WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday called on supporters to "liberate" states that have experienced protests over coronavirus lockdowns, a day after he unveiled guidelines aimed at reopening the nation's economy.
A day after declining to name the states he felt might be prepared to begin easing social distancing guidelines intended to halt the spread of the virus, Trump named Virginia, Michigan and Minnesota as states that could benefit from liberation.
"LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" Trump posted in a series of all-caps tweets.
All three states are led by Democratic governors, and all three have seen protests aimed at state officials in recent days demanding a rollback of social distancing and the closing of businesses. Demonstrators drove thousands of vehicles to Michigan's state Capitol this week to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order, for instance.
It was not clear exactly what Trump meant with the tweets. The only context he offered came with a third "liberate" tweet, directed at Virginia, in which he urged supporters to "save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!" The White House did not immediately respond to a request for further information about the president's intention.
Critics were quick to note that the president appeared to be encouraging protests in the states, all three of which are also important for the presidential election.
"He's encouraging them to attack state authorities in the midst of a health crisis," Joanne Freeman, a Yale history professor who has studied anti-government violence, posted on Twitter. "He's slashing at states to gain the loyalty of all those who 'like' him, regardless of the impact."
Bradley P. Moss, a national security lawyer, described the tweets as a "disgusting" use of the presidential bully pulpit.
"Nothing about the president’s remarks explain what these states are doing that conflicts with the president’s own guidelines for reopening," Moss said.
Trump declined to say which states he thought should move toward reopening under new guidelines he announced Thursday. He said that 29 states were "in the ballgame" and would "be able to open relatively soon." The new non-binding guidelines recommend that states adopt a phase approach to reopening only after experiencing a downward trajectory of new coronavirus cases for two weeks.