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)

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outside Pennsylvania’s capitol building in the city of Harrisburg to demand that the state’s shelter-in-place order be rescinded and businesses reopened at the end of the month.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

The new council for Hupacasath First Nation. From left to right: Councillor Ricky-Lee Watts, Chief Councillor Brandy Lauder, Councillor Jolleen Dick and Councillor Warren Lauder. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Hupacasath First Nation chooses new chief councillor, council

First change of leadership in a decade for Vancouver Island nation

A trailer with fire damage is taped off by the Port Alberni Fire Department at the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Fire knocked down at Wintergreen Apartments trailer

City is concerned about zoning, building code and fire code infractions surrounding the trailers

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Lukas Jirousek pokes the puck away from Grizzlies forward Henri Schreifels during a game at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: Career night for Castagna can’t lift Alberni Valley Bulldogs past Victoria

Back-and-forth affair between Bulldogs and Grizzlies ends 7-5 for visiting team

Logging Camp Nine on Great Central Lake overlooks a large forest fire across the lake in this historical photo from May 1943. Camp Nine was bustling, with residences for logging camp staff, a rail line and rail cars visible. This is one of 24,000 photos contained in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN12220 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: Great Central Lake’s sawmill

Take a peek at Alberni Valley history with the Alberni Vally Museum

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP)
Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

Fred Fox said his brother’s legacy of resilience has taken on renewed resonance as COVID-19 rages on

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read