A few hundred people led by right-wing business owners and religious leaders, along with Rep. Matt Shea, protested against stay-home orders at Spokane City Hall Friday afternoon.
Two weeks ago several hundred people with many of the same leaders protested at the Spokane County Courthouse, leading to tense interactions with local politicians after the majority of demonstrators left the area.
But the messages delivered by prominent speakers Friday relied more heavily on far-right ideas and conspiracy theories as they lamented the struggles of local businesses.
Police officers estimated between 100 and 500 people attended, representing a smaller crowd than the May 1 protest of more than 600 people.
“America is exceptional because of her defense of individual liberty. Let’s not lose that to a planned-demic,” said Caleb Collier, a former Spokane Valley city councilman and member of the John Birch Society, while referencing the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 pandemic was planned as a political power grab.
“Free men and women don’t ask for their rights back,” Collier continued. “We are done asking for approval, and we don’t need their permission.”
“We are the John Birch Society, we are the 3%, we are Oath Keepers and we are open for businesses,” Collier said, alluding to three organizations, two of which are associated with militia movements.
Rep. Matt Shea, who did not file for reelection by Friday’s deadline, spoke at the rally but did not march with protesters, according to KHQ.
Shea referred to a COVID-19 isolation facility at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center meant mainly for homeless people as an “internment camp.” Last week the facility had taken in fewer than 30 people.
He also said thousands of people should gather at each business, church or organization that reopens and is threatened if they don’t close.
“Right now is the time to stand,” Shea said.
Men wearing clothing associated with a number of far-right organizations were also present, according to KHQ. But the protest remained relatively peaceful.
Patti Ussellman, a hair salon owner and protest organizer through the Facebook group Open for Business Washington, called on county sheriffs to stand up against stay-home orders and claimed Gov. Jay Inslee should be arrested for breaking the law.
Ussellman’s Facebook group has more than 500 members.
Brent Peterson, owner of Cole’s Coffee in Spokane Valley, said he reopened indoor seating on May 4 and has seen business increase without concerns from customers.
“We want to be safe but we don’t want to be stupid,” Peterson said.
He said he would not comply with state guidelines for restaurants to keep a private log of diners in case customers need to be told they may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.
“We have to fight,” Peterson said about standing up to stay-home orders.
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