President Donald Trump is defending hundreds of protesters angry about stay-at-home orders who marched into the Michigan Capitol on Thursday, some armed with rifles, and tried to force their way to the chamber floor but were blocked by state police.
“Let us in! Let us in!” the jostling crowd shouted inside the statehouse, according to multiple news reports.
It is legal to carry firearms inside the Capitol, according to The New York Times, but demonstrations are not permitted on the House floor.
Thursday’s “American Patriot Rally” in Lansing was ignited after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed three executive orders Thursday, renewing a state of emergency that will keep residents under stay-at-home orders through May 28.
Her action came after the state’s Republican-led Legislature refused to extend her original emergency declaration, which expired Thursday night. Reports say state lawmakers want to strip the governor of her power to declare emergencies.
"The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal." — President Donald Trump said in a tweet
“While some members of the Legislature might believe this crisis is over, common sense and all of the scientific data tells us we’re not out of the woods yet,” she said. “By refusing to extend the emergency and disaster declaration, Republican lawmakers are putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk. I’m not going to let that happen.”
“Lock her up!” chants could also be heard inside the statehouse Thursday.
Trump tweeted about the episode Friday, calling the protesters “very good people.”
“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
Photographs from inside the statehouse Thursday showed a scene of mutiny, with men brandishing semi-automatic long guns in a gallery above lawmakers, screaming anti-government slogans, according to reports.
Hundreds more demonstrators were outside the building. The Guardian reported a protest sign outside the statehouse that read: "Tyrants get the rope." Other signs said: "Stop the tyranny!" and "Freedom over fear!"
Legislators were concerned enough about the ongoing protests that some have begun wearing bulletproof vests to work.
“Some of my colleagues who own bulletproof vests are wearing them,” state Sen. Dayna Polehanki wrote Thursday on Twitter, with an accompanying photo of the demonstrators above her.
The armed militia group leading Thursday’s protest appears on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of extreme anti-government groups.
Reports said the crowd included a mix of the Michigan Liberty Militia and people carrying signs in support of Trump, who three weeks ago called for his followers to defy state lockdowns and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA! and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
The resulting protests have skirted social distancing restrictions that were supposed to be in place nationwide until at least April 30 but were supplanted by a new White House plan for a gradual reopening of the country. Some at Thursday’s protest wore protective face masks.
At least 31 states are set for a gradual reopening of businesses that started a week ago amid the pandemic.
The nation’s top health experts have warned that reopening the economy too soon would lead to a resurgence of virus infections. Many governors, including Whitmer, are choosing to follow the advice.
Michigan has the third-highest death toll in the nation after New York and New Jersey.
“For anyone to declare mission accomplished means they’re turning a blind eye to the fact that over 600 people have died in the last 72 hours,” Whitmer said at a virtual town hall Thursday night.
A new poll Friday by ABC News found most Americans said they felt uneasy about returning to normal, with only some saying they would visit a restaurant or bar if the coronavirus restrictions were lifted now.
Similar scene in January
On January 31, armed protesters entered Kentucky's state Capitol in Frankfort after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pushed for new gun control measures. The episode along with ongoing threats led Northam to declare a state of emergency.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, visitors to the Kentucky Capitol building are banned from entering with items like umbrellas or protest signs that can be “used as weapons,” but guns and rifles are permitted.