America is a tyrant

"We only overthrow tyrants" : With the assault rifle against corona protective measures

Suddenly there is restlessness, Matthew Frezza raises his right arm and points upwards. A dozen or so demonstrators have gathered on the green hill above him, in front of the pillared entrance to the gleaming white Virginia Parliament building.

Some, like Frezza, are wearing AR-15 assault rifles, are wearing paramilitary uniforms, body armor and masks - and two or three are also carrying large flags of the United States.

A couple of security guards run up to the men and instruct them, as much can be seen of the street below, to leave the square immediately.

For a moment this Friday it is not certain whether the until then peaceful rally against the exit restrictions in the corona crisis has now derailed - with Frezza there are three dozen protesters down here on the street - as was the case the day before in Michigan's capital Lansing when hundreds, including armed men, occupied the Capitol and the politicians present felt compelled to put on bulletproof vests.

Here in Richmond the men turn around the flag bearers and run back down the hill at a relaxed pace. They don't seem to want an escalation, they maybe just want to show that they are there, vigilant citizens of the United States, the country with the most known coronavirus, the most dead and more than 30 million new unemployed in the past six weeks.

Firearms are allowed, but sticks are not

Frezza is still outraged. "All because they had the American flag with them," he says. The man next to him says: “They hate our country.” They are the Democrats around Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam and the democratic majority in both chambers of congress of the US state since 2018.

It is correct: The demonstrators were not expelled from the square because of their weapons, but because of the white sticks to which their star-spangled banners are attached. Firearms are allowed around the Richmond Convention Center as on any other day, but banners or flags on sticks are not allowed this Friday. You don't have to understand that, and the demonstrators don't even bother to understand the decisions made by their state government.

In Richmond, Lansing, the Texas capital Austin and Madison, Wisconsin, people are demonstrating again and again these days against the contact restrictions issued by their governors, which have brought public life to a standstill and large parts of the US economy have been forced to take a break . In Virginia, the neighboring state of the capital Washington with around 8.5 million inhabitants, half a million people have lost their jobs since mid-March.

A "simple cough" - unemployed

At the end of March, Governor Northam imposed exit restrictions: schools were closed for the rest of the school year, restaurants are only allowed to sell food outside the home, and residents of Virginia are only supposed to go outside to get food and medicine or to play sports - and keep a strict distance. Most shops are closed.

At 37, Matthew Frezza is already the father of nine children, the grandfather of one grandchild and, as he says, he works in the construction industry. He is no longer allowed to work because of a “simple cough”. Now he is receiving unemployment benefits of $ 320 a week. “How am I supposed to feed my family?” His wife is also unemployed.

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Sometimes there are only a few dozen like here in Richmond who are resisting the corona regulations, sometimes hundreds like in Michigan, and sometimes more than a thousand like a week ago in Madison. The protests seem well coordinated, and according to research by the US media they are, including representatives of the gun lobby.

"Free Michigan", "Free Minnesota", "Free Virginia"

They sense their chance to capitalize on the displeasure of many Americans about the economic effects of the shutdown - and to convert the demonstrations for an end to the emergency into a general protest against the respective state government. Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump tweeted: "Free Michigan!", "Free Minnesota!" And "Free Virginia!" Addressing Virginia, he added: “... and protect your 2nd amendment to the constitution. He is at risk. "

The protests take place almost exclusively in states in which the Democrats provide the governors, some of which rule with a parliamentary majority from their own party, such as Ralph Northam in Virginia. The Democrats usually want a stricter gun law.

That's why Matthew Frezza came here in front of the Capitol that day, he says. The 37-year-old Gulf War veteran, a former elite soldier in the United States Marine Corps, opposes any tightening of gun laws, be it background checks of potential buyers or a limit, as introduced by Northam, on the number of guns one can purchase in a month. "I will defend the Second Amendment," says Frezza. It stipulates the right of Americans to bear arms.

You don't really want a war

Frezza apparently still has a suspicion: The governor is only using the corona crisis as an excuse. With the “unconstitutional shutdown” he makes people “slaves” of his politics, he stirs up fear of the virus and thus takes away their rights, their freedom. "Northam is a tyrant."

Shortly afterwards Frezza explains that he and his 30-strong militia “New Chesterfield Militia” actually didn't want a war. “The media claim that militias want to overthrow governments. We don't want that at all. We only overthrow tyrants. "

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Many states have been loosening their protective measures again since last week, others probably not for a long time. The USA are feeling their way back to normal, but at different speeds. Texas opened restaurants and shops on Friday, despite the state reporting a new record death toll just the day before. Virginia's neighboring state, Maryland, plans to allow many businesses to reopen from next week. In the - extremely liberal - Washington D. C., which borders Virginia and Maryland, there are still no signs of reopening.

Men with guns "yell at us"

State governors have a great deal of decision-making power, and they have gained tremendous visibility in this crisis. But they are also party politicians. The displeasure with the temporal patchwork of planned easing also arises from the different course of the pandemic. Those parts of America where the majority of the population is liberal have been hit particularly hard, in big cities like New York City, Chicago or New Orleans and on the coasts on both sides of the country. In the rural areas of the Midwest and the South, the number of cases is significantly lower.

On Thursday in Michigan, armed intruders suddenly gathered in the convention building. They apparently wanted to symbolically stand by the Republican majority in parliament, which is resisting the Democratic governor to extend the state of emergency until the end of May. "Right above me, men with guns are yelling at us," tweeted Senator Dayna Polehanki. It is not prohibited to carry weapons in the Michigan Capitol.

Face mask only to avoid being recognized

On Friday, the President said that the gunmen who broke into the congress building were "very decent people" who were very angry. "They want their lives back," he tweeted. And that is why the governor must seek a conversation with them and put out the "fire". At the same time, his government promotes guidelines for "social distancing", wearing face masks and other restrictions on public life.

[All current developments as a result of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here in our news blog. At this point we will keep you up to date on developments in Berlin in particular.]

In Richmond, around half of the protesters wear face masks. Frezza only uses it, he says, to avoid being outed on the Internet through facial recognition. “I wouldn't put on a mask,” he says, but he is already convinced that it is a “real virus”. It's just not worse than the usual flu. He refuses to live in fearful security, preferring freedom to fear.

"Healthy people" have "nothing to fear"

Jason Roberge, who is running for one of Virginia's electoral districts in the November congressional elections, also wore an American flag as a scarf, but did not pull it in front of his face. "I'm pretty sure that I've already been infected with the coronavirus, and besides, healthy people have nothing to worry about," says the 37-year-old.

Roberge, who once served in the Coast Guard, worked as a lawyer, and ran his own business before moving into politics, is an avowed Trump fan. Like the president, he doubts statements by health experts and questions the official death rate. "They are corrected up or down from country to country, depending on how it suits you."

Roberge, with a reprint of the constitution in hand, wants to be labeled a supporter of the protests in Richmond. He forwards tweets about Anthony Fauci attacking America's top immunologist, a senior member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. It is highly suspicious, it says, for example, that Fauci is optimistic about the remdesivir drug in the fight against Corona, but evaluates the hydroxychloroquine mentioned by Trump negatively. Fauci is built up as an enemy in right-wing circles because he has repeatedly dared to correct statements by the president.

A rattlesnake ready to bite

The coronavirus is hitting an already divided society in America. The fact that there is more to the protests could also be inferred from the yellow flags that show a rattlesnake raised to bite. They can also be seen at the demonstration in Richmond. Below the line are the words "Don't tread on me" - don't kick me. The flag, which was first seen in the American struggle for independence against the British Empire, is also the symbol of the right-wing conservative Tea Party, which fundamentally changed the Republican Party from 2009.

In the United States, it is “financially worthwhile” if Covid-19 is given as the cause of death, says Jason Roberge. “There is an extra $ 10,000 for the hospitals.” When asked how he knew this, he referred to the Internet. "Look it up, it's easy to find."

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