We have now entered our fifth week of quarantine due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, the once “booming” economy has sunk to record lows, unemployment has risen to record highs and patience is in low supply. While we have been introduced to new terminology because of this global crisis – contact spreading, herd immunity and super-spreader – no term has been used so frequently in a short period of time as “Social Distancing.”
And while the act of quarantining ourselves in our homes with X-Boxes, D-Nice and #WFH has started to show some positive signs in flattening the curve, there is now a new term on the horizon – “Social Distance Denier.” It’s a phrase that is leading to protests against staying at home and is gaining support from some rightwing politicians and media groups in recent days.
Michigan has been one of the hardest hit states with 29,263 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and 2,093 deaths. 403 have recovered. However that is not stopping social distance deniers from setting up a battle between scientists, public health officials and politicians.
Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, finds herself in the eye of this particular storm.
With Michigan having the third-highest death toll from coronavirus in the US, Whitmer introduced an updated stay-at-home order last week, which imposed stricter restrictions on non-essential travel and the products sold in grocery stores.
“We know that this demonstration is going to come at a cost to people’s health,” she said on Wednesday. She added, “We know that when people gather that way without masks … that’s how Covid-19 spreads. And so the sad irony here is that the protest was that they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order, and they may have just created a need to lengthen it, which is something we’re trying to avoid at all costs.”
Posing in military garb and sporting automatic weapons, The Michigan Conservative Committee organized a rally, dubbed “Operation Gridlock”, outside Michigan’s state capitol on Wednesday, demanding that Whitmer lift restrictions designed to limit the spread of coronavirus. Thousands drove to Lansing, waving Trump 2020 campaign signs chanting “lock her up,” and ignoring social distancing restrictions.
It doesn’t stop there. Demonstrations are also spreading across the US, in social media and #IRL. Rallies have now been held in North Carolina, Utah, Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio.
While understandable, no matter what political party you belong to, that these are scary times, the fear, angst and anger are also being fueled by prominent figures on the right, including Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Candace Owens and rightwing website The Gateway Pundit.
Last week, we reported on African American Trump supporters Diamond and Silk having their Twitter account briefly locked for tweeting out advice about social distancing which was completely at odds with health officials.
“The only way we can become immune to the environment; we must be out in the environment. Quarantining people inside of their houses for extended periods will make people sick!” the pair tweeted from their official account, which boasts 1.4 million followers.
Laura Ingraham, host of the Ingraham Angle on Fox News, was among those to praise the Michigan protest. She told her 3 million Twitter followers it was “time to get your freedom back” as she posted a video of protesters en route to Lansing.
“Soon Marylanders, Virginians, etc will stand for their right to work, travel, assemble, socialize and worship? Massive long-lasting damage is piling up day after day as many ‘experts’ continue to get the virus analysis wrong,” Ingraham said from her home.
Today, she tweeted out a response to Virginia Governor Northam extending the stay at home policy, fueling anger.
“I can remember when Virginia was one of the best states for business in the country. Now, courtesy of Northam, it’s becoming the Southern version of New Jersey. “Gov. Northam extends business closures, calls for Virginians to adapt to ‘new normal’”
From his home, Limbaugh also supported the protesters, while the Fox News host Jeanine Pirro said health officials “overblew what was going to happen in terms of the number of people who were going to die”.
“What happened in Lansing today? God bless them, it’s going to happen all over the country,” Pirro said.
Dan Bongino, a rightwing podcast host and Fox News contributor, tweeted a link to a post on his website, from his home, which called the Michigan lockdown order “absurd” and promoting a recall of the governor..
“[The protesters] are upset the governor is thinking in terms of what jobs are ‘essential’ or ‘non-essential’, instead of considering whether a job can be done safely. If workers are able to use proper social distancing practices on the job, we believe they should be able to earn a living,” Michigan house Republicans said in a tweet below.
Conservative African American Candace Owens tweeted out several photos of protests, some carrying Confederate flags, around the country.
“I don’t know who needs to hear this but—my freedom doesn’t end where your fear begins. I invite you to stay inside and order GrubHub for the rest of your life, but the rest of us would like to get back to work. Keep the protests up, Patriots!”
Her followers responded with supportive tweets such as:
While President Trump, who normally speaks of conspiracy theories, initially quieted deniers. But that is changing as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, bragged over the weekend about going to the beach — have flowered into full-scale public demonstrations in Michigan.
The virus has been felt much differently by different groups of people. African Americans and Latinos are much more concerned they will personally get the disease according to a recent Pew Reasearch Center poll. A Gallup poll suggests widespread respect for social distancing, but party identification is the largest differentiator.