A wave of low-key but politically-motivated anti-lockdown protests in the US have called for the lifting of restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Dozens of protesters – some wearing masks, some social distancing – rallied outside the governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, chanting “Free Texas” and “Make America Free Again”.
State governor Greg Abbott is expected to announce a plan to reopen the economy on Friday.
Small-government groups, supporters of president Donald Trump, anti-vaccine advocates, gun rights backers and supporters of other right-wing causes combined at the events across the country to pressure state governors to ease restrictions.
More than 660,000 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the US while at least 28,900 people have died after catching it, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic.
Other states, including Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, also saw dissent outside governors’ mansions and state parliament buildings.
The largest one so far, in Michigan, saw several thousand demonstrators descend on the state capital, Lansing.
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Some of those involved brought weapons, most ignored social distancing and few, if any, wore masks as they chanted and held up signs, including several calling governor Gretchen Whitmer a “Nazi” .
There were even chants of “lock her up”, echoing a rallying cry aimed at Democrat Hillary Clinton during Mr Trump’s 2016 election campaign events.
The Ohio rally brought together a collection of anti-vaccine advocates, Second Amendment supporters, tea party activists and other anti-government activists.
The Austin event was broadcast live by InfoWars TV, part of a company owned by conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones.
But the protests cut across party lines, for while Ms Whitmer is a Democrat, the governors of Ohio, Texas and Oklahoma are all Republicans.
Oklahoma City was one of the cities where protesters’ cars caused traffic jams on roads around their destination, drawing criticism that emergency vehicles might not be able to pass.
Protesters wrote messages on vehicles’ windows or on signs saying “stop killing our economy,” “we need our church” and “time 2 work”.
Wednesday’s Lansing rally resembled one of the president’s rallies – complete with MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats or Trump flags.
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The protesters’ demands are in line with those of Mr Trump, who on Thursday pushed for easing stay-at-home orders and tried to look ahead to restarting the economy by announcing a framework for governors to follow.
Health experts have warned that lifting restrictions too quickly could result in a surge of new cases of the virus.
But Mr Trump, who has made great political capital of America’s previously booming economy, wants to return to normal as soon as possible before the slowdown damages his re-election chances.
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Twenty million jobs have been lost in the US since the start of the pandemic.
Asked about the protesters, Mr Trump sympathised with their frustration, saying: “They’re suffering … they want to get back.”
He also dismissed concerns about the health risks of ignoring state orders and potentially exposing themselves to the virus.
“I think they’re listening. I think they listen to me. They seem to be protesters that like me and respect this opinion, and my opinion’s the same as just about all of the governors. Nobody wants to stay shut,” he said.