‘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.