Scriber’s readers might remember my search for explanatory coherence as a means to view multiple current events and trends. In this post I will focus first on an explanation of what’s driving the recent protests against those policies that are meant to combat the ravages of COVID–19. Then I will comment on two examples of such protests.
Charlie Warzel at the NY Times provides a theoretical wrapper from which to view the recent right-wing protests in Protesting for the Freedom to Catch the Coronavirus. The reopen America protests are the logical conclusion of a twisted liberty movement. (Tnx to our Roving Reporter Sherry)
At a string of small “reopen America” protests across the country this week, mask-less citizens proudly flouted social distancing guidance while openly carrying semiautomatic rifles and waving American flags and signs with “ironic” swastikas. They organized chants to lock up female Democrat governors and to fire the country’s top infectious disease experts. At one point during protests at the Michigan Capitol, the group’s orchestrated gridlock blocked an ambulance en route to a nearby hospital.
For those who’ve chosen to put their trust in science during the pandemic it’s hard to fathom the decision to gather to protest while a deadly viral pathogen — transmitted easily by close contact and spread by symptomatic and asymptomatic people alike — ravages the country. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This week’s public displays of defiance — a march for the freedom to be infected — are the logical conclusion of the modern far-right’s donor-funded, shock jock-led liberty movement. It was always headed here.
Few demonstrate this movement better than Alex Jones of Infowars — one of the key figures of Saturday’s “You Can’t Close America” rally on the steps of the Capitol building in Austin, Tex. For decades, Mr. Jones has built a thriving media empire harnessing (real and understandable) fear, paranoia and rage, which in turn drive sales of vitamin supplements and prepper gear in his personal store. …
Jones’ opportunistic rantings fit neatly into a larger right-wing strategy, which has grown alongside Infowars. Just as Infowars rallies are tied to the media outlet’s financial interest in antigovernment paranoia, a few of this week’s rallies have been underwritten by political organizations with ties to the Republican Party and the Trump administration. Regardless of who’s behind them, the intent is to sow division and attempt to reshape public opinion. As Vox’s Jane Coaston wrote, they’re “designed to pit Republican-voting areas of states against their Democratic-voting neighbors, even rural Republicans against urban Republicans.”
It’s important to note that the reopen protests have been generally small (at most, hundreds of people in states of millions of citizens responsibly staying at home) and don’t even reflect the polled opinions of many conservatives. But they fit neatly into a larger campaign playbook and take on outsize importance. They take place frequently in swing states or states with Democratic governors and are plastered across social media, reported in mainstream organizations, openly cheered on by Fox News and right-wing media, and ultimately end up amplified (tacitly or explicitly) by the president. The strategy has worked well in recent years, consolidating support among the Trump base.
… so here we are in 2020, protesting statewide lockdowns intended to save lives while thousands of Americans across the country grow sick and die each day. That a virus that demands a united front — where our public health is only as strong as our least vigilant citizens — should come at a moment of extreme polarization is a tragedy. But this moment is what we’ve been headed toward for years. And so the “reopen America” protests feel unconscionable and yet completely predictable. The playbook isn’t new. The only thing that’s changed are the stakes, which get higher every day.
Here are a pair of reports on the protests, the first is from Arizona. (With thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry.)
’Operation Gridlock’ protesters decry ‘fake’ pandemic, restrictions. That is from a report by the AZ Mirror.
Conservatives angry about the catastrophic economic situation caused by the COVID–19 pandemic and government restrictions on businesses and citizens drove around the state Capitol Sunday in protest, hoping to persuade Gov. Doug Ducey to lift his stay-at-home order and “re-open” Arizona.
Many of the protesters displayed support of President Donald Trump, flying Trump flags, wearing the president’s signature red campaign hats and other campaign paraphernalia.
Trump has encouraged such protests, saying that some restrictions enacted by governors to blunt the spread of COVID–19 “are too much.” In Arizona, only businesses deemed “essential” are allowed to remain open, and they must enforce social-distancing measures that keep customers six feet apart. Ducey’s executive order runs through April 30, though he can choose to extend it past that date.
Ducey has so far resisted calls to quickly lift restrictions, and has said science and public health concerns will guide when and how he does so.
The protest, dubbed Operation Gridlock by organizers and an off-shoot of a controversial Michigan protest last week that was tied to a group funded by the family of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, consisted of cars circling the Capitol for about two hours as protesters inside displayed signs and honked their horns. Some blared air horns, while others blasted patriotic music from their vehicle sound systems.
Some of the protesters wore masks and gloves, but many did not wear any protective gear. A common theme among attendees was that fear of COVID–19 was overblown and that the illness was not as serious as infectious disease experts and government officials – including Trump – have said it is.
“Fake pandemic, fake numbers, fake news,” read a t-shirt worn by one attendee. “It’s not the plague, it’s just the flu,” a sign held by another attendee said.
As of April 19, there had been 4,929 confirmed cases of COVID–19 in Arizona, and 184 deaths have been attributed to the illness. Nationally, more than 722,000 people have tested positive for COVID–19 and almost 34,000 have died.
A few protesters brandished weapons, including Jennifer Harrison, leader of the far-right extremist group AZ Patriots, who walked around the Capitol grounds with an AR-style assault rifle.
What on earth is she thinking? What, or who, is she going to shoot? Doctors? Nurses? Other responders? The virus?
That would be funny except that it is not. Without even firing a shot Harrison enables more deaths caused by the coronamvirus.
With that as a segue, Jonathon V. Last writing in The Bulwark takes a critical look at these protests.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a walking, talking joke?
Ask the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, who over the weekend—in the midst of a global pandemic that was about to go over the 40,000-dead American mark—used the WSJ’s prime real estate to, well,
No Timeout for FBI Scandals. More teeth remain to be pulled, and the biggest may concern James Comey and Hillary’s emails.
Yup. Gotta get to the bottom of Hillary’s emails. Don’t let up now, Holman!
And then there’s Alex Jones. On Saturday Infowars staged a protest in Austin. About 200 highly-intelligent patriots showed up to demonstrate to America that they will not be … cooped up at home? Told to wear masks? Who can say, really. They chanted about firing Fauci and making America free again and I have to assume that these folks must all really hate Donald Trump, since he’s the one who asked for a period of national social distancing and has total control over whether or not Fauci gets fired.
They must think that Trump is a total traitor. I bet they were this close to chanting “Lock him up.”
Except that someone at the rally then made an announcement. I can’t tell from the audio who it is. Maybe it’s Jones or one of the other Infowars guys.
Here’s what the person says over a bullhorn: “It’s now confirmed, AP reporting, that the bioweapon came out of the Chinese Wuhan laboratory.”
Big news, if true!
But I’m less interested in fact checking this than in the reaction of the protestors.
Like, they really cheer. Like it’s a … good thing that 40,000 Americans have now been killed in an act of war by a nefarious Chinese bioweapon? Because that’s a better scenario than the virus being a zoonotic accident?
I’ll be honest: I’m not following the logic there. I would have thought that if COVID–19 was a Chinese bioweapon then things are a lot worse, because it means we have to get into, like, a shooting war with a country that has a billion people. And we kind of have a lot on our plate right now.
Plus—and I’m not just saying this because I’m trying to cover for President Trump—it would mean that Trump has been really, really derelict in his duties as commander-in-chief.
Boy these Infowars people must really hate him. It’s like they’re suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome or something.
Anyway, there’s some inaudible stuff and then the guy on the megaphone says “The Chinese Communists launched the bio attack.”
And there’s more cheering.
As my buddy Ryan Kinney notes: So we’re now at war with a Chinese bioweapon designed to destroy America. But also … open up?
40 percent or so of those polled continue to support Trump - no matter what he says or does. 40 thousand is the number of deaths - many of which are traceable to Trump’s lackadaisical response to timely warnings by WHO and other experts.