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outside Pennsylvania’s capitol building in the city of Harrisburg to demand that the state’s shelter-in-place order be rescinded and businesses reopened at the end of the month.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

Sofia Low, left, Delilah Maisonneuve, Madi Hickey, Alayna Black, and Maya Wilch, Departure Bay Eco-School students, will turn down the temperature and wear sweaters on Feb. 4, National Sweater Day. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo students will don sweaters this week as part of energy-saving challenge

Departure Bay Eco-School’s green energy team challenges other classes on National Sweater Day

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo’s NRGH

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All seniors in long-term care on the Island will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
UPDATE: Snowfall warning issued for Nanaimo area, up to 5 cm forecast

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
New positive COVID-19 case at Nanaimo care home, where outbreak was declared

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence employee is isolating, says Island Health

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Actions of Vancouver Island RCMP emergency response team members prevented a potential head-on collision accident on the Trans-Canada Highway on Jan. 19, says Nanaimo RCMP. (News Bulletin file)
Eight cars evade vehicle driving on wrong side of highway, says Nanaimo RCMP

Incident occurred near Trans-Canada Highway-Morden Road intersection earlier this week

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a hatchback and a taxi minivan at the intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets on Friday afternoon. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver hurt as taxi and hatchback crash in Nanaimo

Collision happened Friday at intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Most Read