Hundreds of people gathered outside of the Massachusetts State House on Monday calling for the end to restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Around 1 p.m., the gathering, called the Liberty Rally and promoted by the right-wing provocateurs behind last September’s controversial Straight Pride Parade and conservative local radio host Jeffrey Kuhner, took over part of Beacon Street. Demonstrators brandished American flags and Trump 2020 signs, along with signs that read “end the shutdown,” “all jobs are essential,” and “media is the virus.”
“I’m not going to sugar coat this, America is committing national suicide," Kuhner said to the crowd. “I see churches closed, I see an economic collapse, thousands of businesses bankrupt and shuttered — all of this for a lousy virus? For a contagious flu at the absolute worse? This Is not a pandemic.”
Doctors, infectious disease specialists and other experts have consistently described the coronavirus pandemic as considerably more dangerous than seasonal influenza.
Officials and public health experts repeatedly have cautioned that lifting the order that closed nonessential businesses and prematurely abandoning social distancing guidelines would inevitably lead to a spike in new coronavirus infections and deaths.
Super Happy Fun America, the group behind the 2019 Straight Pride Parade that drew more counter protesters than participants, identified itself as one of the rally’s hosts.
“Americans are suffering due to the unprecedented economic shutdown imposed by the government as a response to COVID-19,” the statement said. “We are calling upon the citizens of our state to come out in force on May 4th to demand that the governor and his minions let the people get back to work and obey the Constitution.”
It appeared a majority of the protesters were not wearing face coverings. A statewide mask requirement takes effect Wednesday.
A 61-year-old who declined to provide his full name said he came to Boston on a motorcycle from Cape Cod to attend the protest with his wife.
“We should be able to decide whether or not we want to work, social distance, or wear a mask,” he said. “I think people are going to get hooked on government pay — it is government overreach.”
Janine Largent of North Reading said she and her daughter recently recovered from COVID-19. She came to the protest to advocate for a reopening of the economy, but she said she was concerned with the number of people crowded closely together without personal protective gear.
“I am nervous for some of these people without masks, some are older,” she said through her surgical face mask. “But at this point we have to protest, or else we will be ‘tracking and tracing’ until the end of time, and people want their freedom.”
The scene drew a police presence which kept the crowd on opposite sides of the road and out of traffic until a portion of Beacon Street was shut down for the rally.