‘Reopen’ protests aren’t just about COVID-19, they’re also brash displays of white supremacy

By now you’ve seen the images of heavily armed men in masks storming the Michigan capitol building, demanding the governor reopen even as the death toll rises unabated. Videos show white protesters shoving police officers with zero pushback, while we know that even the slightest encroachment from a person of color would result in an immediate arrest, if not a more deadly response from police. 

What we’ve all seen on display is definitively white supremacy. Standing in the gallery with their long rifles, these “protesters” brandish guns designed not for hunting but for mass casualty while politicians don bulletproof vests down below as they try to do their job: Dealing with the deadly pandemic in their state with the threat of deadly force above. Make no mistake about it, this wasn’t a Second Amendment protest in Michigan—it was a means of intimidation by threat of deadly violence. The message was clear from these pro-gun, pro-death protesters: Open the state or we will escalate with force. 

It’s also telling these groups are out there demanding the states reopen as the COVID-19 virus has had particularly devastating effects on Black communities, accounting for nearly 60% of the U.S. COVID-19 deaths despite being only 13% of the overall population. This too is a form of white supremacy. After all, if 60% of COVID-19 deaths were white women or white children in the suburbs or rural communities, would these folks still be out there demanding bars and restaurants reopen? 

White men displaying a privilege only afforded to white men on the steps of the Michigan capitol building.

Days later in Texas, another band of “protesters” showed up at Big Daddy Zane’s bar in West Odessa, where owner Gabrielle Ellison opened for business despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders that such nonessential businesses stay closed for the time being. Like a lot of business owners feeling the pinch, Ellison claims she is on the verge of going out of business, so she decided to reopen and face the consequences. In this case, the consequence was arrest for violation of an emergency management plan. 

As for the protesters who were there to support Ellison by standing out back with their weapons, the sheriff took their display of force seriously. Ector County sheriff sent in an SWAT vehicle to arrest the men. Thankfully the men complied with the larger show of force from the sheriff’s department, laying down their weapons and getting handcuffed. 

Wyatt Winn stands outside Big Daddy Zane’s before being arrested.

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis told reporters he arrested the men for having weapons on a licensed property because "this was not a protest of their Second Amendment rights. It was a show of force to ensure this lady could violate the governor’s order." He suggested if they didn’t like the governor’s orders, they could vote for someone else. 

Griffis is right. These folks aren’t out there “protecting” their Second Amendment rights. They are there to intimidate with their skull masks, ample ammo, and numerous weapons of war. Just as men—white men specifically—have done from Minnesota to Michigan to Texas. And they’ve taken their cues from the highest office in the land, direct from the White House, where Donald Trump has tweeted to "liberate" states from the shelter-in-place orders recommended by his own administration.

After the images and video of the masked gunmen defying the law went viral, the White Supremacist-and-Misogynist-in-Chief tweeted a message echoing his “very fine people” comments after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville: "The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal."

That thin blue mask won’t protect the police from the pro-death party.

If you think about it, it is rather hilarious that Donald Trump was insisting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer meet with an angry group of heavily armed men dressed as terrorists while he is afraid of being in the same room as Nancy Pelosi, who is armed with nothing more than keys to his head, copies of Trump’s impeachment paperwork, and photos of her nine grandchildren. 

Sheriff Griffis noted the men are not from West Odessa and apparently came to the West Texas town to intimidate. 

Watch the video below to see how wild things got—be sure to watch for the protest signs.

Below are the mugshots of four grinning men arrested by the Ector County Sheriff’s Department.

Wyatt Winn, 23, Jesse Semrad, 36, Carlo O'Brien, 20, and Joshua Watt, 31. (Mugshots courtesy of the Ector County Sheriff's Office)

What’s so funny about being arrested with a SWAT vehicle at gunpoint? These guys get the joke: It’s white supremacy. They already know there likely won’t be any long-term repercussions. They were probably home in time for dinner. Could the same be said of a group of non-white people in similar circumstances? 

If they were people of color, and specifically men of Middle Eastern descent walking around with these weapons and their faces covered, we’d be asking: “Where were these men radicalized?” 

So it’s time that we ask the question about these white men and women: Where were they radicalized? Most likely in online forums. You can read more about the conspiracy-loving "Bugaloo bois" from my colleague, Dave Neiwert. 

Joe Biden pledges to name a woman as his vice president (and here are the top contenders)

Sunday night’s Democratic debate was a stark contrast from the previous debates. This time there were only two candidates, spaced six feet apart (per CDC recommendations), and no live audience, which turned out to be a refreshing change and one future debate hosts should stick with down the road. If you missed the debate, I’d recommend this excellent recap from my colleague Jessica Sutherland. 

By far the most newsworthy moment of the debate came when the candidates were asked whether they would commit to naming a woman as vice president and Biden didn’t hesitate, saying unequivocally that he would, adding “there are a number of women who are qualified to be vice president tomorrow.” Biden went even further, reiterating that he’d name a black woman to the Supreme Court, saying their representation on the court is long past due, and pledging that his cabinet and administration would “look like the country.” 

Sen. Bernie Sanders got the same question and said would "in all likelihood" pick a woman and added, “my very strong tendency is to move in that direction.” 

YouTube Video

Biden has repeatedly said he’s looking for someone who he is “simpatico” with, someone who shares his vision for the country. On the VP pick, Biden told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell last week, “We can disagree on tactic but not on strategy. And so, that’s the first test. And there are a number of women, and African Americans as well, who would meet that criteria for me.” 

Now that we know Biden will select a woman, who do you think would make an ideal running mate for the former vice president? Stacey Abrams has long been a favorite for either candidate, but former candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have all been mentioned, along with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. I’d add Rep. Val Demings of Florida to that list as well. She has been impressive on the various congressional committees and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi selected her as one of the seven impeachment managers. She’s also the first woman to serve as the chief of police in Orlando. 

Looking at that list of women, we have an embarrassment of riches, folks. All of these women are capable of doing the job and helping to lead this country forward. 

So, who do you hope Joe Biden will select? Take the poll below and sound off in the comments with other suggestions or background information on the women below. 

Mike Pompeo got backed into a corner about Marie Yovanovitch during NPR interview

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was backed into a rather uncomfortable corner during an interview with Mary Louise Kelly on NPR’s Morning Edition. Although Pompeo wanted to stick to the topic of Iran, Kelly pivoted to the Ukraine scandal and specifically wanted to know how he responded to criticism from State Department personnel who resigned after Pompeo failed to back U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch while she was being targeted by nefarious characters outside the U.S. government while she was doing her assigned work combatting corruption in Ukraine. Time and time again, Pompeo insisted he’d defended all State Department personnel. A blatant lie, one he struggled to defend.

Listen to or read the exchange below and keep in mind that Mike Pompeo has never uttered one word in support of Ambassador Yovanovitch or any of the other dedicated, career diplomats who refused to participate in the corrupt plans of Donald Trump and his enablers, like Mike Pompeo. 

MARY LOUISE KELLY: People who work for you in your department, people who have resigned from this department under your leadership, saying you should stand up for the diplomats who work here.”

MIKE POMPEO: I...I...I don’t know— I don’t know who these unnamed sources are you’re referring to. I can tell you this—

MARY LOUISE KELLY: These are not unnamed sources. This is your senior advisor Michael McKinley, a career foreign service officer with four decades experience who testified under oath that he resigned in part due to the failure of the State Department to offer support for foreign service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry on Ukraine.

MIKE POMPEO: I’m not going to comment on things that Mr. McKinley may have said. I’ll say only this. I have defended every State Department official. We’ve built a great team. The team that works here is doing amazing work around the world—

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Sir, respectfully, where have you defended Marie Yovanovitch?

MIKE POMPEO: I’ve defended every single person on this team. I’ve done what’s right for every single person on this team.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Can you point me toward your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?

MIKE POMPEO: I’ve said all I’m going to say today. Thank you.

The audio of the Pompeo NPR interview is available below, but there is ample new evidence today about the Ukraine scandal and Mike Pompeo’s involvement. ABC News obtained a taped conversation reportedly of Donald Trump with Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, Rudy Giuliani, and others. The conversation took place on April 30, 2018, in a suite at Trump’s D.C. hotel, where the gang was having a private dinner where they discussed the Ukraine scheme. Trump can be heard demanding Yovanovitch’s ouster, saying "Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it."

Lev Parnas recalled this dinner conversation during an interview with MSNBC. After all, dining with a U.S. president in a private suite in his private hotel would be rather memorable, no?

"We all, there was a silence in the room. He responded to him, said Mr. President, we can't do that right now because [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo hasn't been confirmed yet, that Pompeo is not confirmed yet and we don't have -- this is when [former Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson was gone, but Pompeo was confirmed, so they go, wait until -- so several conversations he mentioned it again."

This new recording, which backs up what Parnas claimed, is all the more reason Mike Pompeo should testify before the Senate during the impeachment trial. The conversation took place the very same week Mike Pompeo was sworn in, which means he was aware of and/or participated in the scheme from the minute he walked through the doors of the State Department. 

Either way you slice it, Mike Pompeo has been earning a reputation as a liar, which is a rather untenable position for the secretary of state to be in while they are representing the United States around the world. The American people, and most especially our foreign service officers, deserve someone of the highest ethical and moral standards in the role.