Operation Gridlock: Thousands of conservatives block Michigan streets in protest over stay at home order

Protesters chant ‘lock her up’ about governor Gretchen Whitmer, echoing Trump’s rallying chant about former rival Hillary Clinton

Andrew Buncombe
Seattle
Thursday 16 April 2020 10:57 BST
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Operation Gridlock: Thousands of conservatives block Michigan streets in protest over stay at home order

Thousands of conservative demonstrators – a number of them armed – have brought chaos and gridlock to the centre of Michigan’s capital to protest over the governor’s stay-at-home coronavirus order.

Ignoring Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to keep off the streets to try and reduce the spread of the virus, thousands of protesters, many of them waving Donald Trump banners, poured into Lansing as part of what was termed “Operation Gridlock”.

There they honked their horns and chanted “lock her up”, a slogan the president typically encouraged his supporters to shout at his rallies in reference to Hillary Clinton.

The protesters took over the streets of the centre of the city, and posed for images on the steps of legislative and other government buildings.

The protest was organised by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which claims the Republican Party has taken an unhealthy turn to the left.

“We are all concerned for those afflicted with Covid-199. Yes, many of the personal behaviours we have been reminded to use are good practices. Wash your hands. Cover your cough. Stay home if you are sick,” read a message on the MCC’s website. “That said, Michiganders are fed up!”

It added: “Our governor and her allies are infecting ALL of us with their radical, progressive agenda. There is NO reasoned and public plan to promote our overall physical and economic health!

“Dope stores? Open. Abortion clinics? Open. Churches? Shut down. Local businesses? Going broke!”

The organisation did not immediately respond to enquiries.

Meshawn Maddock, a spokesperson for the group, told NBC News: “There is no reason why she can’t be looking at some safe ways to be opening up businesses. Instead of talking about what’s essential and nonessential, let’s talk about what’s safe and not safe. Safe businesses and safe workers need to get back to work.”

The move comes as the president has engaged with a war of words with governors across the nation, first suggesting that he alone had the authority to decide when social distancing measures put in place to halt the spread of the virus should end.

Many governors have pushed back, saying that while it is important to restart their economies, their priority has to be public safety.

CNN pointed out the orders put in place in Michigan were among the toughest in the country.

Ms Whitmer – whose state has the fourth highest number of coronavirus infections and the third highest number of deaths – last week extended her stay at home order to prohibit gatherings of any people who are not part of a single household, to end in-state vacations or travel to second homes, and to order that large stores may only have four customers for every 1,000 square feet of customer floor space.

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JJ MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University and an expert on anti-government groups and extremists, has been monitoring the protests in Michigan. She said another event was being planned for Saturday in Austin, Texas, backed by Owen Shroyer who works for Alex Jones’s conspiracy theory-promoting InfoWars. Events are also planned for Oregon, Utah, Idaho Washgton state and California.

She told The Independent the lines between extremists and anti-government protesters had been “increasingly blurred”.

“What they’re doing is, they’re coming in pickup trucks and whatever and just blocking the streets around the capital,” she said.

She added: “When you see a long line of cars driving in from one particular town which is population 3000. And if they are coming from their town to the do this protest, imagine what they’re carrying back to that little town that probably doesn’t have a big hospital, lots of beds, an ICU and ventilators.”

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