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Fight erupts over display deemed 'hate speech,' hundreds protest at Michigan Capitol

May 14, 2020

Despite the weather, hundreds of people — some armed, most not — gathered at the Michigan Capitol on Thursday for “Judgement Day,” a rally protesting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There was an altercation during the protest spurred by a display depicting the governor hanging from a noose. A protester tried to remove the doll, which was hanging from another protester's flag, resulting in a fight. As soon as the speakers noticed the sign, they called for police and condemned the display — referring to it as a "hate crime" — and the use of physical violence.

Michigan State Police tweeted there were no injuries and no arrests were made following the incident. Nooses and a sign reading "Tyrants get the rope" have appeared at previous protests at the Capitol.


The protest was organized by Michigan United for Liberty, an organization opposing the governor’s restrictions that have been in place since March, when she issued the first stay-at-home order

“We are opposed to any unconstitutional, unreasonable restrictions on personal and economic liberties,” Ashley Phibbs, co-founder of Michigan United for Liberty, said.

While Whitmer assured in a press conference Monday that every eligible worker will receive unemployment benefits, many protesters expressed concerns that they will run out of money to sustain themselves and their families if the lockdown lasts much longer. 


“All I keep hearing is, ‘Well, it might go through June.’ Now, I’ve heard September. Maybe we’ll just go into 2021,” Angela Perez, one of the speakers at the event, said. “By the time that all of you get to 2021, you’ll no longer have your house, your cars, your family, your farm — because all of you will be out of money.”

For the most part, those at the rally wore face masks, yet many protesters did not adhere to social distancing guidelines. Protesters congregated closely around the steps of the Capitol but had to stay outside because the legislature was not in session, and thus the building was closed. 

The protest follows the postponement of the Michigan Capitol Commission’s decision as to whether they have the legal authority to ban guns from the Capitol after last month’s armed rally caused lawmakers to express concerns for their safety. The commission decided on Monday to hold off on a vote until they consulted independent legal experts, legislators and the governor, who said she was “very disappointed” that no action was taken. 

Additionally, Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote a letter to the commission stating they do have the legal ability to prohibit guns from the Capitol, and encouraged them to do so.

“With exceptions to those tasked with protecting our Capitol, the only way to assure that a violent episode does not occur is to act in concert with the many other state legislatures around the nation that have banned firearms in their capital facilities,” she said.

Despite this, some participants carried firearms during the rally. Many carried signs claiming Whitmer's actions during the pandemic have been tyrannical.

“It’s gotten to the point now where she’s not listening to the representatives, and she’s not working with the legislature,” said Renea Knight, one of the protesters. “That is the pure definition of a tyrant. She has decided to do whatever she wants, rogue.”

The claim that the governor has not been effectively working with the legislature is what incited one of the lawsuits currently waged against her.

According to Phibbs, Michigan United for Liberty filed a lawsuit against Whitmer on April 21 intending to “(restore) those checks and balances.” The suit alleged the governor does not have the constitutional authority to enact the measures outlined in her executive orders. 

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“The judiciary must place the executive and legislative branches of our government back within their respective constitutional confines,” the suit said.

Additionally, Michigan United for Liberty filed an amicus brief Wednesday supporting a suit brought against the governor by the Michigan legislature.

The legislature’s suit, brought by both the Republican-led House and Senate, alleged Whitmer “expressly and publicly (refused) to collaborate with the Legislature” in asserting her executive power via executive orders. Moreover, the suit stated the governor relies on “erroneous readings” of the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, or EPGA, and the 1976 Emergency Management Act, or EMA. 

In their response, the governor’s legal team maintained that she has the authority to declare states of emergency under the EPGA and EMA and alleged the suit is a “power grab.”

This suit is not dissimilar to one brought by the Wisconsin legislature against state health officials in response to lockdown measures. The state’s stay-at-home order was overturned on Wednesday after its Supreme Court deemed it “unlawful” and “unenforceable,” according to CNN

After a speaker mentioned the verdict in the Wisconsin suit at the protest outside the Michigan Capitol, cheers and support exuded from the crowd.

The first hearing in the legislature’s lawsuit against Whitmer will stream online at 10 a.m. on May 15. Then, Phibbs said the governor has until 5 p.m. to respond to Michigan United for Liberty’s emergency review and preliminary injunction.



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