WASHINGTON — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that protesters who demonstrated at the state Capitol building last week "carried nooses and Confederate flags and swastikas."
"Unfortunately, right now in Michigan, we see a small number of people ... it looks large on television, but when you think about this is a state of 10 million people, this is a small contingent that came out and made political statements. They carried nooses and Confederate flags and swastikas," she said in an interview on NBC's "TODAY" show when asked why some of the protesters who carried guns or violated social distancing mandates weren't arrested.
Everyone is focused on the fact that some of the protesters were carrying firearms, Whitmer said, adding, "The fact of the matter is that kind of rhetoric, that kind of ugly political rallying, is only making it harder for us to re-engage, which is the sad irony, is that demonstrations like that create the need to continue this aggressive stance that we've had to take to save lives."
Images from the protests show that some signs displayed swastikas and that some people were carrying Confederate flags.
Whitmer, a Democrat, was referring to the hundreds of demonstrators who protested the state's coronavirus emergency measures in Lansing last week. She has come under fire for the state's stay-at-home order, which has sparked massive protests in which people violated social distancing guidelines. She has said that she respects people's right to dissent but that they must follow best practices put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The governor has defended the stay-at-home order, saying it has slowed the rate of coronavirus infections. Late last month, she extended the order through May 15 but eased some restrictions on public activities.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Sunday that anti-lockdown protests are "devastatingly worrisome" because demonstrators who do not practice social distancing could contract COVID-19 and spread it to other people.
President Donald Trump tweeted in support of the Michigan demonstrators Friday, saying Whitmer "should give a little, and put out the fire."
"These are very good people, but they are angry," the president said. "They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal."