Protesters demonstrate at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, April 20, 2020, demanding that Gov. Tom Wolf reopen Pennsylvania’s economy even as new social-distancing mandates took effect at stores and other commercial buildings. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

U.S. protesters resist COVID-19 lockdowns, backed by Trump

Hundreds of protesters packed together outside Pennsylvania’s capitol building in the city of Harrisburg

The partisan cracks in America’s collective effort to combat COVID-19 are growing wider by the day — growing, some say, not due to grassroots sentiment but by political forces both within and outside the United States.

Hundreds of protesters, many without face masks, packed together Monday outside Pennsylvania’s capitol building in the city of Harrisburg to demand that the state’s shelter-in-place order be rescinded and businesses reopened at the end of the month.

The demonstration, like recent predecessors in Michigan, Maryland, Virginia and Washington state, bore all the ubiquitous hallmarks of a Donald Trump rally: the coiled rattlesnake of yellow Gadsden flags, crimson “Make America Great Again” hats and countless hand-lettered proclamations of devotion to God and the U.S. constitution.

From state to state, even the slogans — ”No New Normal,” “Our Rights Trump Your Fear” and “My Body, My Choice,” a cheeky riff on an abortion rights sentiment more commonly heard from the other side of America’s ideological divide — have a familiar echo.

Experts have taken to calling them ”Astroturf” protests, the artificial product of an organized bid for straight-faced media coverage that ultimately undermines what polls suggest is in fact broad public support, regardless of political affiliation, for state-level stay-at-home orders currently in effect from coast to coast.

“This is what’s frustrating about both the protests and the coverage that they’re getting,” said Brett Bruen, a former U.S. diplomat in the Obama White House who now heads up an international foreign-policy consulting firm.

“That’s the story that many Americans are seeing about the views that their fellow citizens have on the order, an effort being made by governors to protect them.”

The Washington Post reported Monday that some of the recent protests were organized on Facebook by a trio of right-wing pro-gun activists, while others have clear ties to prominent conservative donors and supporters of Trump, who has tweeted his support for the protests even as he insists it will be up to the states to decide when to sound the all-clear.

Facebook, for its part, refused to say Monday whether it is investigating the site’s role in drumming up dissent.

“Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook,” a spokesperson said. “For this same reason, events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook.”

A new online poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, released Monday, suggests the vast majority of respondents on either side of the Canada-U.S. border would prefer to see restrictions remain in place until the virus is under control.

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. border restrictions extended another 30 days

Of U.S. residents surveyed, 27 per cent wanted to wait for a vaccine, compared to 20 per cent in Canada, while 23 per cent of Americans said they would prefer to see no new cases for at least two weeks, compared with 28 per cent of their Canadian counterparts. Comparable shares in each country want to see the pressure on the health care system eased and only moderate or sporadic numbers of new cases.

Only 12 per cent of U.S. respondents said they want to see the restrictions lifted immediately — significantly more than the seven per cent of Canadians surveyed, but still only a sliver of the total responses to the poll, which was conducted April 17-19 and surveyed 1,504 Canadian and 1,001 American members of Leger’s online panel.

Internet-based surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error, because online polls are not considered representative of the population at large.

Bruen, meanwhile, is confident that disinformation campaigns in Russia and also China have entered the fray and are actively working to amplify the sense of growing public discord.

China, he said, is pushing back against U.S. anger over how it handled the earliest stages of the outbreak, which originated in the city of Wuhan back in December. The country has been accused of playing down the potential severity of the virus until it was too late. Claims from China that the virus actually originated in the U.S. continue to persist, he added.

“There is an effort … to create both a level of responsibility that lies in the origination of the virus, as well as with respect to how the U.S. is managing this, trying to suggest that Trump’s mismanagement of the crisis is somehow absolving them of their culpability — both in the genesis of this, as well as in the lack of transparency.”

Bob Pickard, a Toronto-based public relations expert and executive communications consultant, said the pandemic has only served to re-emphasize the deep rifts that exist in the United States, aided and abetted by the divisive nature of social media platforms.

READ MORE: Canadians can’t relax yet despite progress in curbing COVID-19, officials say

“Nothing has stopped the social media algorithms from doing their polarizing and toxic work,” Pickard said in an interview earlier this month.

“It was broken before, it was polarized before, and the dysfunction and chaos is even more glaring as a result of this.”

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusDonald Trump

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Colwood eyes upgrades to recreation area near Lookout Lake Dam

Upgrades to dam estimated to be complete before end of year

Crime stats show a shift in Oak Bay during COVID-19

Thefts from automobiles, marinas up this spring

Eight people arrested on Pandora Avenue after enforcement order issued

Those living in homeless camps were given until May 20 to move indoors

When crisis hits: How West Shore RCMP has dealt with the pandemic

More front-line officers on road in mobile offices

Victoria society purchases addiction recovery home after year of fundraising

Umbrella Society’s Foundation House is a second stage house for men in active recovery

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Commercial rent relief applications open as feds encourage landlords to apply

Program would see government cover 50 per cent of the rent

COVID-19: B.C. park reservations surge as campgrounds reopen

Keep trying, many sites not reservable, George Heyman says

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

B.C. residents can now reserve a provincial campsite for a stay starting June 1

Campsite reservations will only be available to British Columbians

Cullen commission into money laundering in British Columbia resumes today

Inquiry was called amid growing concern that illegal cash was helping fuel real estate, luxury car and gambling

Bike shops busier than ever, but owners worry about stock supply issues

Uptick in cyclists brings new challenges for shops

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

Most Read