Events in Michigan a few days ago confirmed my long-held opinion that the lunatic fringes of both the far left and the far right have far more in common with each other than they do with the rest of us. Extreme beliefs expressed via extreme behaviour are pretty much the same, whatever the ideology – whether a mob in Iran calling for death to America or western Woke students besieging a campus, demanding the removal of someone or something that triggered them. Intimidation in numbers and the promise of violence when the perpetrators lack both the vocabulary and ability to debate are universal tactics. The far left’s anarchists tend to come from the privileged middle class whereas the far right’s are largely blue-collar; but both manifest their grievances in a remarkably similar manner when mobilised. The difference between, say, Antifa and the protestors who surrounded and then entered the state capitol building in Lansing was weaponry; the latter included an armed ‘militia’, taking the demonstration to another level.
In case you missed it, a group of right-wing demonstrators calling themselves ‘patriots’ (a hardly-coincidental echo of the label adopted by the rebels kick-starting the American War of Independence) had gathered for the latest protest against Michigan’s response to Covid-19 on Thursday. Once inside the capitol building, their intentions to gatecrash the House Chamber were only prevented by an impenetrable wall of state police, much to the relief of the elected representatives on the other side of the door. The main target of the protestors’ ire appears to have been Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer – who happens to be a Democrat; and the decision of a court a month ago that Whitmer’s directives do not infringe on the constitutional rights of Michigan citizens lit the fuse for the state’s most gung-ho, huntin’/shootin’/fishin’ sons and daughters to take to the streets. Like their far left opposites, they tend to be defined by whatever they’re against, and need little in the way of prompting; the lockdown was the gift they were waiting for.
The fragile relationship between Washington and several US states – a situation exacerbated by a President not renowned for his diplomacy – has been stretched to breaking point ever since lockdown measures were imposed. Michigan currently seems to be home to the most vociferous opposition to pandemic policies in the hands of individual state governors, and it’s notable that the majority of those participating in Thursday’s ‘American Patriot Rally’ had been galvanised by what they perceived as enthusiastic support from the President. Mind you, when the Donald exceeded his customary irresponsibility by tweeting ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN’, it’s no wonder they reckoned they had legitimate grounds to act as though engaged in their own little revolution.
The UK’s lockdown has had its opponents, but a few isolated piss-ups behind closed doors hardly rank with some of the protests seen across the Atlantic these past few weeks. Closer to home, perhaps only certain segments of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland can compete with some Americans’ fanatical adherence to centuries-old designs for life, such as 1791’s Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. Beyond such circles, gun-toting is hardly guaranteed to gain sympathy for any grievances, reinforcing as it does specific stereotypes of inbred hicks and rednecks. But those with the mindset that sees no wrong in carrying firearms regard any impositions on their freedoms as an excuse to reach for the rifle, reacting in a way that implies theirs is the sole community on the planet to have a lockdown imposed upon it – as though it has been singled out for especially punitive treatment because of its beliefs rather than a global health crisis affecting everybody.
The ringleaders of Thursday’s events call themselves Michigan United for Liberty; their manifesto declares it has ‘the right to work to support our families, to travel freely, to gather for religious worship and other purposes, to gather in protest of our government…’ Yes, all reasonable expectations for the citizens of a democratic society, and ones we can all agree with – BUT – as we are all aware, we are not currently living in normal circumstances; the freedoms expressed as a given have been suspended for a reason. Not that the close-knit crowd spreading their germs amongst each other in Lansing appeared to have recognised this, despite residing in a state that has seen Covid-19 claim the lives of more Michigan folk than the 3,000+ that spurned social distancing to congregate on Thursday.
Lest we forget, amidst the unprecedented mood of the moment, America is still focused on a certain upcoming Presidential Election, and Michigan happens to be a so-called ‘swing state’, which has resulted in many Republicans effectively endorsing lockdown-breaking protests in Michigan and other states where votes are required. It might seem anachronistic that a state such as California staged similar protests on Friday; after all, think of California and most think of San Francisco or Hollywood, which are hardly renowned as hotbeds of right-wing radicalism. But perhaps the sheer size of so many American states is easy to forget, and the small pockets of lefty liberalism that dominate discourse are able to do so because they have the largest platform to get their message across. As with the cultural and media elite here, the over-abundance of like-minded voices in control of such institutions can give a lopsided impression that they are the majority when they’re very much not.
Some US states, such as Georgia and Maryland, have seen the people take matters into their own hands without any discernible opposition from local authorities; small businesses confronted by the economic abyss, like barber’s and family-owned cafés, have reopened whilst still observing basic guidelines. This doesn’t seem irresponsible; the lockdown was never going to kill the virus, anyway, but merely minimise its initial impact and therefore prevent it from overwhelming hospitals and medical centres in one fell swoop. A gradual lifting of the most severe restrictions for those whose livelihoods could otherwise be lost should the lockdown continue much longer feels like the sensible approach to take, and those whose businesses have tentatively resumed are a long way from gun-toting, MAGA cap-wearing shit-stirrers looking for a fight.
Population density has a large part to play in this crisis, and as lockdown measures are eased, such factors need to be taken into account. Over here, for example, a blanket approach for the whole country has its limits; yes, London being the overpopulated metropolis it is obviously needs restrictions in place longer than, say, Cornwall does; this also applies to the vastly varied US states. And as the left lionise their latest pin-up in the saintly shape of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, it should remember how small the population of New Zealand is compared to the majority of the world’s great cities; maybe it should also remember how Aung San Suu Kyi was similarly worshipped until relatively recently and might consider reining in its tendency towards deification. In short, it’s easier to proudly unfurl a low body-count when one presides over more scattered communities than teeming urban cauldrons. And it’s easier to digest a valid point without having to do so at gunpoint. Yee-hah, y’all.
© The Editor