The astroturfed “Freedom Rally” won’t represent Wisconsinites, but will put them at risk

Friday’s dangerous Capitol gathering is shaping up to be a monument to thoughtlessness.

Friday’s dangerous Capitol gathering is shaping up to be a monument to thoughtlessness.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Friday’s “Freedom Rally” at the Wisconsin State Capitol is, ostensibly, for a very vocal group of shockingly short-sighted citizens to advocate for ending Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” restrictions. Governor Tony Evers recently extended the restrictions in a bid to combat the spread of COVID-19, and has since rolled out a plan to gradually re-open Wisconsin’s economy. The protest is set to take place despite the fact that a public gathering greatly heightens the possibility of those restrictions being extended. Read that last sentence again if you still have an iota of doubt about the truly astonishing levels of brazen stupidity at work in the United States.


Protesters in many other states around the nation have already held similar events, all with near-identical event titles appearing on Facebook. Last week, unmasked protesters at a rally in Waukesha County waved at least one Confederate flag, highlighting the foundational role that white identity politics play in all facets of the American right. Reporting from NBC News and others has confirmed that the rallies are part of a right-wing astroturfing effort conducted by brothers Aaron, Chris, and Ben Dorr. The Dorr brothers have a well-documented history of employing extremist tactics on the front lines of pro-gun and anti-choice activism. Up until recently, Ben Dorr was listed as the creator of “Operation Gridlock,” a traffic protest with the same goal as the Freedom Rally, in Wisconsin. Despite over 300 indicating on Facebook that they would show up to the event, which was held this past Wednesday, the number of people who claimed to have attended was much closer to 50. 

“Operation Gridlock” was somehow only the first step of what promises to be multiple attempts to publicly advertise bold new heights of shameless idiocy. Friday’s rally, which boasted significantly higher prospective attendance numbers on Facebook before the event page disappeared, seems set to be more volatile. One of the last updates made available to the page confirmed that the protesters had gone to the trouble of requesting a permit for their rally, which the state’s Department of Administration rightfully denied. Following that denial, organizers pledged that the protest would still continue, despite general reason and logic proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that it shouldn’t. 

In other words, this isn’t just an irresponsible event but an illegal event, which we’d be talking about more if the protesters weren’t overwhelmingly white. The permit denial seems to have stoked the group’s restlessness even further, drawing a handful of now-deleted responses expressing various members’ ire.


Despite hard data showing that these protests can contribute to the spread of COVID-19, various Republican figures from Laura Ingraham to the Michigan Freedom Fund (a group linked to Betsy DeVos) to Donald Trump to fringe extremist groups like the John Birch Society have offered their vocal and/or financial support of the nationwide efforts—while pushing a broader right-wing narrative that Americans should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of economic growth. In addition to that support, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature has sued Evers over his decision to extend the “Safer at Home” order. This should surprise absolutely no one around Wisconsin, a state where Republicans recently forced voters to hold a potentially lethal in-person election, a move that health officials have already linked to at least 19 positive tests for COVID-19. We can’t expect much else from a political movement that has repeatedly demonstrated its extraordinary ability to marry gross disregard for the public interest with rampant, insular powerlust.

Still, it seems that some people just won’t rest until they’ve gone through a completely unnecessary game of respiratory-virus chicken while desperately clinging to a false sense of American exceptionalism, a trait that sprouts from deep-rooted nationalistic indoctrination. If all goes according to the plans of the protesters, by Saturday we might actually know who can shout the dumbest possible thing at the loudest possible volume. More likely, we’ll see this event fizzle, reflecting the widespread support that a measure specifically designed to fortify Wisconsin’s health has garnered from both the medical community and an otherwise generally competent public.

It’s not a stretch to imagine many also oppose the locational setting of the protest, which is likely to put one of Madison’s densest hubs of homeless people at severe risk of contracting a disease that has led to the brink of a ventilator crisis. While it’s probably unfair to expect an egregiously self-obsessed group of dim-witted “patriots” to exercise a modicum of empathy or self-awareness, it’d also be irresponsible to not point out the soul-deadening callousness of this specific circumstantial effect on an extraordinarily vulnerable population. But what’s the life of a poor compared to the value of a haircut, right?


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