Sanjana Karanth at Huffington Post gets it exactly right. Trump Defends Right-Wing Protesters Fighting Coronavirus Restrictions: ‘These Are Great People’:
President Donald Trump on Sunday defended right-wing protesters he has encouraged to rally against state coronavirus restrictions.
At Sunday’s White House coronavirus briefing ― events the president has often used to campaign and push misinformation ― Trump was asked for his advice to protesters who want to lift states’ stay-at-home orders.
“You’re allowed to protest. … I watched a protest and they were all six feet apart, I mean it was a very orderly group of people,” Trump said, although photos from the rallies show otherwise. “But you know, some governors have gone too far. Some of the things that happened are, uh, maybe not so appropriate, and I think in the end it’s not gonna matter because we’re starting to open up our states.
Conspiracy theory monger, anti-vaxxer and coronavirus denier Alex Jones from Info Wars didn’t get the memo about social distancing. Hundreds Defy Common Sense, Safety At Infowars Rally To Reopen Businesses.
“I see protesters for all sorts of things, and I’m with everybody,” he said.
An echo of “very fine people on both sides” after Charlottesville.
Asked on Sunday if he was concerned that his tweets helped incite violence against the governors ― some of whom are receiving death threats from protesters ― Trump immediately denied it.
“I’ve seen the people, I’ve seen the interviews of people. These are great people,” Trump said. “Look they want to get ― they call cabin fever, you’ve heard the term ― they’ve got cabin fever. They wanna get back. They want their life back. Their life was taken away from them. And you know, they learned a lot during this period. They learned to do things differently than they have in the past. And you know, they’ll do it hopefully until the virus has passed.
“I think these people are ― I’ve never seen so many American flags,” he continued. “I’m seeing the same thing you’re seeing.”
He means, of course, those Trump desecrations of the American flag.
When the reporter who asked the question pointed out there have also been Nazi flags flown at these rallies, Trump repeated: “No, no.”
Note: The reporter is referring to something shared on Twitter. Snopes fact checks where this photo came from. Was a Swastika Flag Displayed at Operation Gridlock Protest? Answer: no.
“They’re who? Well that I totally would say, no way,” the president said. “But I’ve seen ― I didn’t see that. I see all ― of course I’m sure the news plays that up. I’ve seen American flags all over the place. I have never seen so many American flags at a rally as I have at these rallies. These people love our country and they wanna get back to work.”
Trump’s enabling response to the protesters echoed his handling of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia ― where neo-Nazis protested against taking down Confederate monuments in a violent white supremacist rally that left one counter-protester dead and dozens injured.
After the Charlottesville violence, Trump refused to single out the activity of white supremacists and instead falsely claimed that there was “bigotry and violence on many sides.” He then doubled down on his comments, equating Nazis with people who are against fascism by saying there were “very fine people on both sides” at the rally.
Laura Clawson at Daily Kos adds, Trump isn’t just ‘nursing grievances’ about coronavirus shutdowns—he’s encouraging violence:
The media needs to do better when it comes to Donald Trump and the recent spate of well-organized protests against coronavirus restrictions. We’re talking about large groups of people standing around shouting without masks, so lives are at stake here before we even get to the guns some of them are carrying—and Trump is encouraging actual violence in states with governors who aren’t bending to his pressure to loosen restrictions.
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“A Who’s Who of the American Right is behind all of this,” online extremism expert Melissa Ryan writes. “The protest in Michigan, which I believe is the largest we’ve seen to date, was organized by a right-wing group funded by the DeVos family. Three of the largest Facebook groups are run by the “Dorr Brothers, The Convention of States is hosting an interactive map called Open the States, tracking which states are planning protests and are linking to those groups’ Facebook pages. The organization’s head is Tea Party co-founder Mark Meckler.”
[O]nline extremists were talking about violence, starting to “speculate whether the president was advocating for armed conflict, an event they’ve termed ‘the boogaloo,’ for which many far-right activists have been gearing up and advocating since last year,” NBC News reported. There were more than 1,000 tweets about “the boogaloo” on Twitter immediately following Trump’s “LIBERATE” tweets, and some got hundreds of retweets, according to NBC News.
The Washington Post picks up this thread. Pro-gun activists using Facebook groups to push anti-quarantine protests:
A trio of far-right, pro-gun provocateurs is behind some of the largest Facebook groups calling for anti-quarantine protests around the country, offering the latest illustration that some seemingly organic demonstrations are being engineered by a network of conservative activists.
The Facebook groups target Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and they appear to be the work of Ben Dorr, the political director of a group called “Minnesota Gun Rights,” and his siblings, Christopher and Aaron. By Sunday, the groups had roughly 200,000 members combined, and they continued to expand quickly, days after President Trump endorsed such protests by suggesting citizens should “liberate” their states.
The Dorr brothers manage a slew of pro-gun groups across a wide range of states, from Iowa to Minnesota to New York, and seek primarily to discredit organizations like the National Rifle Association as being too compromising on gun safety. Minnesota Gun Rights, for instance, describes itself as the state’s “no-compromise gun rights organization.”
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“Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine” was created on Wednesday by Ben Dorr. His brother Christopher is the creator of “Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine,” as well as “Ohioans Against Excessive Quarantine.” A third brother, Aaron, is the creator of “New Yorkers Against Excessive Quarantine.”
The online coordination offered additional clues about how the protest activity is spreading nationwide, capturing the imagination of the president and of Fox News even though it represents the views of a small minority of Americans. Trump himself tied the protests to gun rights — a primary cause for the Dorr brothers — in telling Virginians that the Second Amendment was “under siege” as he urged them to liberate the state.
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The online activity instigated by the brothers helps cement the impression that opposition to the restrictions is more widespread than polling suggests. Nearly 70 percent of Republicans said they supported a national stay-at-home order, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Ninety-five percent of Democrats backed such a measure in the survey.
Still, the Facebook groups have become digital hubs for the same sort of misinformation spouted in recent days at state capitol buildings — from comparing the virus to the flu to questioning the intentions of scientists working on a vaccine.
Facebook said Sunday it did not remove the groups or events partly because states have not outlawed the activity. “Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook. For this same reason, events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook,” said Andy Stone, a spokesman for the company.
On the ground, pro-Trump figures — including some who act as surrogates for his campaign — as well as groups affiliated with prominent conservative donors have helped organize and promote the demonstrations.
Some of the most vehement protest activity, in Michigan, has been organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition. Its founders are a Republican state lawmaker and his wife, Meshawn Maddock, who sits on the Trump campaign’s advisory board and is a prominent figure in the “Women for Trump” coalition.
Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News host and avid Trump supporter, interviewed Maddock on her show Saturday, telling her, “Keep going. Thank you.” Tucker Carlson, another Fox host, featured Maddock last week. “Thank you for coming on tonight, and thank you for exercising your constitutionally protected rights as an American,” he told her. “Bless you.”
Also promoting the demonstrations — including spending several hundred dollars to advertise the event on Facebook — was the Michigan Freedom Fund, which is headed by Greg McNeilly, a longtime adviser to the DeVos family. He served as campaign manager for Dick DeVos, the husband of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, when he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan in 2006.
The state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who has become a target for Trump and his conservative allies, last week criticized the nonprofit, noting it was “funded in large part by the DeVos family,” and saying it was “really inappropriate for a sitting member of the United States president’s cabinet to be waging political attacks on any governor, but obviously, on me here at home.”
Frida Ghitis in an op-ed at CNN, Trump is playing with fire (excerpts):
President Donald Trump is playing with fire. Just 24 hours after he told the nation’s governors, “You are going to call your own shots,” when it comes to reopening the economy, the President posted a series of incendiary messages on Twitter that seemed to incite his followers to revolt against the current orders to stay at home.
“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” one tweet shouted in capital letters. He issued similar tweets calling for the liberation of Minnesota and Virginia, including a disturbing addendum for loyalists to “save your great 2nd Amendment,” adding, “It is under siege!” It is unclear why Trump brought up gun rights in apparent references to pandemic mitigation measures, but the language is familiar. Who can forget his comments at a rally in 2016, when he considered the possibility that Hillary Clinton might win the presidential election? “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks,” Trump said before adding, “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
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What exactly is Trump trying to do? This is not an out-of-range dog whistle. We can all hear it. Trump is calling for open revolt in three states — all of which are potentially competitive in 2020 and run by Democratic governors. The three states are also home to thousands of people diagnosed with Covid-19, a disease that has killed tens of thousands of Americans, with the potential to kill millions in the US if allowed to freely run its course in the population.
Even judged against Trump’s own record, these incendiary messages are beyond the pale for many reasons.
First, the president is undercutting the guidelines he personally announced a day earlier. None of the states meet the requirements he outlined from the podium on Thursday for starting to reopen the economy … By contradicting his own guidance, crafted with the help of public health experts, the President undercut the credibility of the entire mitigation effort. Mass protests can spread the virus while sending the message that it’s safe to ignore stay-at-home orders. Trump’s tweets, if heeded, are likely to cause more deaths.
Second, Trump is calling for disobedience during a most unstable time. People are understandably feeling tense and unsettled; for many, their incomes are vanishing. Anger and frustration lie just below the surface. It wouldn’t take much for peaceful protests to turn violent. Trump’s allusion to gun rights makes the prospect of violence more ominous.
Third, Trump may discover that once he incites his supporters, he may not be able to rein them in should they decide to act. These are times unlike any we have experienced. Emotions are running high. That is a tempting canvas for a demagogue seeking to design his own version of reality, but there’s no guarantee Trump can control what he sets loose.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee accused the President of “fomenting domestic rebellion.” He wasn’t the only one who saw that as the message. After Trump’s string of tweets, right-wing extremists questioned whether the President was calling for a “boogaloo” — a term derived from 4chan that extremists use to describe an armed insurrection.
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Trump has a populist’s sixth sense for exploiting the frustrations of the masses. The shutdown has already destroyed tens of millions of jobs, leaving countless Americans bereft of income and afraid for the future. Trump doesn’t want to be held responsible for any of it. By inciting unrest in battleground states with Democratic governors, he is telling people where to lay the blame for their woes, while carving out a path for his reelection.
It’s a crafty ploy, but one doomed to fail. He remains President. He will be held accountable. His desperate effort to shift responsibility could make the situation worse. By waving a lit torch in the midst of a disaster, he may just start a fire on the wreckage.
This is the act of a desperate sociopath.