President Donald Trump posted a series of comments on Twitter and Facebook on April 17 urging people to “liberate” the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The posts immediately sparked a furious debate on social media and thousands of likes, retweets and shares. Although Trump didn’t explain what he meant, exactly, most people assumed the “liberate” comments referred to supporting protests that have erupted in states with Democratic governors after an earlier rhetorical clash over who has authority to open the country back up. One protest group in Minnesota is urging people to “Liberate Minnesota” on its Facebook event page.
The state of Michigan is led by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Trump’s opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. All three states have seen protests erupt in recent days over their governors’ stay-at-home orders and shuttering of non-essential businesses.
Some people thought the tweets were inappropriate, with many Trump opponents tweeting that America should liberate itself from Trump.
Others supported Trump.
Here’s what Trump wrote:
LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!
The day before, Trump had pointedly declined to criticize the protesters, saying, “I think they’re listening, I think they listen to me. They seem to be protesters that like me and respect this opinion, and my opinion is the same as just about all of the governors.” He also said, “There’s death and there’s problems in staying at home too. It’s not just, ‘Isn’t it wonderful to stay at home?’ They’re suffering. This country wasn’t built on that principle. It was built on an exact opposite principle, actually.”
Trump also announced federal guidelines for states that he called “Opening Up America Again.” Trump would obviously like to win the three states in the 2020 election; Michigan, in particular, is a key battleground state that Trump flipped by a small margin in 2016.
Here’s what you need to know:
In Michigan, the Governor Criticized Protesters
Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, has seen protests erupt in her state over her coronavirus regulations, and she criticized them on April 16.
She told MSNBC’S Rachel Maddow that she thought the protests were “kind of irresponsible action that puts us in this situation where we might have to actually think about extending stay-at-home orders, which is supposedly what they are protesting.”
Michigan – specifically Detroit – has been identified as a COVID-19 hotspot. According to The Hill, protesters in Michigan were “led by the Michigan Conservative Coalition,” and they “stormed the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday demanding an end to the stay-at-home order,” claiming the order was harming personal freedoms.
A provision in Whitmer’s stay-at-home order that caused particular controversy says “large stores must close off areas of stores meant for carpeting, flooring, furniture, gardening and paint. The limits only apply to in-person sales and do not apply to stores with less than 50,000 square feet,” USA Today reports, adding that the supplies can be purchased online.
As of April 16, Michigan had reported 29,263 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 2,093 deaths.
In Minnesota, a Group Using the ‘Liberate’ Tagline Was Planning a Protest
There was a protest planned for April 17 in Minnesota. According to the Pioneer Press, the group is called “Liberate Minnesota” and it was organizing a protest in front of Gov. Tim Walz’s residence urging him to lift the state’s stay-at-home order.
The page quotes Thomas Jefferson as saying, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
“Minnesota citizens now is the time to demand Governor Walz and our state legislators end this lock down! Thousands of lives are being destroyed right now. It is not the governor’s place to restrict free movement of Minnesota citizens! Gov. Walz you work for the citizens of this state!” it reads. “Minnesota’s economy must be reopened for business or destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Minnesota citizens and their families may result if we don’t act quickly!”
The group’s Facebook page event photo shows a person’s hands breaking free of rope ties. More than 600 people said they were going to the protest and more than 2,700 said they were interested.
As of April 17, Minnesota had reported 2,071 coronavirus cases, with 111 deaths.
Protests Have Also Erupted in Virginia
In Virginia, there were protests on April 16 by three “newly formed groups” against Virginia’s stay-at-home order and the governor’s order closing non-essential businesses, according to NBC12.
“Who is he to determine what is essential in our society and what is not? I believe the liquor stores are open. Is that essential? There are a lot of things that are open that many people don’t consider essential,” protester Marco Caceres told the station.
The station reported that Capitol Police “shut down the public space.”
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s spokesperson told the television station that his policy decisions are based on “data, science and public health.”
As of April 17, Virginia had reported 7,491 cases of coronavirus and 231 deaths.