Mitch McConnell, Gretchen Whitmer.
Noah Berlatsky, The Independent
On Thursday, armed protesters demonstrated against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders. They carried guns and demanded that state police let them on the House floor, effectively storming the Capitol with firearms in order to threaten their local politicians. Friday morning, Michigan representatives went to work wearing bulletproof vests — all because they chose to try and protect their citizens during an unprecedented pandemic.
Protests against lockdowns have become a common sight on national news. The protesters claim that they are fighting for workers, who are facing economic ruin because of social distancing and business closures. Even some left-wing outlets, like Jacobin, have suggested that they are motivated by “legitimate economic grievances.”
But the protests are not about economics. They are about hate, and they are about power.
The right and the far-right are trying to use the COVID-19 crisis to rally support for the next election, to intimidate their opponents, and to delegitimize Democratic governments and the left. The goal of the protesters is not economic justice. It is right-wing hegemony. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous.
Many reporters have identified far-right infiltration and influence in the current round of protests. The Proud Boys, a far-right group dedicated to “Western chauvinism” and street violence, have taken part in protests in Florida and Portland, Oregon, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. They’ve also been involved in Michigan protests. A man named Phil Robinson, whose Facebook page celebrates Norse Paganism and features white nationalist memes, has similarly whipped up fervour in Michigan over the past few days. Christian Yingling, quoted in a piece about the Pennyslvania protests, was a leader at the violent fascist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Rally-goers have generally been fairly open about their right-wing sympathies. Many wear Trump MAGA hats. Confederate flags have been displayed at rallies across the country, including in Michigan, a union state. Tea Party groups have been heavily involved in protest organising.
The protesters’ partisan affiliation is clear. But their economic commitments are much less so. They insist that they are trying to help working people by ending stay-at-home orders. But it doesn’t take much thought to realize that forcing states to rescind orders in itself will not help working people.
If the state has shut down businesses, workers who are laid off can receive unemployment benefits. But when the state opens some businesses back up, workers must either return to work or lose benefits. When states are pushed by protesters to reopen while the virus is still rampant, workers have to choose between their health and economic ruin. Far from giving workers more power, the protests are designed to help bosses literally work their employees to death.
If protesters actually wanted to help workers, they would be demonstrating for larger government payments to individuals, more aid for small businesses, and more money for state and local governments. These are the people who reflexively reject measures that might give workers more power and more choices. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s main priority right now is a law to prevent workers from suing businesses that force them back to work unnecessarily during a deadly pandemic.
We face real economic challenges right now, and there’s a lot of reason to protest our government’s handling of them. People are suffering; the government should help them. But the right-wing protestors in Michigan and elsewhere don’t want to help people. They want to express anger, resentment and hate. They want to test boundaries and see if they can intimidate Democratic politicians into changing their stances. Those tactics, coupled with armed militias on our streets, look a lot like the beginnings of a fascist state.
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