Protests against state lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 are occurring from Washington and Idaho to Michigan and Pennsylvania. They pretend to be spontaneous uprisings. But in fact they are well coordinated by deeply connected networks of billionaire-funded, tax-exempt organizations. These right-wing groups seek to stoke the anger of frustrated working people and small business owners. They work to direct people’s frustration away from the failures of capitalism by ranting about “government overreach.”
In response to the coronavirus health crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives in the U.S., most states have issued stay-at-home orders to contain the pandemic. This has shuttered much of the economy, jeopardizing small businesses and leading to mass unemployment. The well-funded far right is working furiously to roll back the state restrictions. The capitalists see their profit machine grinding to a halt, and they are counting on desperate workers and small employers to come to their defense and turn up the heat to kick production into high gear.
Many dismiss participants at the anti-shutdown rallies as ignorant, uneducated folks complaining about trivial issues such as not being able to get a haircut or buy grass seed. These critics often overlook the role of the right-wing mega donors who back the organizations that are instigating these protests. For instance, the DeVos family, which includes Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, contributes to the Michigan Freedom Fund that promoted that state’s anti-lockdown protests in mid-April.
Other reactionary groups behind the rallies include Freedom Works, which was founded by uber-rich industrialist and anti-union zealot Charles Koch, and the Convention of States (COSA). Robert Mercer, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Republican patron, spent big to launch COSA in 2015. It is highly connected to the Trump administration. Among its supporters are the current director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. COSA organized through various Facebook pages with passionate calls such as, “The people are rising up against these insane shutdowns,” and “We’re fighting back to demand that our elected officials reopen America.”
In dire times like these the right wing is perfectly happy to see a burgeoning fascist movement counter growing support for socialist concepts like producing to meet needs (food, safety gear, etc.) rather than to make more profits for the already super-rich. White supremacists and affiliated anti-government militias such as the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers are showing up at the rallies to recruit and organize. There have been numerous xenophobic signs such as “Deport All Illegals.” At an anti-shutdown protest in Ohio, a sign depicted Jews as rats, calling them “the real plague.” The Proud Boys, a nationalistic and male chauvinist organization that incites violence, has also been involved in anti-shutdown protests in various states from Washington to Georgia.
The pandemic has exposed that capitalism is in crisis and cannot provide the essentials of life for working people. Now is the time to build an inclusive movement that challenges big business while helping out small proprietors. Such a movement can lead workers in their struggle to access what they need to survive, including safe working conditions, good jobs, a strong social safety net, universal healthcare, and free public education.
Beyond achieving bare necessities, we can set our sights on a socialist society that will put an end to the poverty, prejudice, and exploitation that are essential to the profit system.
Statement issued by the Freedom Socialist Party