A group of fringe gun rights activists are behind some of the largest Facebook groups calling for protests against state coronavirus restrictions, The Washington Post reports.
Ben Dorr, the political director of Minnesota Gun Rights, and his brothers Aaron and Christopher have amassed more than 200,000 members in their recently-launched pages, "Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine," "Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine," "Ohioans Against Excessive Quarantine," and "New Yorkers Against Excessive Quarantine,” among others.
Though the group typically criticizes the NRA for being too soft on gun rights, they are now pushing for protests against social distancing requirements and spreading misinformation about the virus.
Facebook removed some of the content aimed at states with strict rules like California and New Jersey but left the groups and events targeted at states that have not banned the up on the network.
"Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook. For this same reason, events that defy government's guidance on social distancing aren't allowed on Facebook," a company spokesperson said.
"It's understandable that people are upset about the difficult situation we're in, but they're clearly being riled up by people with an obvious anti-government agenda," said Zachary Elwood, who tracked the groups. "Facebook shouldn't make it so easy to do that."
Big GOP groups behind efforts too:
The biggest protests have been in Michigan, where prominent conservative groups have paid to promote them.
The Michigan Defense Fund bought ads promoting the protests. The group is run by Greg McNeilly, who ran Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ husband’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006 and has remained a close adviser to the family.
The protests were organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which is run by a former Republican politician and his wife Meshawn Maddock.
Maddock sits on Trump’s campaign advisory board and the “Women for Trump” coalition.
Top officials push back:
Trump has backed the protests and has called for the lifting of restrictions, though his own White House issues guidelines that make it rather difficult for states to begin reopening.
Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan questioned why Trump was backing protesters demonstrating against his own policies.
"I don't think it's helpful to encourage demonstrations and encourage people to go against the President's own policy," Hogan said on CNN.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top expert on the White House coronavirus task force, warned against rushing to reopen businesses.
"If you jump the gun, and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you're going to set yourself back," Fauci said on ABC. "So as painful as it is to go by the careful guidelines of gradually phasing into a reopening — it's going to backfire. That's the problem."