From Olympia To Richland To Moscow, Protesters Demonstrate Against Coronavirus Safety Measures

Protesters rally against social-distancing measures at the Washington state Capitol on April 19, 2020. CREDIT: Will James / KNKX
Protesters rally against social-distancing measures at the Washington state Capitol on April 19, 2020. CREDIT: Will James / KNKX

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BY WILL JAMES, AUSTIN JENKINS, NICHOLAS DESHAIS & SCOTT LEADINGHAM

Protesters across the country have ignored government orders intended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus – including in the Northwest.

Demonstrations from Olympia to Richland in Washington, to Sandpoint to Moscow to Boise in Idaho, have been organized by people flouting social distancing measures put in place for public health and to slow the spread of coronavirus.

On Sunday, protesters amassed at the Washington state Capitol to decry social-distancing measures and demand officials reopen the economy.

State police estimate 2,500 people gathered for the rally, some standing shoulder-to-shoulder on or around the Capitol steps as they chanted “Let us work” and “U.S.A.” Few covered their faces or made efforts to stand apart from one another.

Trappings Of Trump Rallies

The Olympia protest had the trappings of the right-wing rallies supporting President Donald Trump that have grown common on the West Coast since 2016. Participants waved Trump flags and campaign signs.

Some marched in the black and yellow shirts worn by members of the Proud Boys (designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group) while others stood by with assault-style rifles slung on their backs. Joey Gibson, leader of the group Patriot Prayer that attracts racist and violent members to its Portland and southwestern Washington rallies, made an appearance.

The Olympia protest was one of several around the United States over the weekend aimed at governors who have taken economically painful steps to slow the spread of the virus. Trump appeared last week to endorse actions in two Democrat-led states, tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire May 4, six weeks after it was signed, but could be extended further.

Protesters in the black and yellow shirts worn by the Proud Boys march in Olympia on April 19, 2020. CREDIT: Will James/KNKX

Protesters in the black and yellow shirts worn by the Proud Boys march in Olympia on April 19, 2020. CREDIT: Will James/KNKX

Among protesters in Olympia interviewed by public media, some said they believed news of the novel coronavirus outbreak was invented or hyped as part of a conspiracy to assert government control or hurt Trump politically.

Others believed fears of the virus were overblown, and the benefits of social distancing weren’t worth the economic fallout. Some echoed Trump’s comparisons of the coronavirus to the flu. All said they were not worried about catching or spreading the virus.

“This is like another ailment,” said Irina Alekseyev, who said she drove six hours to the rally from Spokane. “Maybe a little bit more people die than the flu.”

Washington had 245 residents die of the flu in the 2018-19 flu season, according to the state Department of Health. So far, more than 600 have died of COVID