Texas Protest Reflects Spreading Frustration With Coronavirus Closings


AUSTIN, Texas — In a public act of defiance, several dozen protesters in Texas converged on the steps of the Capitol building in Austin on Saturday to call for the reopening of the state and the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

The “You Can’t Close America” rally rode a wave of similar protests at statehouses and in city streets this past week, with people also gathering on Saturday in Indianapolis; Carson City, Nev.; Annapolis, Md.; and Brookfield, Wis.

With more than 22 million unemployment claims nationwide in the past four weeks, some conservatives have begun voicing displeasure with the moribund economy. Many businesses have been shuttered in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 34,000 people in the United States.

The protests have been encouraged by President Trump, but polls show that most Americans support restrictions meant to combat the virus. This month, a poll by Quinnipiac University found that 81 percent of registered voters supported a theoretical nationwide stay-at-home order, including 68 percent of Republicans polled.

Others, though, are openly violating the stay-at-home orders replicated by governors across the country by assembling to express their dissatisfaction. In Austin, at least 100 people gathered on the statehouse grounds in hats and shirts with President Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Some carried American flags, and few wore masks that are mandated by the city.

There were cheers at the sight of Alex Jones, the founder of the website Infowars, which traffics in conspiracy theories. There were chants of “Fire Fauci,” in reference to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert.

But there were also citizens who said they were simply angry about being shut out of their workplaces by the governor, who, like almost all of his counterparts, has closed many businesses in an effort to save lives.

Jax Weaver, 33, an out-of-work photographer who lives in Austin and came to the protest with her daughter, Brooklyn, 7, said she was frustrated with the limits on daily life. Among other things, her wife was forced to cancel her in vitro fertilization.

“I’m not worried about catching the virus,” she said. “If we did catch the virus, I feel that we’re healthy enough to fight it.”

The urgency of the Texas rally was dampened somewhat on Friday by Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced that he would do precisely what protesters are demanding: reopen Texas.

Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said he was starting a “phased-in” approach to reopen the state economy, including lifting some restrictions in the coming days on medical procedures unrelated to the virus, retail shopping and public access to state parks.

In the same week that some governors expressed interest in reopening their states, prominent local conservatives turned to Facebook groups and other social media to set up protests. Eric Moutsos, a former Salt Lake City police officer, organized a protest in his city for Saturday evening to demonstrate against what he said was government overreach.

“Thank you government officials for your recommendations, but we’re going back to work,” Mr. Moutsos said in an interview.

He said he had asked protesters to stay several feet apart, as public health officials recommend. “We obviously know people are going to violate that but we can’t enforce that, just like the government can’t,” said Mr. Moutsos, who supports Mr. Trump.

Among other protests on Saturday, organizers of a “ReOpen Maryland” event in Annapolis asked protesters to stay in their cars and to bring canned goods to donate to a local food shelter. In Indianapolis, protesters assembled outside the home of Gov. Eric J. Holcomb. And in Brookfield, hundreds of people lined a road, waving flags that said “Don’t Tread on Me” and signs that urged Gov. Tony Evers to allow businesses to reopen.

The rally in Texas was organized by Owen Shroyer, the host of a show on Infowars, which is headquartered in Austin. He disrupted a House impeachment hearing in December by shouting that the Democrats were committing treason and that Mr. Trump was innocent.

Mr. Shroyer told his Infowars audience this past week that the coronavirus was part of a scheme by the Chinese Communist Party and the “Deep State” to undermine Mr. Trump, that President Barack Obama “sold China the Wuhan virus” and that reports of overwhelmed hospitals were “propaganda.”

One of the country’s first rallies in defiance of the coronavirus restrictions was on Monday in Columbus, Ohio, where scores of people shouted at the state’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, through the doors of the statehouse.

Melissa Ackison, a Republican candidate for State Senate and a supporter of Mr. Trump, said she was moved to join the protest after hearing from farmers about their devastating economic losses and seeing the severe limits on daily life.

“It triggered in me something that I couldn’t stop,” Ms. Ackison said.

Since then, modest groups of people have turned out to demonstrations, saying they are eager to get back to work. The largest of the protests, by far, was on Wednesday in Lansing, Mich., where thousands of people surrounded the Capitol in their cars in a campaign that organizers called “Operation Gridlock,” in protest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.

On Friday, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Capitol in Boise, Idaho, to protest Gov. Brad Little’s stay-at-home order, holding signs that supported Mr. Trump and featured messages such as “My liberties are not yours to take.”

At one point the group chanted, “We do not consent.”

Manny Fernandez reported from Austin and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York. Mike Baker contributed reporting from Seattle.





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