Nobody would blame you for missing the protest outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul last week.
Even if you just love “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, “Walz Sux” signs, and American flag-laden apparel, the big reason to skip the rally was public health. Large gatherings of folks standing shoulder-to-shoulder are exactly the kind of thing we’ve been told by health experts to avoid.
Protesters, meanwhile, contend it’s the lockdown that’s the problem. They were there demanding an end to the stay-at-home order and the “liberation” of the state – as were similar protesters in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Protesters – among them former congressman, current U.S. Senate hopeful and coronavirus investment optimist Jason Lewis -- insist that this is a movement led by the state’s small businesses and their employees, who face undeniable economic hardship in the wake of the stay at home order.
I’m proud to stand with Patriots across America fighting for Liberty and their livelihoods.— Jason Lewis (@LewisForMN) April 17, 2020
It’s time to #ReopenMN for business. We can liberate Minnesota’s workers and businesses while still keeping the most vulnerable at a safe distance! https://t.co/lT65Ryxyfk
However, subsequent reports suggest some of the power behind these protests cropping up nationwide comes from the same local engine: brothers Christopher, Aaron, and Ben Dorr.
Ben happens to be the political director of a group called Minnesota Gun Rights, the self-described “non-compromising gun rights organization,” which made a name for itself conservative Republican lawmakers, even the National Rifle Association, for being too tame and accommodating on the Second Amendment.
As reported by the Washington Post, the Dorr brothers are using Facebook to call for anti-quarantine protests far and wide. Ben created the group “Wisconsinites against Excessive Quarantine,” Christopher contributed with “Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine,” Aaron started “New Yorkers Against Social Quarantine,” and so on.
By the end of last weekend, the various groups -- including "Minnesotans against Excessive Quarantine," since rebranded as "Reopen Minnesota" -- had hundreds of thousands of members, all scrolling through posts questioning the efficacy of wearing masks, comparing coronavirus to the flu, and suggesting this whole thing is generally being overblown to scare people.
They continued growing days after President Donald Trump sent out several straightforward tweets suggesting various states – including ours – should “LIBERATE” themselves.
LIBERATE MINNESOTA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
You can see how the whole shebang went from the safety of your homes, thanks to Minnesota Gun Rights’ Facebook Live video of the proceedings. You can’t hear a bit of it, however – the group says Facebook has been claimed copyright infringement due to the music blaring from car stereos.
When there is audio, there’s plenty of honking – cars and trucks slowly trundling by a sea of people peppered with MAGA hats and Trump 2020 flags. At some point, someone enigmatically shouts “COVID-19 is Jussie Smollett.” A sign reading “MY FREEDOM; MY CHOICE” pops up, evoking confusing echoes of pro-choice slogans. (Besides being pro-gun, the Dorr brothers are ardently anti-abortion.) Around the 1-hour, 43-minute mark, Lewis makes an appearance in an RV, touting his congressional campaign.
Ben Dorr also graces the rally with his presence.
“We’re done being quarantined, we’re done having our freedoms taken,” he says. “It’s time to open up America.”
Minnesota Public Radio reports the Dorrs’ extremist pro-gun, anti-abortion advocacy in Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio has raised them some $2.9 million since 2013, and about a third of it has gone directly into a direct mail printing company in Iowa, owned by the family. Earlier this year, the Republican Party of Minnesota launched a website decrying the brothers as “scammers” capitalizing on conservative causes.
On Facebook Live, Dorr encouraged people to visit "ReOpenMN.com," and the same URL is given out on the Reopen Minnesota Facebook page. It actually redirects to the Minnesota Gun Rights website, where supporters can enter their information (sure, why not?) and send an auto-filled email to Walz and their state legislators, which reads as follows:
Minnesota's unemployment claims were some of the highest in the nation when the recent numbers came out!
Small businesses are shuttering by the thousands across our state, and families and retirees are watching their life's work be destroyed in front of their eyes.
The fact is, we absolutely must prioritize the future of this state, the livelihoods of its families, the ability to provide for our own and the economic security of its workers.
REOPEN MINNESOTA NOW!