On a blue-skied and brisk spring day in April, not quite four weeks into Indiana’s coronavirus-induced stay-at-home order, the natives were growing restless.
Here, off a tony stretch of Meridian Street, a cacophony of car horns yelped and more than 200 protestors brayed as they gathered outside of Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s official residence, flouting CDC guidelines prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people.
They came here because they believed the governor had trampled their constitutional rights by preventing churches to open doors on Easter Sunday. They were here because they wanted their small businesses opened back up. And they were here to let off some steam.
“Open it up!” yelled a man from the cloistered confines of his shiny late model BMW X5 periodically, as he circled the block.
The angry people traveled from as far away as Warsaw, about two-and-a-half hours to the north, and as nearby as the eastside of Indianapolis. More people wore Make America Great Again hats than face masks.
A few hoisted yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, a visual echo of the Tea Party rallies that swept the nation in 2009, a movement, like this one, Astroturfed by billionaires.
In a series of tweets Friday, President Trump egged on the protests in states with Democratic governors, such as Michigan, where protestors gathered recently as part of “Operation Gridlock.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Trump tweeted. “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”
Despite Indiana’s similar restrictions in place to fight the spread of coronavirus, Trump did not tweet “LIBERATE INDIANA.” He didn’t have to: A trio of young men wearing masks held a sign that carried that message. Beneath it, red and black letters read: “NO MORE NANNY STATE!! ALL JOBS ARE ESSENTIAL!”
The protests, like those of the Tea Party, have in some cases been linked to billionaires such as the family of Betsy Devos, the president’s education secretary. Elsewhere, similar protests took shape in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Utah, Texas, and Washington.
On Saturday, the protestors inveighed against what they described as the government’s encroachment on their lives. Few seemed to be aware of Indiana’s emergency management disaster law signed into law in the wake of 9/11 that gives the governor sweeping authority to “employ any measure and give any direction” to keep the state safe.
Some expressed anger at public health experts. “Fauci was wrong,” read one sign.
A self-described missionary from a non-denominational church in Northern Indiana dressed in camouflage head to toe and toted an AR-15 and, inexplicably, wore a combat helmet. He declined to give his name.
Asked why he had a gun, he said: “When the government is lawless, they need to understand the citizen’s veto.”
Would he use the gun if the restrictions continued?
“That’s a good question,” he said.
Others came to “own the libs.” Another pickup truck lapped the block and a young girl carried a “CNN virus” sign.
Asked how he had been affected by the pandemic a man who would only identify himself as Joe said: “We personally can’t do what we want to do. We want to travel. You can’t go to Florida.”
“Pandemic more like scamdemic,” read a sign held by his wife, Irene.
The protestors were outnumbered by another group of Hoosiers: the 545 men and women who had died during this pandemic according to the Indiana State Health Department, a growing cloud of witnesses who breathed their last strained breaths before dying of the virus those gathered here mocked.
Gallery (Images by Adam Wren):