The physical confrontation is just one of many in recent days, part of a nationwide pattern of protests and outright defiance in the face of ongoing coronavirus restrictions that have kept people inside their homes except for essential trips.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, incident commander of Hawaii’s coronavirus response, warned this week that the state risked “civil unrest” if it moves too slowly to reopen.
“If we let the economy go the way it’s going, I feel there will be significant civil unrest that could lead to civil disobedience and, worst case, civil disturbance and rioting,” he said Monday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
The novel coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 81,000 people the United States, has inspired a simmering resentment among a small minority of Americans protesting to return to work and reopen the economy. As social distancing policies are lifted unevenly across the country, those tensions are bubbling over in scenes of lawlessness this week.
In Washington state, Port of Seattle police placed an officer on paid leave for recently posting a YouTube video that openly advocated for police to ignore the state’s stay-at-home order and refuse to arrest or cite people flouting the rules. Dozens of protesters, most without masks, crowded together to march in Raleigh, N.C., to demand the state reopen more quickly like its neighbors to the south. Anti-lockdown activists in Michigan threatened violence in private Facebook groups, including mentions of assassinating Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), the Detroit Metro Times reported.
Some high-profile dissenters are also openly flouting shutdown orders.
On Monday, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk challenged California officials to arrest him for reopening his factory in defiance of local restrictions. President Trump threw his support behind Musk’s violation of the stay-at-home order.
“California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “It can be done Fast & Safely! ”
The president has not been shy about encouraging those who defy local coronavirus restrictions, even as White House staff finally began wearing masks to work this week. For weeks, Trump has been pushing states to reopen.
On Tuesday, as Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned the Senate that reopening too quickly could cause “suffering and death that could be avoided,” the president again suggested the country return to pre-pandemic operations soon.
“Our Testing is the BEST in the World, by FAR! Numbers are coming down in most parts of our Country, which wants to open and get going again,” he tweeted. “It is happening, safely! ”
Meanwhile, encouraged by the president, confrontations between coronavirus rebels and those trying to enforce social distancing rules have grown increasingly heated.
An armed militia stood guard outside an illicitly reopened barbershop in Michigan to keep police from shutting the operation down, The Washington Post reported. They wore Trump cowboy hats and waved Trump flags.
In Michigan, Whitmer said she believes Republicans are “feeding a lot into the behavior” of the protesters and armed civilians who openly defy her stay-at-home order.
Tensions have even escalated into real violence in some places.
Two men entered a Target store in Los Angeles without masks on May 1, and started a fistfight when security guards attempted to escort them outside. One of the guards snapped a bone in his arm during the brawl, police told KTLA. On Tuesday, a Los Angeles County public health official said stay-at-home restrictions would probably remain in place through July for the state’s coronavirus epicenter, where more than 1,300 people have died since February.
The protesters who staged a confrontation with a policymaker in Fresno banged on his apartment door until City Council President Miguel Arias stepped outside and told the small group to leave. Instead, the men shouted questions and insults at Arias, video of the incident shows. Arias shoved them away from his door and toward the staircase leading away from his apartment.
“I asked them to leave,” Arias told the Fresno Bee on Tuesday afternoon. “They chose not to, so I escorted them down the stairs.”
SHARE, SHARE, SHARE!! City Council Member Miguel Arias Pushing Ben Bergquam and fellow reporters down the stairs. Share the hell out of this video.Posted by James Hoak on Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Arias called the police. So did the protesters, who were affiliated with a Facebook page called Frontline America and led by a man who organized a shelter-in-place protest last week, the Bee reported.
Fresno police arrived at the scene and determined there was sufficient evidence to facilitate a citizen’s arrest on Arias, who was then cited with three counts of misdemeanor battery and released at the scene, police said in a statement.
“I stand behind my actions,” Arias told the newspaper. “When you open your door after somebody has been banging on it, and the first thing you see is somebody who has made physical threats against you for a long period of time and who runs online websites and social media accounts that makes threats and is a huge activist around Second Amendment and concealed weapons, my first reaction is to protect my family.”