Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm at The Washington Post:
A trio of far-right, pro-gun provocateurs is behind some of the largest Facebook groups calling for anti-quarantine protests around the country, offering the latest illustration that some seemingly organic demonstrations are being engineered by a network of conservative activists.Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing, April 20, 2020
The Facebook groups target Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and they appear to be the work of Ben Dorr, the political director of a group called “Minnesota Gun Rights,” and his siblings, Christopher and Aaron. By Sunday, the groups had roughly 200,000 members combined, and they continued to expand quickly, days after President Trump endorsed such protests by suggesting citizens should “liberate” their states.
The Dorr brothers manage a slew of pro-gun groups across a wide range of states, from Iowa to Minnesota to New York, and seek primarily to discredit organizations like the National Rifle Association as being too compromising on gun safety. Minnesota Gun Rights, for instance, describes itself as the state’s “no-compromise gun rights organization.”
The online activity instigated by the brothers helps cement the impression that opposition to the restrictions is more widespread than polling suggests. Nearly 70 percent of Republicans said they supported a national stay-at-home order, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Ninety-five percent of Democrats backed such a measure in the survey.
Q Mr. President, thank you very much. If there were groups of people planning to protest tomorrow against the government shutdown, what would be your advice?
THE PRESIDENT: Against the shutdown?
Q Well, yeah. That they want the shutdown lifted. Should they go ahead if it’s in —
THE PRESIDENT: They want it lifted? Yeah.
Q — a state where there haven’t been 14 days —
THE PRESIDENT: Please. I don’t have any advice. People feel that way. You’re allowed to protest. I mean, they — they feel that way.
I watched a protest and they were all six feet apart. I mean, it was a very orderly group of people. But, you know, some — some have gone too far. Some governors have gone too far. Some of the things that happened are maybe not so appropriate.
And I think, in the end, it’s not going to matter because we’re starting to open up our states. And I think they’re going to open up very well. We’re going to be watching it. We’re going to be watching it very closely. We’re working with them on testing. We’re working with them on whatever they need. I don’t think they need ventilators anymore.
I believe the term the governor used was “phenomenal.” We’ve done a phenomenal job. That was the term that — that was the only sentence they left out, which is okay. But I — I appreciate that that’s what Governor Cuomo said. But we have — they’ve done a phenomenal — these people have done a phenomenal job.
As far as protesters — you know, I see protesters for all sorts of things. And I’m with everybody. I’m with everybody.
Q You know, these — you referred to these protests earlier. You know, some of them are getting pretty intense and were actually getting some death threats to some governors who are reluctant to reopen.
THE PRESIDENT: You are, in the media?
Q No, the governors are getting death threats. You know, governors of Kentucky, Michigan, Virginia. They’re getting increased level of death threats. And are you concerned that your talk about liberation and the Second Amendment and all this stuff —
THE PRESIDENT: No. No, no.
Q — are you inciting violence among a few people who are (inaudible)?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ve seen the people. I’ve seen interviews of the people. These are great people. Look, they want to get — they call it “cabin fever.” You’ve heard the term. They’ve got cabin fever. They want to get back. They want their life back. Their life was taken away from them.
And, you know, they learned a lot during this period. They learned to do things differently than they have in the past, and, you know, they’ll do it hopefully until the virus has passed. And when the virus passes, I hope we’re going to be sitting next to each other in baseball games, football games, basketball games, ice hockey games. I hope we’re going to be sitting next to each other. I hope you have golf tourn- — the Masters is going to have 100,000 people, not 25 people watching at the course.
Q Are worried about violence though? I mean, some of them (inaudible) threats at them.
THE PRESIDENT: I am not. No, I’m not. I think these people are — I’ve never seen so many American flags. I mean, I’m seeing the same thing that you’re seeing. I don’t see it any differently.
Q There are Nazi flags out there too.
THE PRESIDENT: They are who?
Q Nazis flags.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that I totally would say, “No way.” But I’ve seen — I didn’t see that. I see all — of course, I’m sure the news plays that up. I’ve seen American flags all over the place. I have never seen so many American flags at a rally as I have at these rallies. These people love our country. They want to get back to work.