WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday encouraged an anti-lockdown group that is scheduled to protest in Minnesota against stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of coronavirus and he appeared to back such efforts in other states, arguing that "elements" of some state regulations were "just too tough."
“I think elements of what they’ve done are just too tough," Trump said at the daily White House press briefing Friday evening when asked about a tweet — "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!" — that he posted earlier in the day.
Trump told reporters that he felt "very comfortable" with his tweet, adding that "these are people expressing their views" and "they seem to be very responsible people to me, you know, they’ve been treated a little bit rough.”
“What they’ve done is very powerful,” he said. “You can get the same result by doing a little bit less.”
“If we see something happening bad that we think is wrong, we’re going to come down strong on them,” Trump said about states. “The federal government has a lot to say.”
On Thursday, Trump announced that he would leave reopening decisions up to the governors.
A group that calls itself "Liberate Minnesota" held a protest Friday afternoon outside Democratic Gov. Tim Walz's residence in St. Paul to protest his announcement that he would extend his stay-at-home order to May 4.
"Now is the time to demand Governor Walz and our state legislators end this lock down!" organizers wrote in a Facebook post. "Minnesota's economy must be opened for business or destroying the livelihoods of thousands of Minnesota citizens and their families may result if we don’t act quickly."
The Minnesota protest was scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. ET Friday, however protesters had begun gathering outside the governor's residence as early as Thursday.
Groups opposing stay-at-home orders have popped up in states around the country recently and have become increasingly active, holding demonstrations outside of governors' residences and state capitals, arguing that restrictive stay-at-home measures violate personal liberty.
Many of the demonstrations have had a tea party flare to them, with protesters carrying "Don't Tread on Me" flags and wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. Some have waved Confederate flags.
Trump then tweeted "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" and "LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!"
It was not immediately clear what those tweets were referring to since there do not appear to be groups by those names in Michigan or Virginia and gun rights is a separate issue from the efforts to curtail coronavirus, although Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam last week signed several gun control measures into law. A group named "ReOpen Virginia" held a small demonstration in Richmond on Thursday protesting Northam's stay-at-home orders.
At the press briefing later Friday, Trump said "what they’ve done in Virginia with respect to the second amendment is just a horrible thing.”
Trump's encouragement of groups protesting their state's stay-at-home orders is inconsistent with his announcement Thursday that he would offer guidelines for reopening the country, but would leave specific plans to the governors.
"You're going to call your own shots," Trump said during a videoconference with governors Thursday afternoon in the Situation Room, according to two people listening to the call.
At the White House press briefing on Thursday, Trump did not go so far as to offer his endorsement of the groups.
"They're suffering," Trump said when asked by a reporter what his message was to the protesters who were going against stay-at-home orders and breaking social-distancing guidelines. In Michigan, more than 3,000 people attended a protest on Wednesday.
"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," the president said. "They all want to open. Nobody wants to stay shut, but they want to open safely."