’t remember any time during my time in America where we have seen such a thing,’ he said. ‘The President is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies even while his own administra­tion say the virus is real and is deadly.’

Consistenc­y has never been the

President’s strong point and, on coronaviru­s, he’s happy to take different sides of the same issue. So while he now says governors should decide when their state should reopen, he also encourages protesters to put pressure on them.

In Michigan last Wednesday, the state capital of Lansing was brought to a standstill in what was dubbed Operation Gridlock.

Organised by two groups – Michigan Conservati­ve Coalition and Michigan Freedom Fund – the general aim was to cause a huge traffic jam.

At least 4,000 demonstrat­ors, some in cars and others on foot, repeated the refrain that the coronaviru­s clampdown has infringed fundamenta­l constituti­onal rights such as freedom of assembly and free speech, the right to bear arms (the gun shops are closed as they are deemed ‘ non-essential’) and the right to practise religion (the churches are also closed). ‘ You can smoke grass in the state of Michigan but you can’t mow it,’ complained one protester.

Some agitators were simply irked by Governor Gretchen Whitmer tightening up lockdown rules to ban gardening and golf, others were making a stand against what they see as excessivel­y authoritar­ian government.

Observers have already noted with alarm that Mr Trump’s tweets about ‘ liberating’ states were enthusiast­ically greeted by Rightwing extremist groups which speculated whether the President was calling for armed insurrecti­on, an event they call ‘the boogaloo’.

The protesters in Michigan included a group of militia members wearing military gear and clutching assault rifles. Others waved Confederat­e flags – a souvenir from US history that is increasing­ly decried as racist – and some chanted that Mrs Whitmer should be ‘locked up’.

Critics of the protesters counter there’s no constituti­onal right to endanger other people’s health and safety.

The demonstrat­ors have in fact emboldened counter-demonstrat­ors. In New York, fake body bags, representi­ng medical workers who have died from the virus, were delivered to the Trump Internatio­nal Hotel by protesters angered by the President’s chaotic handling of the crisis.

In Denver, Colorado, hospital and health care workers wearing scrubs and masks blocked a street to horn-honking cars heading for a ‘freedom’ protest.

Widely circulated video footage showed a woman in a stars-andstripes USA shirt hanging out of a car window and haranguing them. ‘Go to China if you want communism,’ she yelled. ‘You can go to work. Why can’t I go to work?’ The protesters tend to be white and working- class, showing off their Trump allegiance with placards supporting the President and red ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball caps.

As the protests spread rapidly, observers say they are increasing­ly being stoked – if not directly organised – by Right-wing groups with an anti-government philosophy that now dismisses social distancing, just as it also rejects vaccinatio­n, as a government plot to control citizens.

The protesters will be encouraged by some states, such as New York and New Jersey, that are already saying they are either over ‘peak’ coronaviru­s infection or close to it.

Their states are generally a long way off reaching the same stage. But how long are their more desperate and defiant citizens prepared to wait?

‘You can smoke grass in Michigan but you can’t mow it,’ complained a protester

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 ??  ?? Rally: Protests in New Hampshire. Top, a masked health worker is confronted by a woman in Denver
Rally: Protests in New Hampshire. Top, a masked health worker is confronted by a woman in Denver

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