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Of Course Trump Called Armed, Right-Wing Protesters “Very Good People”

In response to armed, right-wing protesters—some without masks—packing the Michigan capitol building on Thursday in a rally against the state’s coronavirus lockdown, President Donald Trump praised the occupiers and urged Governor Gretchen Whitmer to bend to their will. “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people,” Trump tweeted Friday, echoing his defense of the “very fine people” demonstrating at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017. “But they are angry,” Trump said of the Michigan protesters. “They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

In a defiant move, the first-term Democratic governor responded to the protests by doing the exact opposite: Whitmer, in new executive orders aimed at mitigating the pandemic, extended Michigan’s state of emergency until May 28, meaning that restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, and other nonessential businesses will remain closed to the public until then. One lawsuit against Whitmer charging that her stay-at-home orders were unconstitutional has already been dismissed, but the state’s Republican-led legislature, which did not vote in support of her emergency powers declaration, is now seeking to take her to court again over her orders.

This latest protest, the “American Patriot Rally,” was a repeat performance of the 4,000 demonstrators who shut down the capitol’s surrounding streets in a mid-April rally that organizers named “Operation Gridlock.” Whitmer called that act of disobedience “really unfortunate” and raised health concerns, saying a lot of people showed up “not wearing masks,” “not staying six feet apart,” and “handing things to children barehanded.” But those protesters were commended by Trump and Fox News hosts alike; in the days that followed, the president lied about the crowd adhering to social distancing guidelines, called them “a very orderly group of people,” justified their actions by saying they merely “want their life back,” and joined his media allies in suggesting they continue their efforts, tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

The president got his wish on Thursday. Hundreds of angry protesters again showed up to Lansing wearing pro-Trump paraphernalia and flashing signs accusing Whitmer of “Killing Small Businesses,” calling for her impeachment, and threatening her with violence. One sign read, “Tyrants get the rope.”

A number of protesters open-carried semiautomatic rifles, with some making their way into the capitol quarters and brandishing their weapons outside the door of Whitmer’s office. Michigan gun laws allow for open-carry in and around the capitol building, but seeing the armed protesters wandering the corridors still led multiple lawmakers to don bulletproof vests. “Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us,” tweeted Dayna Polehanki, a Democratic Michigan state senator, adding, “Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today.”

Other protesters demanded to be let onto the legislative floor but were blocked by a wall of Michigan state troopers, as members of the public are prohibited from freely entering the area. That rule did not stop them from shouting “Let us in!” directly into the faces of law enforcement, in some cases at spitting distance. The protest saw a mishmash of causes and groups rally under their shared opposition to Whitmer’s lockdown, as anti-abortion activists, pro-Second Amendment advocates, militiamen, anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists, and miscellaneous demonstrators all made appearances, according to the Detroit Free Press. State police reported that one arrest was made on the capitol grounds after a protester allegedly assaulted another attendee. Whitmer has warned that these kinds of demonstrations will exacerbate the ongoing health crisis in Michigan, as the state—logging over 42,000 coronavirus cases and over 3,800 deaths—is among the worst affected by the pandemic.

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