Forces Behind COVID-19 Anti-Lockdown Protests in the United States
Updated: May 24, 2020
Lockdown orders and stay-at-home regulations have been instated across the United States in response to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe has prompted groups of
Americans to take to the streets in protest demanding these restrictions be lifted to alleviate economic impacts. Tyler Adams
The United States has recorded over 1.26 million cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, including over 74,000 deaths. With little evidence that the spread of the pandemic is slowing, many states have begun easing and lifting restrictions by re-opening public places and businesses against the advice of public health experts. The US has relied primarily on a patchwork response to the pandemic. The Trump administration has relegated decision-making and organization to state and local officials who have ultimately determined the nation’s response to the crisis. Anti-Lockdown protests in the United States
Thousands of protesters have participated in organized demonstrations demanding governments quickly re-open the country. Many protesters view the strict measures instituted as too restrictive and damaging to businesses, personal finances and the national economy in the long run. Defying social distancing guidelines, these protestors have taken their concerns to the streets and rallied across the country in front of government buildings and blocking roadways. Michigan, Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia, Washington, and Colorado have seen some of the largest protests. However, questions loom over what and who is behind anti-lockdown protests in the United States. While grassroots organizations appear to be the core contingency behind the protests, other indicators lead to coordinated activity linked to national conservative groups.
Organizers’ ties to conservative groups, the alt-right and megadonors
Some of these movements have received past funding from conservative megadonors. In Michigan, one of the sites of the initial protests, dubbed Operation Gridlock, Governor Gretchen Whitmer said that she understood the concerns of the protestors while also criticizing those who were behind the protests. Operation Gridlock was "funded in large part by the DeVos family and I think it's really inappropriate to for a sitting member of the United States president's cabinet to be waging political attacks on any governor," Whitmer said, referring to Betsy DeVos, the current secretary of the US Department of Education. The protest was co-sponsored by Michigan Freedom Fund and the Michigan Conservative Coalition. The Michigan Freedom Fund reportedly received over $500,000 in past donations from the DeVos family. President Trump has also been vocal in supporting the protest movements. Tweeting for the ‘liberation’ of some states from lockdowns.
Far-right wing organizations and conspiracy theorists have seized the moment to promote their political ideology on the streets and through massive online disinformation campaigns. Prominent alt-right groups and personalities such as the Proud Boys, Alex Jones and QAnon conspiracy theorists have attended and promoted the protests.
In the uncertainty and turmoil that has ensued, some groups such as anti-vaccination organizations have used the crisis as an opportunity to further their agenda. Gun rights groups have also played a role in antagonizing and organizing protests. Protests have also attracted militias and armed groups who claim that lockdown measures violate their civil liberties. Easing lockdown restrictions
Some states have begun to lift lockdown restrictions against the recommendations of public health experts. And while other state governors may be eager to lift additional restrictions, many have been unwilling to do so until widespread testing is implemented, which will require the assistance of the federal government. Trump has criticized those governors who have requested federal assistance in testing and other resources, leaving many state governments struggling to balance economic demands with public health concerns. Many governors have acknowledged and supported demonstrators' right to protest, while also vocalizing concerns that not following social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders would likely contribute to the virus's spread.