On Sunday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) condemned the anti-lockdown protesters at the State Capitol in Lansing as depicting “some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history in this country.” She specifically mentioned that “there were swastikas and Confederate flags and nooses and people with assault rifles.” She repeated “the Confederate flags and nooses, the swastikas.” So, were there Confederate flags, swastikas, and nooses at the protests last Thursday? If there were, were they racist?
Whitmer is correct that these symbols emerged during the protest, but it is highly debatable whether any of them were racist.
Tom Bevan, founder and president of RealClearPolitics, shared one of the swastika posters at the rally. The swastika features on a poster reading “Heil Witmer,” comparing Gov. Whitmer to a Nazi.
Gretchen Whitmer said the protests in Lansing "depicted some of the worst racism” in U.S. history, featuring Confederate flags," "nooses" and swastikas. I've combed through a bunch of photos, have yet to see a Confederate flag or a noose. But I did find one swastika: pic.twitter.com/7pTiQcM9eC
— Tom Bevan (@TomBevanRCP) May 3, 2020
This is gross and rather disgusting hyperbole, to be sure. Whitmer has attempted to override the Michigan legislature in order to extend her tyrannical lockdowns, but she is nothing like Adolf Hitler. Michiganders can — and arguably should — protest Whitmer’s abuses without resorting to this kind of ridiculous demonizing rhetoric.
Yet when Whitmer mentioned swastikas, she suggested that the protesters carrying the swastikas were racist — neo-Nazis. Instead, they were protesting the governor, comparing her to a Nazi.
Radio host Casey Hendrickson shared another picture of a swastika at the protest. Again, the protester was comparing Whitmer to Hitler, not advocating for Nazism.
Guys, I've been combing through photos of the Michigan protests to find evidence of Gov. Whitmer's claims that protesters carried swastikas to depict the worst kinds of racism. Alas, I've found proof she wasn't lying about seeing swastikas.
Glad we cleared that up. pic.twitter.com/4Y5Rsf5VEH
— Casey Hendrickson (@RealCaseyH) May 4, 2020
As for nooses, they did make an appearance or two, but there was no reason to assume any racist intent behind them. The Detroit News‘s Craig Mauger shared an image of a sign reading, “Tyrants Get the Rope.”
A sign currently on the lawn: pic.twitter.com/sPqeCfVUQ0
— Craig Mauger (@CraigDMauger) April 30, 2020
Matt Schmucker of The State News took a photo of a noose in front of the State Capitol. PJ Media asked Schmucker if he could provide more context for the photo.
Hey Matt, can you add more context to this photo? The noose is horrific, but your picture only shows it was hanging somewhere. Is there any clear connection to the protest?
— Tyler O'Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) May 3, 2020
“It was in the back of someone’s truck as they drove circles around the Capitol with a bunch of other traffic from the protest,” Schmucker told PJ Media. He also said the truck had a sign about Jeffrey Epstein, likely suggesting the notorious sex criminal did not kill himself.
America has a tragic history of lynchings — black men heinously murdered by white mobs, often organized by the Ku Klux Klan. For this reason, nooses can symbolize racism, but there is no reason to suggest that was the case here. Instead, it seems far more likely that this truck driver meant to send the same message as the sign above — “tyrants get the rope.”
This may constitute a threat against Whitmer, and such signs certainly are ugly, but they are not racist. Whitmer is white, after all.
As for Confederate flags, they seemed few and far between. Bevan said he could not find any, but State Senator Mallory McMorrow shared one photo on Twitter, showing a Confederate flag next to flags proclaiming the importance of freedom. She also shared one more swastika sign — which attempted to blend the swastika with a donkey to symbolize the Democratic Party, making the same insinuation that Democrats are Nazis.
Accompanying photos, from Thursday: pic.twitter.com/1hNpp6FCGt
— Mallory "Senator StayHome" McMorrow (@MalloryMcMorrow) May 2, 2020
While the Confederacy did secede from the Union in order to expand the institution of slavery into the territories, the Confederate flag today represents Southern pride and an attack against tyranny. As a proud graduate of Hillsdale College, a school in Michigan that sent its men off to fight for the Union, I would prefer that Southerners and Americans, in general, would swap out the Confederate flag for a flag more reminiscent of rebellion for a noble cause, like the “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden Flag or the “Come and Take It” flag from the Battle of Gonzalez.
However, the Confederate flag is not necessarily a racist symbol.
All that said, it is troubling to see so much anger verging on hatred directed toward Gov. Whitmer. As a Christian, I try hard to love and pray for my enemies, and I would encourage my fellows to do the same. Signs comparing Whitmer to Hitler and other signs calling her a “b*tch” are ugly and do more harm than good to a political cause. Americans should protest civilly and reject this kind of ugliness.
However, Whitmer’s decision to frame a protest against her as “racist” is malicious and deceptive. These Michiganders are angry at their governor forcing businesses to close, mandating that gardening aisles in “essential” businesses be shut down, and decreeing that people cannot travel to another residence they own. While these restrictions may be well-intended, they represent gross overreach — and at least one study has suggested that the anxieties such lockdowns inflame will cost more lives than the lockdowns themselves could possibly save.
Whitmer’s lockdown may be as much about power as it is about safety. But, seriously, that doesn’t make her anything like Hitler.
“We have to listen to the epidemiologist and health experts and displays like the one we saw at our capitol is not representative of who we are.” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reacts to protesters descending on her state’s capitol, including some who were armed. #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/lfPgGnpkGC
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) May 3, 2020
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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