It was billed to Michiganders as “Judgement Day” in Lansing on Thursday, the day when hordes of “Patriots” opposed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 lockdown orders were supposed to descend on the state Capitol and force the state government to back down. State lawmakers, fearing a repeat of the April 30 protest when hundreds of armed militiamen attempted to invade the House chambers, had even canceled the day’s legislative session and closed down the Capitol building.
Yet if the size of the crowd is any indication—a handful of people numbering less than 200 at best—any judgement rendered was entirely on the side of the authorities who ordered the lockdown. Moreover, the absurd behavior of the protesters—including a brawl involving one protester who tied a flag onto a fishing rod and decorated it with a noose and a doll intended to represent Whitmer—confirmed once again that they are mainly a small, fringe collection of ridiculous, addlepated conspiracy theorists with a disturbing violent streak and zero popular support.
The Detroit News reported that about 200 people attended the protest amid a steady chilling rainfall, though overhead cameras appeared to show an even smaller cOnly a handful of protesters wore masks, and few appeared to be observing social-distancing protocols.
The brawl occurred on the Capitol steps, where the protesters clustered. According to MLive, it broke out when one man toting a garbage can filled with such items as an ax, a sign, and an American flag on a fishing rod attempted to pull out the latter, decorated with the noose and doll. Other protesters grabbed it away from him, and one of the women who did so explained to others: “I took his flag away, because that’s not what it stands for.”
Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia, according to The Detroit News, attended the protest. Several of them prowled the Capitol grounds with guns during the event. Earlier in the week, state officials had debated whether to continue to allow guns at the Capitol.
"It’s very simple. It’s a right," militiaman Phil Robinson of Barry County told the News. "Nobody has the ability to take away a right."
"That is our house. That is the people’s house," Robinson continued. "It’s no different than me being at my house open carrying.”
State officials had shut down the Capitol with little fanfare at the end of Wednesday’s State Senate session, Bloomberg News reported, through a simple legislative maneuver: At about 4:30 PM, the GOP-majority chamber simply adjourned until Tuesday rather than call the next previously scheduled meeting for Thursday. Subsequently, state police announced they were closing the buildings due to the pandemic.
The low turnout may well have been a product of the extraordinarily violent rhetoric that preceded the rally, with would-be participants demanding Whitmer’s assassination on Facebook pages devoted to the event, and others suggesting that the gun-wielding militias take over the Capitol. However, it may also have been a product of the realities of the pandemic: Michigan’s infection rate recently spiked upward (though attributed to the addition of a former backlog of cases), and its death rate from COVID-19 has largely remained steady.
Similarly, after more than 70 people in Wisconsin were found to have been infected with the novel coronavirus in the wake of having attended “a mass event”—roughly two weeks after a similar anti-lockdown protest at the state Capitol in Madison—the protest scene in that state has declined remarkably. No further large protests in Madison are currently planned, though a handful of small rallies remain on the agendas of anti-lockdown protest groups in the state, including a weekly event in the capital.