Why right-wing Americans see the virus as an attack on their freedom

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Richmond The noise of dozens of horns fills the spring air. The car parade encircles the seat of government of the governor of Virginia at walking pace. Flags flutter in the sun from the side windows of the SUVs and from the loading areas of the pickup trucks. “Trump 2020” is on some. In between, you can always see a black rattlesnake on a yellow background: the symbol of the Tea Party – the libertarian protest movement that a few years ago ideologically shifted the Republican Party far to the right.

David Britt has set up a black folding armchair on the sidewalk and looks at the bustle. He is happy, “more than happy”, as he says himself. He would never have expected so many to respond to his call to protest the lockdown in Virginia’s capital, Richmond, against the corona-related restrictions on US public life.

Virginia, Wyoming, Ohio: People in around two dozen US states have been going against the corona restrictions for about two weeks. Most of the time, the protest against regional governments led by democratic governors is less against Republicans.

On the surface, there is a question that many citizens in Germany are asking themselves: How can you prevent the economic consequences of the pandemic from ultimately being worse than that of the epidemic itself? But underneath that, the old cultural struggle breaks out, which has divided the USA for around a quarter of a century: Right-wing despisers sense an attack on their freedom behind the lockdown.

With his goatee and melancholy eyes behind round glasses, Britt doesn’t look like the spokesman in an ideological argument. Only his shirt reveals that something is burning inside him. On the right side it is blue with white stars, on the left red-white-striped – Britt has the US flag on his body.

A bizarre parallel world is revealed

“Our only concern is that the people of Virginia can work again,” says the spokesman for the protest movement “Reopen Virginia”. He has no doubt that the corona virus is contagious. That’s why he called for a car demo so that no one gets too close during the protest.

In Richmond, an estimated 1,000 people followed Brit’s call on Wednesday. The atmosphere is peaceful, even happy, when the many drivers and the few demonstrators cheer each other on the sidewalk. A dozen police officers on mountain bikes are enough to keep things tidy.

Auto demonstration

In Richmond, Virginia, about 1,000 people took part in a protest while sitting in their cars.


(Photo: Reuters)

But under the carefree surface, a bizarre parallel world is revealed. Dominique Kostelac, who came to the demo with his three teenage children, speaks of the “corona dizziness”. “Covid 19 is a biological weapon that originated in Fort Detrick,” the architect and contractor is convinced.

The U.S. Army once researched biological weapons at the military base in the State of Maryland. The government is now using the fear of the virus to restrict citizens’ freedoms.

The elegant lady in the black BMW X3, the latest model, is also certain that the virus “escaped from a laboratory somewhere”. The convinced Republican would rather not read her name in the newspaper, she fears disadvantages for her husband, who gets “a nice pension” from the US Army.

Billy Healy, blue blazer over the Carhartt dungarees, argues with the case numbers: “A large proportion of the corona deaths occurred in New York and New Jesey. You can’t treat 48 states like these two now. ”He is a forest entrepreneur, Healy says. In his trade, he noticed the lockdown by the fact that the demand for timber fell.

Why is he wearing a button on his lapel that says “Save lives” during a demonstration against lockdown? “Oh,” Healy says, “I almost always wear it if I happen to meet a member of parliament.”

Against the lockdown, against restrictions on weapons law

Resentment about the lockdown is increasingly intermingling with everything that right-wing Americans have always hated, such as the gun restrictions that the Democratic governor of Virginia is currently trying to enforce.

For a few weeks, it seemed that Corona could help bridge ideological gaps in the United States. One would like to think that deaths and infection rates cannot be discussed on the basis of the usual left-right criteria.

In the Senate and House of Representatives, where Democrats and Republicans usually sit next to each other in celebrated hostility, the parliamentarians have now reached a record pace on four Corona aid packages. Suddenly the US has continued sick pay and generous unemployment benefits – both limited to the corona crisis, but at least.

Sure, Trump was still offensive against unpopular politicians, shameless boast and adventurous about-turns. But at the same time the president seemed to want to prove himself as a corona crisis manager. On the advice of his team of medical experts, Trump extended the White House’s corona recommendations until April 30.

The exit plan that Trump presented on April 16 also sounds unideological and reasonable: The White House provides clear medical criteria for when and what restrictions can be lifted. The decision and implementation then lies with the governors. On top of that, Trump is smart because he can shift any responsibility onto the states if the epidemic flares up again somewhere in the United States.

Trump resumes cultural struggle

But as soon as Trump had announced this exit plan, the president opened the new round of American cultural struggle on April 18 and attacked three democratic governors who, in his opinion, were not pushing the opening fast enough. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” Trump tweeted in loud capital letters, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA”, and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA”.

To add in the case of Virginia: “… and protect your 2nd amendment. It is under threat. ”The second constitutional amendment guarantees US citizens the right to own firearms. A right that the man in camouflage clothing, who is demonstrating in Richmond with an assault rifle over his shoulder, apparently does not want to be taken for granted. “The punishment for betrayal is death,” says his poster.

The culture struggle is fueled by the fact that the devastation of the virus has so far been particularly evident where the majority of Democrats are at home: in the metropolitan areas along the east and west coast and in major cities such as Chicago, Detroit or New Orleans.

The republican-dominated rural regions of the south and mid-west have so far not noticed the epidemic. Of course, there are also good reasons for the corona restrictions there. The virus spreads more slowly in sparsely populated regions, but if it spreads, even the few hospitals are overwhelmed more quickly.

But in many parts of the United States, such horror scenarios look far away. When citizens in Wyoming’s capital Cheyenne demonstrated against the restrictions on Monday last week, one of the posters read: “Quarantine means restricting the free movement of sick people, tyranny means restricting the free movement of healthy people.”

African Americans particularly at risk

The split between city and country comes between ethnic groups. A handful of African-Americans, all wearing respiratory masks, are sitting at a stop in Richmond on Wednesday and are waiting in vain for the bus. It doesn’t get through because of the car parade. The protesters in the cars, on the other hand, are almost exclusively white and none of them wear a mask.

Covid-19 kills African Americans particularly frequently in the United States. In Chicago, for example, their share of the population is just under a third, and their share in the number of corona deaths in the city was a good two thirds at the beginning of April.

African Americans often work in high-risk jobs, such as supermarket salespeople, and are often dependent on buses and trains. For these people, the breathing mask is life insurance.

For the white demonstrators, it is the symbol of a policy that aims to make people compliant with the fear of the virus. In Richmond, 17-year-old Summer Kostelac reduces this attitude to the shortest possible denominator. “Covid-1984” is on the poster that the architect’s daughter holds up.

This conflict even runs through the middle of a city 800 kilometers southeast of Richmond. In Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp (white, Republican) pushes aside all medical concerns.

According to the politician, restaurants, as well as theaters, hairdressers, gyms and massage practices, will be allowed to reopen in Georgia on Monday – although the state by far does not meet the White House criteria for relaxing the restrictions.

The Mayor of the capital, Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms (black, democrat) considers this opening to be much too early. She received unexpected support from the White House on Wednesday evening. Even Donald Trump advised his republican party friend to take it a little slower when opening it: “It’s too early.”

A sentence that the demonstrators at Richmond do not like to hear.

More: Corona hero, miser or the new reckless? This is how the world looks at Germany.

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