In an otherwise relatively quiet Austin, Texas where residents observe proper social distancing, several dozen gathered by the capitol building to protest quarantine. Anti-vaxxers, Trump supporters, and conspiracy theorists, some fitting all three categories, rallied to call for an end to mandatory social distancing.
The protest, titled “You Can’t Close America,” was organized by the demonstrably fake news outlet InfoWars. Among its false claims, the website peddles stories about former President Obama selling China the virus.
Messages from the crowd ranged from rejecting vaccines, to supporting Trump in 2020, and removing the nation’s top infectious disease expert. Chants arising from the protest repeated, “Fire Fauci,” referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, presently engaged with the federal response to the outbreak.
The demonization of Fauci follows President Trump’s calls for a speedy re-opening. Over the last several weeks, Trump and state governors clashed over time tables to ease stay at home orders. While governors took the lead in responding to the pandemic, Trump insisted he retained “ultimate authority” to re-open the country on his own. However, after this claim, he retracted, largely establishing governors as their state’s ultimate decision makers.
Protest Against Government Finds Ally in its Top Official
Trump’s mixed messaging during the pandemic fuelled the calls for protest. While his administration publishes guidelines on social distancing and praises its efficacy, the president himself calls on governors to back off the vital measures. When news of protests across the country reached Trump, he sympathized with those flouting his own administration’s safety recommendations.
Beyond Austin, protesters gathered in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Utah. Reports of the protest in Michigan included white supremacist signs and messaging. However, they also referred to the Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer as a Nazi herself for implementing stay at home orders.
At the Michigan rally, referred to as “Operation Gridlock,” no protester was arrested or ticketed for breaking the executive order.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott announced easing restrictions by May. Despite issuing stay at home orders only 2 weeks ago, he believes the state should begin re-opening. Experts say Texas falls far short of its testing goals. They also warn early lifting of restrictions will result in a resurgence.