It’s been obvious from the get-go that the rapidly spreading protests against state coronavirus stay-at-home or “lockdown” orders were intensely ideological in nature, emanating from hard-core conservatives who didn’t much believe the pandemic was real or had objections to government-imposed restrictions of dangerous activities on various pseudo-constitutional grounds. And it’s also been apparent that these protests were not spontaneous but largely the product of local, state, or national coordination by right-wing groups, many of them veterans of the tea-party movement that also began over a decade ago as a bunch of “plain citizens” in Revolutionary War garb and insignia who just happened to share the constitutional, fiscal, and economic policy views common among well-heeled K Street conservative lobbies and Republican pols.
There’s new reporting from the New York Times illustrating the connective tissue among these state protests, which (like the tea-party movement) has some grassroots elements but wouldn’t have gone very far without the artificial turf of national coordination:
An informal coalition of influential conservative leaders and groups, some with close connections to the White House, has been quietly working to nurture protests and apply political and legal pressure to overturn state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus …
Nonprofit groups including FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots have used their social media accounts and text and email lists to spread the word about protests across the country.
Most of FreedomWorks’s 40 employees are working remotely on the effort, helping to connect local protesters and set up websites for them. The group is considering paid digital advertising to further increase turnout, and has been conducting weekly tracking polls in swing suburban districts that it says show support for reopening parts of country. It is sharing the data with advisers on the president’s economic task force and other conservative allies on Capitol Hill.
These groups need all the firepower they can get to give the protests the look of size and momentum, since polls show a sizable majority of Americans support the measures they are protesting, some of which have emanated from Republican governors and those trying to follow the Trump administration’s own guidelines. Their relationship with the White House is both stealthy and symbiotic, since they are keeping the president’s fingerprints off extremist activities he has clearly inspired, and that may help him mobilize supporters for his reelection campaign:
[S]ome rallies have prominently featured iconography boosting Mr. Trump and Republicans and denouncing Democrats, as well the occasional Confederate flag and signs promoting conspiracy theories.
As was the case with the Tea Party movement, established national groups that generally align with the Republican Party have sought to fuel the protests, harnessing their energy in a manner that can increase their profiles and build their membership base and donor rolls.
The protests are also being closely coordinated with other efforts to promote the president’s often vague but loud demands that his enemies get out of the way of reopening the economy:
Officials from groups including FreedomWorks, Tea Party Patriots and the anti-abortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List sent a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday urging the Justice Department to consider intervening to block state and local coronavirus restrictions that the officials said were unconstitutional infringements on civil liberties. Mr. Barr suggested on Tuesday he was concerned about the constitutional implications.
Lawyers aligned with socially conservative causes have filed their own lawsuits against governors.
As the protests spread, so, too, is their astroturf support from well-connected conservative wire-pullers:
A law firm that advises the Trump Organization, Michael Best, is representing members of a new protest group in North Carolina called ReOpenNC. Michael Best’s ranks include the former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former deputy White House counsel Stefan C. Passantino and the current senior counsel at the Trump campaign, Justin Clark.
Needless to say, North Carolina’s governor and the target of these protests in a red-hot 2020 battleground state is Democrat Roy Cooper.
Eventually the tea party became a self-conscious faction of the GOP before its anti-government and anti-Obama slogans were absorbed by the Republican Party so thoroughly that the imagined separation was no longer credible. In the hothouse atmosphere of the pandemic and the run-up to the 2020 elections, any claim that anti-lockdown demonstrators are independent from Team Trump probably won’t last as long as newly planted grass seeds in a cyclone.