OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday rebuked President Donald Trump after the president appeared to encourage rebellion against statewide stay-home orders in a series of tweets.
Following a protest in Minnesota by conservatives there opposing that state’s stay-home order to slow the coronavirus, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” The president tweeted similar messages about Virginia and Michigan, which saw similar protests this week.
The president’s exhortations came even as he spelled out guidelines under which states may eventually reopen. Across the country, some conservatives are pushing to restart the economy.
More than 1,000 protesters gathered at the Idaho statehouse on Friday afternoon in defiance of Gov. Brad Little’s extension of the statewide stay-at-home order. Little announced Wednesday that the order would extend to the end of April.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is encouraging retailers to start operating next Friday as “retail to go,” in which customers would order ahead of time and pick up items curbside. State parks will reopen Monday, but visitors will be required to wear face coverings, he said.
Closer to home, some conservatives were planning a protest at the Capitol on Sunday in Olympia calling for Inslee to lift his stay-home order. The demonstration has been touted by, among others, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman.
In a statement Friday, Inslee condemned Trump for encouraging “illegal and dangerous acts” that were “putting millions of people in danger of contracting COVID-19.”
“The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies even while his own administration says the virus is real and is deadly, and that we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted,” Inslee said in prepared remarks.
“Just yesterday, the president stood alongside White House officials and public-health experts and said science would guide his plan for easing restrictions,” the governor added. “The White House released a sensible plan laying out many of the guidelines that I agree are essential to follow, as we work to resume economic activity.”
The governor called for political leaders to speak out against Trump.
Inslee took a more conciliatory tone toward those who oppose his stay-at home order, some of whom may attend Sunday’s demonstration in Olympia.
Asked about the planned demonstration, Inslee said, “of course they’re welcome to express their First Amendment rights to say what they want to say.”
“I do encourage them to socially distance when they do that, try to maintain 6 feet apart while you’re expressing yourself,” the governor said. “We care about your safety as well.”
The rally, named “Hazardous Liberty! Defend the Constitution!” is in response to the governor’s use of emergency powers to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, which as of Friday afternoon had killed 603 Washingtonians and sickened at least 11,445, according to the state Department of Health.
Inslee has used his authority to close schools, shutter businesses deemed nonessential and temporarily ban large gatherings in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading.
“If we assent to this violation, even for a short time, then we are assenting to future violations, more egregious and indefinite in their scope,” wrote the Olympia demonstration’s organizer on a Facebook page. “We will be, in as real a sense as is possible, forging the chains of our own servitude.”
The rally’s organizer is Tyler Miller, a 39-year-old engineering technician who lives Bremerton, according to a report in The New York Times.
The event’s Facebook post called on demonstrators to practice social distancing and consider wearing protective gear, and also urged vulnerable people or those who are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home.
Given that rallies on the Capitol campus are protected by the First Amendment, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) generally takes a hands-off approach to them.
In an email, Chris Loftis, spokesman for the patrol, noted the governor’s stay-home order is “legally enforceable and restricts gathering sizes while setting COVID appropriate levels of physical distancing.”
But, “WSP’s approach to enforcing these orders has centered on engagement and education and using discretion before responding with more active enforcement measures in extreme circumstances of reckless or aggressive behaviors,” wrote Loftis. “We urge all members of the public to conduct themselves in a respectful, compassionate, and medically responsible manner recognizing that your own interpretation of social distancing measures may vary from someone else’s.
“Remember, in this unique environment of shared medical vulnerability, your own acceptance of physical closeness can be seen as dangerous or aggressive behavior by others,” he added.
While the Capitol campus hasn’t been issuing the usual demonstration permits due to the COVID-19 outbreak, “we recognize the rights of peaceful assembly and free speech are still important,” he wrote.
That hands-off approach was on display this past week.
Troopers on Thursday stood by as motorists honked their horns for more than 30 minutes as they called on Inslee to release prisoners to protect them from COVID-19 outbreaks in correctional facilities.
The governor and state Department of Corrections this week identified 1,100 prisoners who will be released soon to ease crowding in the prisons, which could leave inmates at risk to any quick-spreading outbreak.
Last Saturday, another demonstration took place, drawing a few dozen protesters outside the Capitol. For the most part keeping their distance from each other and wearing masks, they also called on Inslee to release prisoners.
Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post is included in this report.