LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Protesters converged at the Capitol Building in Lansing Thursday to show their opposition to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan.
“My fellow Americans from the great state of Michigan, you have been lied to,” former Milwaukee County Sheriff and conservative celebrity David Clarke said, addressing the crowd on the steps of the Capitol. “My message is real clear to Gov. Whitmer: Open Michigan now!”
Rain didn’t stop hundreds of protesters from taking part in the demonstration. Many who attended were not wearing masks as the large crowd gathered closely together, ignoring social distancing guidelines. Many said they were not concerned about catching coronavirus.
“Never before in history have we seen a quarantine of a healthy people. Never,” Delanie Aguilar of Hudsonville said. “By continuing to put in a new effect, a new law, a new emergency order every single time one is going to expire, that just shows the dictatorship that (Whitmer) is trying to override our legislative body.”
She brought her kids to the protest with her.
“I hope they learn that we have a right to always speak up, that we have a right to speak up for freedom.” she said.
Freedom and liberty were common themes among protesters, who said the governor’s executive orders infringe upon their rights.
“We have to stand up for our rights as individuals if we’re going to get our liberties back,” protester Craig Ladyman of Rockford said.
Consuelo Cramer, an immigrant from Ecuador and now a U.S. citizen, said her background led her to the protest.
“I come from a socialist country, from a totalitarian country and I don’t want to see that in this country,” she said. “It’s about freedom, freedom, freedom.”
Protesters also expressed concern about the economic toll of closures meant to slow the spread of the virus so hospitals can keep up.
“I really think our governor needs to take a realistic look at opening the economy. She has made it very clear that this is more about expanding her power and her potential bid for a vice presidency than about helping Michiganders get through this situation — survive it economically, financially and healthy,” one protester told News 8.
“I’d like to go back to work and have my freedom back,” protester Alex Cross, who attended with his dad, said. “I’m a Christian. I believe in God and we don’t live in fear.”
Shortly before 1 p.m., some of the protesters moved from outside where they had gathered for hours to inside the Capitol, chanting “Let us in!” and “Lock her up!” As the protest moved inside, authorities took the temperature of protesters.
“Temperatures are completely voluntary,” one officer informed protesters.
While hundreds of people were in line to go in, fewer than 300 were allowed.
Michigan State Police and Capitol Police blocked protesters from getting inside the chambers, keeping the group inside the rotunda. Some were allowed onto the gallery, looking down at the Senate floor.
The protest had mostly dispersed before 4:30 p.m. While some protesters were armed, overall, the gathering was peaceful. MSP said they arrested only one person: a man who took a flag from the hands of a child.
The Legislature was in session Thursday, asked to extend the state of emergency Michigan is under. but the House left without taking a vote. The state of emergency allows the government to take special actions to deal with a crisis. It is separate from the executive orders Whitmer has issued, like the stay-at-home order.
“I hope they stop her extension of the thing and get our economy going,” protester Steve Foster said of lawmakers. “You can’t keep going on like this.”
Foster added he was at the protest “trying to get our freedom back.”
“And I’m here to get some antibodies,” he added. “This is how you get some antibodies and get healthy.”
Antibodies are created when a person’s immune system works to fight off a virus. They can be transmitted from person to person through a plasma transfusion, but not through casual contact. To develop them, you must first contract the virus, which can be deadly.
Unlike the Operation Gridlock protest held about two weeks ago when cars clogged the streets, traffic was moving smoothly around the Capitol Thursday with some drivers honking their horns as they passed.
But like the Operation Gridlock protest, Thursday’s gathering had definite political tones, with pro-Trump signs and anti-Democrat rhetoric.
The governor’s revised “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order places Michigan under a stay-at-home order until May 15, but lifted restrictions on some businesses and outdoor activities. Construction companies are expected to go back to work next week.
During a virtual town hall held by Flint news stations Thursday evening, Whitmer briefly addressed the goings-on at the Capitol.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I’m not going to make decisions about our public health based on political games,” she said. “I’m going to make them based on the best science, the best data…”
When pressed about how and when Michigan’s economy will reopen, she responded by explaining each industry or sector of the economy will need to be individually analyzed, assessing the risk it would pose if reopened.
“Things that interact personally with the general public will come on a little later, but we’re working with the restaurants and we’re working with various industries to make sure we have the protocols in place to keep people safe when we do reengage,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer made it clear during the town hall that neither protests nor politics will change her course of action.
“Whether you agree with this order or not, we have to be vigilant,” she said. “We have to make decisions based on the best science and I’m going to do everything I can to save lives in the state of Michigan and safely and responsibly reengage our economy so we can all be stronger when we come out of this eventually.”
—News 8’s Leon Hendrix and Jacqueline Francis contibuted to this report.