Anti-lockdown protests on the rise in the US

Rallygoers protest against the lockdown measures in Lansing, Michigan on Wednesday Credit: Matthew Dae Smith/AP

A growing wave of unrest over coroanvirus lockdown measures appears to be rising in the US, with a number of protests taking place this week in various states.

In places including Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, actions of dissent have been organised outside governors’ mansions and state parliament buildings.

Small-government groups, supporters of President Donald Trump, anti-vaccine advocates, gun rights backers and supporters of right-wing causes have united behind a deep suspicion of efforts to shut down daily life to slow the spread of the Covid-19.

As their frustration with life under lockdown grows, they have started to openly defy the social distancing rules in an effort to put pressure on governors to ease them.

Some of the protests have been small events, promoted via Facebook groups that have appeared in recent days and whose organisers are sometimes difficult to identify.

Others are backed by groups funded by prominent Republicans donors, some with ties to Mr Trump.

The largest so far, a rally of thousands that jammed the streets of Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday, looked much like one of the president’s rallies — complete with MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats or Trump flags.

The signs of frustration come as Mr Trump has pushed for easing stay-at-home orders and tried to look ahead to restarting the economy.

He unveiled a framework for governors to follow on Thursday, but acknowledged they will have the final say on when their state is ready.

Health experts have warned that lifting restrictions too quickly could result in a surge of new cases of the virus.

But the president and some of his supporters are impatient. Thousands of people in their cars packed the streets of Lansing to protest Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order and other restrictions.

Outside the state capitol building, some chanted “Lock her up,” a throwback to Mr Trump’s calls during the 2016 election about his rival Hillary Clinton. One woman held a sign reading “Heil Whitmer.”

Asked about the protesters, Mr Trump on Thursday expressed sympathy with their frustration, saying: “They’re suffering … they want to get back.”

He also dismissed concerns about the health risks of ignoring state orders and potentially exposing themselves to the virus.

“I think they’re listening. I think they listen to me,” he said.

“They seem to be protesters that like me and respect this opinion, and my opinion’s the same as just about all of the governors. Nobody wants to stay shut.”

Polls show the protesters’ views are not widely held.

An AP-NORC survey earlier this month found large majorities of Americans supported a long list of government restrictions, including closing schools, limiting gatherings and shutting bars and restaurants.

Three-quarters of Americans backed requiring people to stay in their homes, and majorities of both Democrats and Republicans gave high marks for the state and city governments.

But the protests expose resilient partisan divisions, particularly in battleground Michigan. The protest there was organised by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, a group founded by a pro-Trump state representative and his wife.

Another group that promoted the event, the Michigan Freedom Fund, is run by Greg McNeilly, a longtime political adviser to the DeVos family, who are prolific Republican donors and have funded conservative causes across the state for decades.

But it is not just Democratic governors feeling the heat. A procession of cars swarmed around the Republican-dominated statehouse in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, with messages written on windows or signs that said “stop killing our economy,” “we need our church” and “time 2 work”.

Other gatherings have links to fringe groups. A protest on Thursday in the Texas capital of Austin, where protesters chanted “Free Texas” and “Make America Free Again,” was broadcast live by InfoWars TV, part of a company owned by conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones.

The Ohio event earlier this week brought together a collection of anti-vaccine advocates, Second Amendment supporters, tea party activists and other anti-government activists.