When a group of demonstrators enter a statehouse armed with semiautomatic long rifles, dressed in paramilitary camouflage, and outfitted with strands of bandoliers, you can be fairly certain they aren’t protesting safety measures taken during a public health crisis.
When protestors gather beneath the flag of the Confederacy – on the streets of a town that is minutes from the Canadian border but half a continent away from the former capital of said Confederacy – you can be fairly certain they aren’t protesting safety measures taken during a public health crisis.
When marchers take to the streets – or pastors to their pulpits – to shout ludicrous conspiracy theories through bullhorns, to breathlessly invoke “mark of the beast” language, to reject science and blame everything on the “deep state,” you can be fairly certain they aren’t protesting safety measures taken during a public health crisis.
I like a protest mind you, and I’ve waved a few picket signs in my time, as my religious and cultural upbringing taught me to be acutely suspicious of power. Further, my experience in life has made me wary of trusting institutional solutions or naively accepting prefabricated answers. Government is notoriously abusive, by its nature, and I adhere to John Wallner’s line (misattributed to Mark Twain) that, “Politicians are like diapers – they need to be changed often, and for the same reasons.”
So, I’m no deaf and blind sheep that mindlessly sticks with the herd. But some of the protests we are witnessing today are profoundly disconnected from the situation in the ground. Exhibit A: When is publicly brandishing an AR-15 about anything other than armed intimidation? It’s certainly not about “Reopening America.”
Exhibit B: Why would anyone fly the stars and bars of the Confederacy – the symbol of slavery and white supremacy – at a “Let’s Get Back To Work” rally, in a state that lost thousands of young men fighting to free slaves? Except, of course, if that rally has much more sinister underpinnings.
And Exhibit C: How is it possible to jettison science and the best practices of the medical community in favor of debunked hucksterism, opportunism, and defiance for defiance’s sake? How indeed, unless some are using the current pandemic as a soapbox for their own opinions?
These ugly protests are exploitive in the worst kind of way, as they use the economic hardship of these days to propagate ideology – not to help solve the challenge at hand. They take advantage of misery in order to grind an axe – but seem incapable of feeling empathy for the miserable. They attempt only to prove a point, a point so Machiavellian and deceitful, that they have forfeited all credibility.
Gun-toting, lost-cause-defending, facts-denying protestors are not fighting for freedom: Not yours, mine, or even their own. Because true freedom requires solidarity and teamwork; it requires patience, sacrifice, and concern for the common good. Freedom requires reason, responsibility, and compassion. These are the very things lacking in these so-called protests for so-called liberty.