Survivalists and gun rights activists have been protesting at state capitols across the country with far-right elements forming a visible presence.
Dozens of protests have been taking place across the United States against the lockdowns implemented to stem the flow of the coronavirus.
Images of men and women dressed in camouflage and tactical vests, while carrying assault rifles have become commonplace across state capitols in recent weeks, with several tense standoffs between police officers and protesters.
While the US federal government in Washington DC has encouraged social distancing measures, how lockdowns are implemented are largely the responsibility of state governments.
To be sure, the US is not unique. Small protests against coronavirus-related lockdowns have taken place in Canada and the United Kingdom. What makes the US protests notable is the size of the demonstrations, as well as the presence of armed protesters.
Ostensibly, the protesters want the resumption of the ordinary economy and argue that the lockdowns risk the livelihoods of ordinary people.
In just over a month since the US implemented lockdown measures, there have been more than 30 million new claims for unemployment and many businesses are burning their way through cash assets trying to stay afloat during the crisis despite large government bailout packages.
One of the most commonly heard chants at the protests has been ‘let us work’.
But the makeup of the protests in the US seem to indicate that there are issues beyond simple economic anxiety.
Many are quite visibly supporters of US President Donald Trump, with images of the protests replete with the US leader’s signature ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball caps.
But also in the mix are far-right elements and others with what some may consider extreme ideologies.
Michigan state governor Gretchen Whitmer has been the target of considerable protesters ire with some raiding the capitol building in Lansing.
Whitmer, a Democrat, pointed out that there was a clear right-wing presence within the protests. “There were swastikas and Confederate flags and nooses and people with assault rifles,” Whitmer said. Images from the Michigan protest include one comparing her to Adolf Hitler.
This from today is disgusting. @GovPritzker’s family came to America to avoid the killing of Jews in Eastern Europe. Arbeit macht frei is German for "work sets you free" & is known for appearing at entrance of Nazi concentration camps.— Andy Manar (@AndyManar) May 2, 2020
Ignorance? Hate? Both?
Just disgusting. pic.twitter.com/1BlyKQh6Gw
Such references are not isolated, at an anti-lockdown rally in the state of Illinois, a woman was pictured carrying a banner, which read ‘Arbeit macht frei’, a German expression meaning ‘work will set you free’.
The expression is infamous for its association with the Auschwitz concentration camp where Nazi forces exterminated around a million Jews, as well as other ethnic groups and prisoners of war. Illinois Governor JB Pritzker is Jewish.
Tensions mount between Trump and US state governors over who has ultimate authority to lift lockdown orders.— TRT World (@trtworld) April 23, 2020
But former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says states 'have already begun to take control.'
Watch the full show: https://t.co/PsyPEl0B2A pic.twitter.com/6atmRitx60
An NPR report in April claimed that far-right groups were using the coronavirus pandemic to mobilise and many see the government imposed lockdowns as a violation of their civil liberties.
The far-right segment includes a small subsection known as preppers; people who believe in a survivalist ideology that involves preparing for a post-apocalyptic world by stocking up on essentials and undertaking military training.
As one user on Twitter explained, for many preppers the calamity they were awaiting was predicated on the absence of government, not increased government involvement in their lives, as is the case with the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the protests and pressure from a considerable contingent of Republican politicians to ease the lockdown, state leaders like Whitmer are adamant that no easing of restrictions will take place until it is safe to do so.
On her Twitter account on Saturday, she wrote: “Let me be clear: I will not be making decisions based on an arbitrary timeline or political pressure. I’m not here to play games. My number one priority is the health & safety of Michiganders, and I will continue to work tirelessly to protect both lives & livelihoods.”