It took three Weeks from the time Whitmer signed his new order to stay home for hundreds of white citizens to report to the State Capitol, many with guns. The American Patriot Rally, as it was called, was organized by Michigan United for Liberty, a group formed to oppose the Whitmer closure, arguing in part that the state was exaggerating the death toll from the virus. Members of Michigan militia groups were invited to provide “security.” Concentration began on the steps of the Statehouse, but soon moved to the building itself. The legislature was in session. Armed protesters effectively occupied the Senate gallery while lawmakers debated next. The next morning, the President tweeted his support for them. “The Michigan governor should give a little and put out the fire,” he wrote. “These are very good people, but they are angry.”
Lawmakers were debating a resolution to allow the Legislature to sue the governor for his latest closing order. It was widely supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. Two Detroit black Democratic lawmakers had contracted the virus; Another Detroit lawmaker, Isaac Robinson, 44, is believed to have died from it. Its constituents were not only those who fell ill and died in incomprehensibly large numbers; They would also be the first to be asked to return to work, in the service industry and manufacturing jobs, when the state began to reopen, whether safe or not.
Whitmer was home during the protest, but learned what was happening inside the Capitol after some members of the militia posted a photo of themselves on social media posing in front of his office with military-style rifles. When I spoke to her the next day, she told me that she had been listening to several black lawmakers who were not only angry but also scared. “They told me they didn’t feel safe,” he said. “And why would they? I have sat in those seats. The gallery is open and is one floor above you. You are a sitting duck. It would be a very, very scary place if you were one of those legislators. ” They urged Whitmer to call the National Guard before the next protest or, better yet, ban weapons within the Capitol. Whitmer was once again confronted with the limits of her own power; she did not have the authority to make policies for the Capitol. That responsibility rests with the Legislature or a political appointing body called the Capitol Commission.
A week after white protesters descended on Capitol Hill, a black Lansing state representative, Sarah Anthony, brought her own security guards to the Legislature, most of them black, many of them armed. “When traditional systems, be it law enforcement or whatever, fail us, we also have the ability to take care of ourselves,” he told The Guardian.
Whitmer was concerned about the mounting tensions and hoped that someone, be it the Legislature or the Capitol Commission, would calm the situation. “There is talk of another big protest, and there is talk of an armed counter-protest,” Whitmer told me. “I prefer to prevent that from happening.” The public had been subject to restrictions before: in 1999, when large numbers of Detroit residents flocked to Lansing to protest the state’s plan to take over their city’s schools, metal detectors were used on people entering. to the legislative galleries. Democratic State Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote a letter to the Capitol Commission, urging them to do something similar now.
At first glance, it didn’t seem like a controversial request. But the majority of the Capitol Commission was appointed by state Republicans. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans in Michigan, but Republicans nevertheless control the Legislature, thanks in part to an aggressive effort by partisan gerrymandering. In the 2018 election, Democrats won all major state offices and garnered more combined votes across all legislative races, but still ended up with fewer seats. This has allowed the Republican Party to set the state agenda for years.