'Calls to violence': Michigan Gov. Whitmer says armed protests could lengthen stay-at-home order

Another protest is scheduled at the state Capitol building Thursday.
Image: Lansing Michigan protest
Armed protesters provide security as demonstrators take part in an "American Patriot Rally" demanding the reopening of businesses organized by Michigan United for Liberty on the steps of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing on April 30, 2020.Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images

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By Dareh Gregorian

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that armed protests at the state's Capitol over her stay-at-home order have "been really political rallies where people come with Confederate flags and Nazi symbolism and calling for violence," adding that if they continue, they could lengthen the state's social distancing restrictions.

"I do think that the fact of the matter is these protests, in a perverse way, make it likelier that we're going to have to stay in a stay-at-home posture," Whitmer said on ABC's "The View."

"This is not appropriate in a global pandemic, but it's certainly not an exercise of democratic principles where we have free speech," Whitmer said. "This is calls to violence. This is racist and misogynistic. And I ask that everyone who has a platform uses it to call on people to observe the best practices promulgated by the CDC and to stop encouraging this behavior, because it only makes it that much more precarious for us to try to re-engage our economy, which is what everyone says they want us to be able to do."

At a previous protest, heavily armed demonstrators went inside the Capitol as legislators were debating coronavirus restrictions.

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Another protest by the group Michigan United for Liberty is scheduled for Thursday, the Detroit Free Press reported. Some who plan to attend have called for violence online, according to the Detroit Metro Times.

Asked about the threats, Whitmer said: "I would be not truthful if I said it did not bother me. It certainly does." She noted that the Capitol building in Lansing "is one of the few capitols in the country" where people can come "bearing arms, and what we saw last week and anticipate seeing tomorrow is those arms being used to intimidate others, being brandished in a way to strike fear into others, and that is not legal activity."

Whitmer said social distancing guidelines would be enforced at the protest.

"I respect people's right to dissent, but that does not extend to endangering other people's lives," she said.

Whitmer, a Democrat, has urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to ban guns from the building, but the Michigan Capitol Commission, which oversees the grounds, delayed a decision Monday.

She asked Vice President Mike Pence for help tamping down the protests during his phone call with governors Monday, ABC News reported.

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"We have seen from initial protests here is that we've got COVID-19 spreading in rural parts of our state from which people traveled. And so, our ability to move on to the next phase and keep re-engaging our economy, I'm just concerned about it," Whitmer said, according to the report.

"If discouraging protests is something you could consider doing, I'd really be grateful," she said.

Julia Jester contributed.