JEFF KOWALSKY

Fox News stars have begun openly cheering for the protests against stay-at-home orders that have popped up around the nation, explicitly urging more Americans to defy the orders and push their states to ease the restrictions implemented to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that has resulted in more than 30,000 American deaths in the past month.

Over the past few days, Trump allies and loyalists have been urging protest movements in states that instituted lengthy physical-distancing restrictions and advisements against large religious gatherings. The growing outcry against such orders come as the Trump administration sends contradictory messages: Namely, the president has pushed a quick restart of the economy as the death toll rises, while public-health experts on his coronavirus task force have continued to urge social distancing.

The fledgling movement drew national attention on Wednesday when opponents of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s expansive stay-at-home order marched on the state capitol. The rally, dubbed #OperationGridlock, featured hundreds of conservative protesters clogging the streets of Lansing with their cars, at one point blocking a hospital and preventing an ambulance from reaching the bay.

That event, organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, was ostensibly meant to defy what the protesters claim are draconian and authoritarian rules restricting civil liberties, such as closures of non-essential businesses, limitations on certain outdoor activities, and travel restrictions to vacation homes. The protest, however, mostly resembled a MAGA rally, prominently featuring Trump signs and some Confederate flags. Furthermore, while the event organizers called for participants to practice social distancing and remain in their vehicles, a large number left their cars and gathered together on the steps of the capitol. (Michigan, meanwhile, has been one of the hardest hit states in the pandemic, with more than 28,000 confirmed cases and nearly 2,000 deaths.)

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Following the rally, Fox News personalities—many of whom had already pushed for an immediate reopening of the country—openly cheered on the Michigan protesters while calling for more Americans to defy their state’s orders.

Fox primetime star Laura Ingraham took to Twitter during the rally to share a video of the convoy heading to the state capital, exclaiming, “Time to get your freedom back.”

In another post, she seemingly pushed other states’ residents to fight back against social-distancing restrictions as they appear to be coming close to hitting the peak of coronavirus cases. “Soon Marylanders, Virginians, etc will stand for their right to work, travel, assemble, socialize and worship?” Ingraham wrote. “Massive long lasting damage is piling up day after day as many ‘experts’ continue to get the virus analysis wrong.”

During his Wednesday night broadcast, Tucker Carlson invited on Meshawn Maddock, one of the protest organizers, who asserted that Whitmer, a Democrat, was outlawing motorboat use but still allowing kayaking and canoeing because the latter constitute a “perfect leftist hobby.” (In a prior Wednesday interview with anchor Neil Cavuto, Maddock falsely accused Whitmer of banning the sale of American flags, a charge Cavuto said he didn’t know if he could “verify.”)

After Maddock took a final parting shot at Whitmer, Carlson reacted by noting that the governor is being looked at as a potential vice-presidential choice for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, hoping she “is not rewarded for this” and instead “loses her job because she certainly deserves it.”

“Thank you for exercising your constitutionally protected rights as an American,” Carlson told Maddock. “Bless you.”

The following hour, on top-rated host Sean Hannity’s show, pro-Trump weekend host Jeanine Pirro used similar language to exalt the protests and advocate for additional action in other states. “They want to keep us away from churches and synagogues, they want to make sure we don’t go back to work,” she declared. “They don’t get it. The American spirit is too strong and Americans are not going to take it.”

Pirro added, “And what happened in Lansing today? God bless them, it’s going to happen all over the country.”

The right-wing pundit further insisted that the threat of the virus, which is now killing 2,000 Americans a day despite the extensive mitigation efforts currently in place, has been overblown.

“We are free-spirited, free-thinking, we were told everything would be OK, just stay locked down, stay and shelter, and the left is trying to keep us down,” Pirro huffed, adding, “Americans want to get back to work and the left is trying to stop that from happening. And they are not stupid, and they are not going to let it happen. You can’t tell people that you can’t go to church, they can’t go to synagogue, we are adults now. You over blew what was going to happen in terms of the  number of people who are going to die and now you’re still telling us we have to stay home?”

Later in the evening, Ingraham continued to laud the protests. Besides interviewing a member of the Michigan Conservative Coalition and railing against Whitmer, she declared the rally participants to be “patriots.” 

Michigan Conservatives ‘Not Concerned’ About COVID-19 Block Ambulance During Protest Against Social Distancing

“You see it, you feel it, people are getting antsy, but not just because they want to go out to a restaurant, because they sense what’s really happening,” she proclaimed. “And then the ongoing violations of our civil liberties and the shutdown, we’ve been documenting them.”

Furthermore, Ingraham downplayed the likeliness of a surge in deaths with a quick reopening of social life in America, saying, “many are willing to take the risk of contracting the virus” in order to end the shutdowns and jumpstart the economy. (Republican Sen. John Kennedy, during Carlson’s broadcast, made a similar argument.) 

Recent polls, however, show the vast majority of Americans don’t want to stop social distancing if it means the virus will spread. One Politico/Morning Consult survey found only 10 percent of respondents saying residents “should stop social distancing to stimulate the economy, even if it means increasing the spread of coronavirus.” Eighty-one percent, meanwhile, feel we “should continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus, even if it means continued damage to the economy.”

And on Thursday morning, the hosts of Trump’s favorite morning show picked up where the primetime crew left off. 

Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade predicted that as “more and more states go online and get their rights back,” the protest movement will greatly expand against the “ridiculous” stay-at-home orders in other states.

Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, meanwhile, not only applauded the Michigan protesters but also railed against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who was grilled by Carlson the night before on his state’s stay-at-home orders that seemed to offer contradictory guidance on religious services.

Reacting to Murphy claiming he “wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights” when he issued a series of broad executive orders allowing residents to leave home for religious functions while also canceling “in-person services,” Napolitano called for the governor to be impeached and said Murphy was guilty of “felony of misconduct of office.”

The outspoken libertarian judge, for his part, did not mince words when it came to endorsing further protests against government mitigation orders.

“And the sooner we take our freedoms back, the less likely the government will be able to continue doing this,” he strongly stated. “If we don’t take our freedoms back, they might not come back.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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