The image of protesters with weapons was repeated in some protests calling for an end to the restrictions linked to the coronavirus. But the participation of an armed militia in an enraged demonstration in Michigan’s state chamber on Thursday led to an escalation that led to convictions and put the practice of carrying weapons in such acts under the spotlight.
The “American Patriotic Demonstration” began on the chamber steps, where members of the Michigan Liberty Militia stood guard with their weapons and tactical equipment, their faces partially covered. Then they accessed the Capitol along with hundreds of other people who demanded to be able to enter the Chamber, something that is prohibited. Some protesters with weapons, which are permitted in the building, went to the Senate gallery, where a senator said that several men yelled at her, and some senators were wearing bulletproof vests.
For some observers, the images of armed people and technical equipment in a Capitol were a disturbing symbol of the growing tensions in a nation that is going through a crisis. Others saw evidence of racial bias in the way the police treated protesters.RELATED
For some politicians, it was new evidence of the risk of aligning with a movement with clear links to far-right groups.
Prominent Michigan Republicans criticized the act on Friday, and the party leader in the state Senate referred to some of the participants as “a group of morons” who “used intimidation and the threat of physical harm to arouse fear and feed the rancor ”.
President Donald Trump, who has been criticized in the past for condoning extremist views, called the protesters “very good people” and urged Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer to “come to an agreement.”
Michigan has been the epicenter of a political standoff over how to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus without decimating the economy. About a quarter of the region’s workforce applied for unemployment benefits, and nearly 4,000 people have died.
Protest organizer Ryan Kelley said they were seeking to pressure Republicans to reject Whitmer’s plan to maintain restrictions on work and travel. He called the mobilization a “great victory” noting that the Republican-controlled Senate refused to expand the coronavirus emergency declaration proposed by the governor, who on Friday however said that her order to stay home was still in effect.
It is common for there to be armed protesters outside state capitol buildings, especially in Republican-leaning regions. But these mobilizations rarely coincide at the same time throughout the country, as happened during the pandemic.
For Shannon Watts, founder of the arms control group Moms Demand Action (“Mothers demand action”), these protests are organized by the far right and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all those who own weapons.
Despite the fact that in some state chambers it is legal to carry weapons on sight, Watts said that it is “dangerous to normalize this. Armed intimidation has no place in our political debate. “Those who tend to be armed in protests are almost always white men, and it is” a clear minority in the country “that opposes the orders for confinement, he added.
An overwhelming majority of Americans support quarantines and other measures taken by authorities to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
But the image of heavily armed protesters, mostly white men, occupying a government building in the face of a restrained response by the security forces is especially shocking for many African-Americans.
It stands in stark contrast to the footage that was produced in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, when crowds of unarmed African-American men, women, and children took to the streets to protest after a white police officer shot and killed a teenager named Michael Brown. Then, the National Guard, in military vehicles, indiscriminately fired tear gas to disperse the protests, further fueling tensions between the mostly African-American community and the security forces.