Can you imagine this is an actual message from the president of the United States during a pandemic that has killed 34,000 Americans with no end in sight? As my colleague Steve Singiser was quick to point out on Twitter, all three governors from those states have markedly higher approval ratings in those states compared to Donald Trump. For the most part, citizens trust these governors to protect them. The governors are making public health decisions that are centered on actual science—not just gut instinct from someone who couldn’t pass a 7th grade science exam, which is Trump’s preferred pandemic response.
In truth, Donald Trump has courted the gun-toting former Tea Party people you see above from the start of his campaign back in 2015. He even dispatched a campaign representative to meet with the Bundy clan when they were in the midst of an armed takeover of a government wildlife refuge. That representative, Jerry DeLemus, ended up in prison for his role in another armed standoff with the Bundys in Nevada.
There is something else that’s troublesome about these “grassroots” protests. They may have started three days ago in North Carolina, but suddenly there were similar coordinated protests in Michigan and Ohio, with other planned protests in numerous other cities over the coming days. These protests have a very familiar feel about them, eerily reminiscent of the Tea Party protests that ended up being coordinated by a conservative network funded by the Koch brothers. In fact, they were small groups of people being propped up by big-time funding from the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, and other billionaire donors.
According to Fox 17, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hinted as much on Monday when addressing the public. Whitmer said: “I also would just say, I think it is this group is funded in large part by the DeVos family and I think it’s really inappropriate for a sitting member of the United States president’s cabinet to be waging political tax on any governor, but obviously on me here at home. I think that they should disavow it and encourage people to stay home and be safe.”
While DeVos representatives have denied they are funding the rallies, Greg McNeilly, chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund and one of the Michigan rally organizers, has worked for the DeVos family for decades. He was previously the campaign manager for Dick DeVos, husband of Betsy, when he ran for governor. When Betsy DeVos served as the chair of the Michigan Republican Party, McNeilly served as the executive director.
Another similarity with the Tea Party astroturfing efforts is the way their television partner is promoting it lock and step. Take a look at what’s happening on Fox News right now: Just like the Tea Party protests of 2009, it doesn’t matter if only 30 people show up—if Fox News and other right-wing outlets are there to continually promote the cause, it might as well be 3,000,000 showing up. Like COVID-19 itself, these fringe-right tropes spread like wildfire with the aid of Fox News and social media.
The thing that differentiates the 2009 Tea Party astroturfing and the similar 2020 protests cropping up now is we have a completely incompetent, morally deficient, narcissistic ignoramus in the White House who would rather fan the flames of division than work toward unity and cohesion, even in matters of life and death like a global pandemic.