Armed opponents of the Corona measures run up in the state of Michigan. They threaten the Democratic governor with death.
Lone protest: a supporter of Governor Whitmer in front of the Michigan legislature Photo: ap
A naked Barbie doll with long brown hair is suspended from a noose. It dangles from a U.S. flag carried by a man. Another man – he, too, without a mask – struts through the crowd with an axe. Dozens more white men have shouldered assault rifles. Some wear red "Trump 2020" caps.
Scenes from a demonstration in front of the Capitol in Lansing, Michigan’s capital: Several radical right-wing organizations, as well as the usual firearms enthusiasts, have declared Thursday, May 14, "Judgement Day." They oppose extending the pandemic exemption rules. And they say they are defending "freedom" and fighting "tyranny."
In their third march in the place where the elected politicians of the state of 10 million people usually work, they intend to go to bloody action. On several "private" Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members, people from their circles are threatening Governor Gretchen Whitmer. They wish the Democrat with the long brown hair dead. Unchecked, they discuss murder fantasies ranging from lynching to shooting to guillotining.
The last time the right-wingers marched on this issue was April 30. On that day, heavily armed men came to the first-floor gallery while parliamentarians debated below. "It was intimidation," said Senator Mallory McMorrow, describing the scene, which included four men with guns sitting directly behind and above her. Police let the right-wing protesters have their way. Carrying firearms is allowed at the Michigan Capitol. The firearms lobby in the state is strong.
This Thursday is different. The Capitol will remain closed. Faced with threats of violence, lawmakers adjourned. "The terrorists have won," some on the left sigh.
Michigan is a testing ground for the right. In 2016, Trump narrowly won the state by a quarter of a percentage point. But in 2018, Michiganders are moving away from Republicans again. They elect Democrat Whitmer as their governor by a ten percentage point margin.
She’s 48, a Democratic Party hopeful, occasionally talked about as a potential vice president, and running on a platform of defending health insurance and improving infrastructure. One of her slogans is: Let’s fix the damn roads. In addition, she stands for gun control, albeit tentatively.
Whitmer has long been targeted by the right. But since she did the opposite of Trump at the start of the pandemic, closing by decree all non-essential businesses and making mask-wearing mandatory, her opponents have focused on stay-at-home rules.
Support from Trump
From Washington, Whitmer opponents are getting support from Trump. "Free Michigan," he tweeted in mid-April. He spouts the same slogans toward other Democratic-ruled states he hopes to win in November, including Nevada, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia. "That woman in Michigan," he calls popular Governor Whitmer, as if he can’t remember her name.
Whitmer is not impressed by the president, by demonstrations by groups like Michigan United for Liberty and Michigan Freedom Fund, or by the pending lawsuits against her pandemic policies.
The Covid 19 numbers prove her right. Her state ranks only tenth in the U.S. in population, but ranks fourth in deaths with 4,787 Covid-19 deaths. Seventy-nine of Michigan’s 83 counties have infected people. Detroit is the hardest hit. It has one of the highest infection rates of any U.S. city.
Two-thirds of Michiganders support their governor’s pandemic policy. But the protesters gathering in Lansing on Thursday not only want to get rid of stay-at-home rules, they want to get rid of the governor right away. Some of them are walking around with Nazi symbols and Confederate flags that fought to keep slavery in the Civil War.
On a "private" Facebook page, a certain James Greena threatens to have the governor "eat lead so other Democrats understand they will be next." Only after the Detroit Metro Times reported on the numerous threats of violence did Facebook shut down the page earlier this week.
Protesters outside the Capitol – including women and children – are standing close together. They want the stores and businesses to reopen immediately, and they don’t want to abide by safety distances or masking rules. In an election year when fears of armed clashes are growing, they are demonstrating strength.
On this Thursday, as the Capitol in Lansing is closed, Whitmer opponents are not entirely alone. A few supporters of the governor are milling about in their midst. "I stand with her," a nurse has written on her bare forearm. At the waistband of her pants, she carries a gun.
The governor doesn’t want to open Michigan until June 11 because of high infection rates. The demonstrations, she warns in an interview Thursday, could spread the virus even further: "In a perverse way, they make it more likely that we’ll have to extend the stay-at-home rule."