Pro-Infection Rallies Are Astroturf All The Way Down
Idaho Capitol protests. Screenshot from KTVB-TV. (LIBRTY!)

As small numbers of rightwing loons keep showing up to tell the rest of America that a few hundred people in various states demand the immediate opportunity to infect the rest of us, it's worth pointing out that unlike the virus itself, these protests have been artificially engineered. Behind the idiots who willingly go out to show how happy they are to catch a disease, there are a whole bunch of rightwing groups that are dedicated to the rhetorically weird proposition that Donald Trump must be reelected to keep us all safe from Democratic governors (and insufficiently far-Right Republicans) who aim to take away our freedom by preventing the wider spread of a deadly pandemic. There may only be a few hundred protesters at each rally, but the rightwing mediasphere, especially Fox News, is doing all it can to pretend this tiny minority of Americans are mainstream.

At least this time around, many media outlets have caught on to the sham early, and have pointed out just how inorganic this "movement" is. The Washington Post, for example, offers a close look at how three pro-gun brothers from the Midwest have been behind a series of groups on Facebook that promote not following public health orders. That story and many others have noted that the recent pro-virus protests in Michigan have been promoted by Republican-aligned groups, including one that's connected to Donald Trump's Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. In Idaho, the local media have prominently noted that last Friday's protest at the state Capitol building was organized by rightwing political groups, one of which promotes an anti-vaccine agenda. Anti-vaxxers also showed up at a rally in Pennsylvania:

Gosh, what nice folks, and what nice astroturf organizers helping them share their love for liberty and infectious disease.

The Washington Post's story on the gunhumpers behind multiple Facebook groups is a model for how reporting on the pro-death rallies should be done. Not only does it trace the groups' origins to three rightwing brothers, Ben, Christopher, and Aaron Dorr, it also points out that the online groups appear to violate Facebook's own rules on spreading misinformation about the virus, and emphasizes that however much noise these guys and their pals make, the "reopen America" bullshit is only supported by a tiny minority of Americans:

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.

The story also points out that Trump's own calls to "liberate" states with Democratic governors are in complete opposition to his own health advisers' guidelines for ending the lockdowns.

As for the Dorr brothers, they're a real piece of work. Ben Dorr is the "political director" of an outfit called "Minnesota Gun Rights," and his brothers also run similar groups. Their agenda is modest enough: They want to get support from gunfuckers who consider the National Rifle Association insufficiently radical in its commitment to limitless gun ownership. At the Philadelphia Inquirer, columnist Will Bunch notes that one of the brothers, Chris Dorr,

was investigated in Ohio after a Facebook rant in which he vowed that, after any effort to restrict the right to bear firearms, "there will be political bodies laying all over the ground ... we gun owners will pull the trigger, and leave the corpses for the buzzards."

But heck, that's all just metaphorical, not an actual threat. (For more on the Dorrs, see also this excellent Minnesota Public Radio story.)

The private Facebook groups started by the Dorrs all sound just a teensy bit similar:

"Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine" was created on Wednesday by Ben Dorr. His brother Christopher is the creator of "Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine," as well as "Ohioans Against Excessive Quarantine." A third brother, Aaron, is the creator of "New Yorkers Against Excessive Quarantine."

Each group promotes a load of bullshit about the pandemic, suggesting it's merely the flu or that scientists are all politically motivated, and of course push the idea that governors seeking to limit the spread of a virus are just like Hitler. And how's this for a coincidence? In addition to promoting rallies, the Facebook groups also steer readers to the various pro-gun organizations the Dorr brothers also happen to run. The "Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine" Facebook group suggests you check out

the "Wisconsin Firearms Coalition," where people can enter their names, email addresses and other contact information and share their views with the state's governor. In doing so, they encourage visitors who are not "already a member of the Wisconsin Firearms Coalition" to "join us." A page asking users to join the Minnesota group offered several rates for membership, from $35 to $1,000.

Same deal for the Pennsylvania group, too. Just a bunch of patriots, mind you, and somehow they've managed to avoid being classified as lobbyists, because they are but humble grassroots organizers.

The Post also notes that while Facebook has banned some pages and groups calling for anti-lockdown rallies under its new policies aimed at limiting the spread of health disinformation, the company has left the Dorrs' groups alone, under the rationale that the states those groups target haven't explicitly declared the rallies in violation of public health law. Hell of a way to run a social network.

We also recommend you check out Will Bunch's excellent column on why the Right is so invested in ending public health efforts, and how it mirrors the motives of the groups that pushed the Tea Party into becoming far more influential than its mere numbers warranted. In short, both "movements" harnessed populist sentiments that ranged from legitimate grievances (concerns about job losses) to ugly racism, but which ultimately served the interests of the economic elites. And both in 2009 and 2020, Bunch reminds us, the Right was, and is, out to shut off the possibility that real reforms of our economic system might result from the obvious failures of capitalism to benefit many Americans:

In the early days of the Great Recession, some of the working-class anger was in fact directed toward the big banks (and the government's overly generous bailout) and corporations that give money to both parties but really give a lot of money to the GOP. The Tea Party was in reality a very top-down, billionaire-backed effort to steer that rage away from them and onto Obama and even the folks who voted for him [...]

No wonder that — with an even more difficult 2020 election just months away, and with the Trump presidency on the line — they're trying to reunite the band. It's not exactly the same puppeteers, but just like in 2009 you don't have to look hard to see the strings, either.

This time around, says Bunch, even the "president" of the United States is supporting the rebellion against state governors, to distract from his own horrible management of the crisis. But the motives are the same as the conservative opposition to the New Deal: We can't be having any reforms, because that would mean a loss of power and economic domination by the oligarchy.

The coronavirus has exposed the everyday disaster that is America's employer-based health-care system and the broader fragility where millions were just one lost paycheck away from a miles-long line at a food bank. The conservative movement in America, therefore, will die a deserved and overdue death unless the oligarchs can change the political conversation around to your God-given right to buy plant seeds and Baskin-Robbins — and fast.

And that's the real meaning of the "Reopen America" protests, Charlie Brown.

[WaPo / Philadelphia Inquirer / Minnesota Public Radio / Idaho Statesman / Media Matters / KTVB]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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