Because a global pandemic that has cost people their lives, as well as their ability to meet their basic needs, is always an opportunity to argue for less government and more freedom, we have now arrived at the moment during the covid-19 pandemic where conservatives are attempting to use the coronavirus as an opportunity to build an anti-government movement united around white grievance. Hmm, does this sound familiar to anyone?
Last week, groups of protesters waving everything from Donald Trump campaign flags to in some instances Confederate flags, swastikas, and guns descended upon state capitols from Michigan to Kentucky to Ohio to Texas to Washington, ostensibly to demand that their elected leaders reopen businesses and lift much needed social distancing measures. But we should be wary of thinking of these protests solely as some sort of grassroots expression of discontent—it’s becoming clear that a whole conservative network including everyone from far-right gun nuts to Koch-funded think tanks to rightwing media outlets, led by Fox News, is seizing on the pandemic to further their long-term goals, and in some cases are actively working to plan the protests. Far from spontaneous and spearheaded by Karen from Michigan, many of these protests have been organized by some of the worst and well-connected rightwing actors in the country.
Let’s start with some of the big players. As the Washington Post reported last Monday, conservative groups, many of whom were instrumental in funding and building the Tea Party movement, have been organizing against stay-at-home orders and pushing Republicans elected officials as well as Donald Trump to force people to go back to work, perfectly willing to sacrifice lives at the altar of the stock market.
The players are a Who’s Who of conservative, Koch-funded organizations. Per the Post:
The outside effort from conservative groups is expected to be led by Stephen Moore, a conservative at the Heritage Foundation who is close with White House economic officials; Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots; Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy organization; and Lisa Nelson, chief executive of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization with ties to the Koch brothers, according to the three people, who were granted anonymity to reveal details of an effort that had not been publicly revealed.
Noted dick Stephen Moore and Trump economic adviser in particular has deep ties to the rightwing political network created and funded by the Koch brothers. “There’s a massive movement on the right now, growing exponentially. In the next two weeks, you’ll see protests in the streets of conservatives; you’ll see a big pushback against the lockdown in some states. People are at the boiling point,” Moore predicted to the Post.
Curiously enough, and right on cue, people began to protest stay-at-home and social distancing orders. As New York magazine’s Ed Kilgore wrote, “[T]here’s no question these protests are organized.” In the case of Operation Gridlock in Michigan, the protest, which drew thousands to the state capitol in Lansing, was planned by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the DeVos-funded Michigan Freedom Fund. The Michigan Conservative Coalition, according to the Post, has deep ties to the Trump campaign; its founders are Republican state representative Matthew Maddock and his wife Meshawn Maddock, who, as the Post noted, “sits on the Trump campaign’s advisory board and is a prominent figure in the ‘Women for Trump’ coalition.”
And far-right pro-gun activists like the brothers Ben, Christopher, and Aaron Dorr have also been busy, setting up, per the Post, “some of the largest Facebook groups calling for anti-quarantine protests around the country.” More, via the Post:
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.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, the Dorrs are behind the protest currently planned for Monday at Pennsylvania’s state capitol in Harrisburg, and they have also organized a “drive-in” protest in Wisconsin currently planned for this upcoming Friday. Perhaps it’s the same “drive-in” protest referenced by Stephen Moore in an interview with a libertarian think tank posted to YouTube on April 14, where he said he’s working with a group and a wealthy donor in Wisconsin to hold a similar rally. “Shh, don’t tell anybody,” Moore said during the interview, adding, “This is a great time, gentlemen and ladies, for civil disobedience. We need to be the Rosa Parks here and protest against these government injustices.”
Unsurprisingly, Fox News hosts have gobbled all of these protests up. As Media Matters reports, the network has been eagerly promoting all of these protests. “This could be a repeat of what we saw with the Tea Party protests, as right-wing protesters backed by the finances of conservative organizations saw their ranks swell thanks to aggressive Fox promotion,” the group wrote.
Now is a good time to remind ourselves that these protests are fairly small, and that the vast majority of Americans support stay-at-home orders, and that a majority of voters (but only about 40 percent of Republican voters) are more worried that the U.S. will move to loosen restrictions too quickly. But if recent history is any indication, the sentiments expressed by these conservative, anti-government protesters won’t go away anytime soon, and nor will the powerful rightwing ghouls who are eager to use their anger as a tool to further their own interests.