Thousands gather at Wisconsin state Capitol to protest coronavirus restrictions

Thousands gather at Wisconsin state Capitol to protest coronavirus restrictions

MADISON, Wis. – Thousands of people cheering "USA" and "open up" gathered on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol on Friday to protest Gov. Tony Evers' restrictions on their daily lives, rallying in close quarters on a day the state saw its highest daily increase in positive cases of coronavirus.

The crowd stood shoulder to shoulder – physically and in solidarity – in defiance of the Democratic governor's order to keep businesses and schools closed, and people apart, in an effort to limit the spread of the highly contagious virus for which there is no vaccine.

Circulating among the crowd were petitions to recall Evers and signs that said "All Workers Are Essential" and "Death ... is preferable to communism."

Dozens of American flags accompanied the protesters and some openly carried assault-style rifles.

"I think this will make Evers respond," Cindy Warner of Milwaukee said. "People of different backgrounds, races and cultures all want to get back to work. The flu can kill you but so can not eating."

People demonstrate against Gov. Tony Evers' restrictions on daily life due to the corona virus pandemic Friday, April 24, 2020 at the Capitol in Madison, Wis.

Public health experts say no one should be gathering in groups this large as the highly contagious coronavirus continues to spread through Wisconsin – but it's those limits that are largely driving them to do so.

Scores of businesses have closed or drastically reduced their staffs, leading to hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims. Churches have closed their doors. And about 900,000 children aren't in school.

The virus has infected 5,356 people in Wisconsin and killed 262. But it's largely affecting communities with larger populations – driving resentment among people who live in areas with many fewer cases of the virus and are being subject to the same economic restrictions.

'We're winging this':Coronavirus protests tout independence as national groups eye election

The same day as the protest, Wisconsin saw its highest daily increase in confirmed positive cases of the virus – 304. Thursday night, nurses lined the state Capitol steps with 1,300 electronic candles in tribute to those currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Wisconsin. The candles were meant to be a silent counter-protest.

Friday's protest also has political motivations – conservative activist Bob Dohnal in a newsletter offered free transportation to anyone who wanted to attend the protest.

At a parking lot in Waukesha County, several hundred participants in a planned business owners rally gathered Friday before driving as a group to the Capitol Square. Signs drawn on car windows said "Let Freedom Ring" and "Shut Down Fear, Open Up Wisconsin."

Among them was Tom Rakowski, a part-time bartender from Wind Lake who dressed up as President Donald Trump.

"This is going to bring awareness to the state," Rakowski said. "Leave it up to the business owners."

Protesters call for the state to reopen due to the economic damage they say it is causing and directed their anger toward Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers during a freedom rally at the state Capitol, Friday, April 24,2020.

Near the Capitol, former state Rep. Don Pridemore and his wife, Tina, were collecting signatures in support of forming an exploratory committee to recall Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

Asked if he wanted to recall Evers, Pridemore, who is running for state Senate and once ran against Evers for state schools superintendent, said, "That would be the ultimate goal, but we're taking this in steps."

Kerry Poole of Milwaukee, an executive assistant at an appraisal firm who is able to work remotely, attended with her mother, Debbie Kauer.

"I don't think this is a partisan issue," Poole said. "I think this affects people the same. I'm just here to let our governor and legislators know that the people around Wisconsin want to start opening up the state."

Mark Batten – a fabricator, welder and steamfitter from Milwaukee – was carrying a sign, "We Won't Forget, Tony."

"The numbers don't justify (the closure)" Batten said "It is based on hysteria, not logic."

Dan Tarantino, a Realtor from Sussex, addresses participants in a business owners' rally to take place at the Capitol in Madison, on Friday, April 24, 2020.

Protesters also stayed in their cars, lining up on East and West Washington Avenue and in front of the Capitol rally, honking their horns and waving flags.

Capitol police were on hand, some wearing plastic face shields, but did not enforce physical distancing rules on the crowd, many of whom were not wearing masks.

At least two women wearing hospital scrubs stood among the crowd with face masks holding signs that read "please go home" and "In overwhelmed hospitals, more people die."

Similar protests have popped up around the country, especially in states with Democratic governors.

Evers told reporters Thursday he believes the protesters' First Amendment rights are "sacred" and wouldn't direct the Capitol police force to enforce physical distancing rules he has ordered to prevent transmission of the virus.

Contributing: Ricardo Torres; follow Molly Beck on Twitter: @MollyBeck.


News Related


Trump’s ‘mission accomplished’ moment is premature and deadly. We have not defeated COVID.

Desperate for crowds and adoration, Trump has put his most fervent supporters at risk of getting a deadly disease. Future historians will be astonished. Read more »

NFLPA president JC Tretter says NFL is putting season, players at risk with its coronavirus approach

NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said Tuesday the NFL is putting the 2020 season at risk with its coronavirus approach, calling on the league to better “prioritize player safety.” “Like many other... Read more »

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he tested positive for the coronavirus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity. Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and... Read more »

Venice Film Festival forges ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic with reduced lineup

The show will go on for the Venice Film Festival in September, but with a few modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers said Tuesday that they are pushing forward with plans for... Read more »

Amtrak offers buy-one, get-one promotion on its sleeper trains amid COVID-19 — with a catch

Amtrak wants you to have sweet dreams the next time you travel — so much so that it’s sweetening the deal on its sleeper “roomettes.” The rail service is offering a buy-one-get-one-free discount... Read more »

Florida teen treated with hydroxychloroquine at home before dying of COVID-19, report says

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – The family of a 17-year-old Florida girl who died last month from COVID-19 treated her symptoms at home for nearly a week before taking her to a hospital, a... Read more »

Mookie Betts worried MLB coronavirus testing woes could prevent him from ever playing for Dodgers

During nearly four months away from the game, Mookie Betts said he “stayed away from baseball to keep myself sane.” It’s not hard to understand why. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player... Read more »

Tom Hanks doesn’t get ‘how common sense has somehow been put into question’ with coronavirus

Read more »

Can Gov. DeSantis force Florida schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? Some school leaders seem doubtful.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As concern about the state order spread online, some school leaders said: Not so fast. As Florida educators puzzle over how to start the new academic year, Gov. Ron... Read more »

Texas surpasses 200,000 coronavirus cases after 4th of July holiday weekend

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The grim milestone came... Read more »