Clement: Be smart and stay home


Columnist Sam Clement encourages everyone to stay home for the sake of others in the community. 

Sam Clement

There are people out there who see social distancing as more of an inconvenience than the current pandemic. Every night, you can see them on the news, heckling medical practitioners, creating gridlocks in urban areas, even blocking off hospitals. You may ask yourself — are these people serious? Or is this just sour grapes? Is this an actual political movement? Is it astroturf? Is it simply boredom?

The short answer is yes. All of the above are elements that can be found in these protests against the quarantine. The long answer is much more complicated, messy and dark. 

I’d like to begin by making a special mention of the podcast “Worst Year Ever,” whose recent episode “Trying to Make Sense Of The COVID Protests” was enormously influential on the direction I took in researching these events. However, as their title suggests, they weren’t fully able to decode the motives or methods linking all of the protests. This is largely because there isn’t just one collective entity behind these various protests.

Lansing, Michigan, was the site of one of the earliest anti-quarantine actions. The Michigan state capitol was the target of a protest known as “Operation Gridlock,” during which hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters from across the state drove in and put the city in a great big traffic jam. The organizers of the protest, the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, ordered protestors to stay in their cars; many, however, failed to abide by that order, which resulted in Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer extending the stay-in-place order to April 30.

Although the Lansing protest appears to be largely grassroots, it has since inspired more sinister, cynical groups to begin agitating for further protests. Chief among them are the Dorr brothers. If you’re unfamiliar with the Dorrs, they are the minds behind the pro-gun and anti-abortion groups of Facebook. If that doesn’t paint a clear enough picture, those particular pro-gun groups have been known to attack the NRA for being too left-leaning. Referred to by many in conservative political circles as scam artists, the brothers bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually off membership fees for their groups. 

In response to the current pandemic, the Dorrs have started a series of Facebook groups, including New Yorkers Against Excessive Quarantine, Minnesotans Against Excessive Quarantine and similarly named groups for Wisconsinites, Ohioans and Pennsylvanians. The Pennsylvanian group describes its mission thusly; “Politicians are on a power trip, controlling our lives, destroying our businesses, passing laws behind the cover of darkness and forcing us to hand over our freedoms and our livelihood!”

These Facebook groups, along with similar websites created by the Dorrs, gained members by being spread throughout their existing network of anti-vaccination, pro-gun and anti-abortion groups. However, although the Dorr brothers are prolific in their creation of these groups, they are not the leaders nor the only organizers of the anti-quarantine movement. Facebook is desperately trying to squash groups organizing protests, though further events based on the model of Operation Gridlock skirt the edges of permissibility. The number of Facebook groups has been estimated at around 100, with around 50 currently planned protests for the near future. The groups have attracted a total of over 900,000 members.

There is, however, one very important thing that all these protests have in common. Whether they’re astroturfed or grassroots, large or small, they are dangerous. It is tempting to ignore them, to dismiss them as silly or as a false flag. As our recent history has shown, however, something being ridiculous doesn’t mean that it can’t grow into a potential threat. Donald Trump wasn’t considered a serious candidate back in 2016, yet here we are today. 

This is the point where I’d like to offer you some words of wisdom, some actions you can take to improve this situation. Unfortunately, it just isn’t that simple. This is a disconnected, disjointed movement, complicated and messy. I don’t know if there’s any good way to stop it. It would definitely be a bad idea to set up a counter-protest, if only because that would create a further hazard to public safety. What you can do, though, is support the medical workers who are risking their lives every day of this pandemic. You can be smart and stay home, away from large groups of people. Maybe you can even talk to your aunt, the one who keeps texting you conspiracy memes from Facebook about how COVID-19 is caused by 5G networks, and you can try and explain things to her. These things might seem silly, or small, and it’s very easy to dismiss them, but if enough people do it, we can make a change for the better.