Anti-lockdown militias on streets of Michigan as virus surges across US

On the first day of a new lockdown in Michigan hundreds of people ventured out to one of the only places still open for business – a COVID-19 testing site.

People waited for up to four hours to be swabbed. Not all had symptoms, but all shared a weariness at spiralling infections and new lockdown measures in their state.

There’s a sense that America has been distracted. People, politicians and media alike all focused on a gripping national election.

But while the world looked away the virus has surged.

The number of coronavirus deaths across the US has passed 250,000, there are an average of 150,000 new daily cases and more people are in hospital than at any other time during the pandemic.

In Michigan alone COVID-related deaths are up 150% on what they were just two weeks ago.

The new rules here mean no in-person teaching at schools or colleges, no inside dining and no theatres, cinemas or gyms can open.

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“I’m retired,” says Terry Fiedler who has come to get tested. “I’m just glad I’m not trying to make a living. If I was trying to make a living it would put me right out of business. They need to be fair with them somehow. Trump would have been a lot fairer but that’s the way it goes.”

And that’s the striking thing here, very few people talk about the pandemic without also mentioning politics.

Many rolled their eyes when we asked why some Americans are resistant to new restrictions.

One man was more blunt: “One word, Trump.”

The politicisation is understandable. Few issues divided Joe Biden and Donald Trump more on the election trail.

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Trump has already it made clear there will be no national lockdown under his watch – the imposition of new measures, in Michigan as elsewhere, is being taken by local, largely Democrat, politicians.

It means many of his supporters feel restrictions are unnecessary and unfair.

And they’re joined by other vocal groups who resist being told what to do by lawmakers in the name of freedom and liberty.

zakkari
Image:Zakkari Clark is opposed to the Michigan lockdown

“You’ve been told ‘no’ by the people, you’ve been told ‘no’ by the Supreme Court and you’re still continuing to do this, people aren’t gonna stand for that,” says Zakkari Clark addressing the Michigan governor directly.

He’s a member of the so-called Boogaloo Bois, a self-styled, anti-government militia.

A small number of them gathered outside the state capital today, their faces covered and heavily armed with assault rifles.

“Right now, we’re the rational people. If you keep pushing out you’re gonna get irrational people.”

This isn’t a big group but their presence speaks of palpable tension and distrust.

“We’re gonna do everything in our power to try the peaceful route, you know, civil disobedience and stuff like that,” says Nomad, another heavily armed Boogaloo Boi. “But when it comes to our livelihoods and our rights that we are born with as humans, we’re not going to budge.”

Would he use violence? “If my life was threatened. Or my rights.”

No matter where they are, the imposition of measures to protect lives often means a threat to livelihoods.

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Under the new restrictions bars will have to close.

Stephanie Fox has worked in hospitality most of her adult life, she has no safety net and says she’s deeply fearful of what the next few months will bring.

She looks emotional when she talks about the impact on her personally.

“I’m seeing all my savings are gone, my bills are coming up, my dog needs surgery, you know. But at the same time I get it, but it’s scary, really scary.”

Joe Biden has said he’ll step up efforts to bring the virus under control and reduce the tensions surrounding it.

If Michigan is anything to go by, it won’t be easy.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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