There’s a dead giveaway that these coronavirus liberty protests around here are political theater, and not real outrage.

It has to do with a certain sense of déjà vu.

Take, say, our newly famous state Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, who is in the national spotlight now for taking to the state Capitol steps in Olympia last Sunday and seeming to foment armed rebellion in the middle of a pandemic.

The ruling state government here is “hell bent on destroying the rule of law,” Sutherland told the big crowd. If you try to defend your rights, “they will kill you without hesitation.”

Yep, fighting words. But these are unusual times, and you can sense the heightened passion in his … oh wait, I’m sorry. Sutherland actually said that at an Olympia gun protest a year ago, in April, 2019. My mistake. Here’s what he said, pistol tucked in his pants, at last week’s coronavirus protest:

“We’re starting a rebellion in Washington … Governor, you send men with guns after us for going fishing, we’ll see what a revolution looks like … you send your goons with guns, we will defend ourselves.”


Sutherland was joined in inveighing against this new government tyranny by Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen – who had also joined Sutherland in decrying the old government tyranny back at the 2019 rally.

Or take Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley. You know your liberty rally is part of an ongoing vaudeville act when he signs up. Oh look: “May Day Mutiny,” read a flyer that Shea was circulating online last week trying to whip up more protests, according to The Spokesman-Review of Spokane.

“RE-OPEN THE ECONOMY GOV. INSLEE. May 1st, if you won’t we will rally in our counties to get them to re-open,” Shea wrote. “Freedom is the cure.”

I don’t know, if anything feasts on freedom, it’s this virus. But setting that aside, how genuinely oppressed by the coronavirus restrictions can one claim to be when you were exactly as oppressed by other perceived tyrannies, like five minutes ago?

I bring all this up because it feels as if we’re heading once again into idiocracy territory, with the hard political debates we need to have instead getting hijacked by theater performers like those mentioned above.

Yes, the government shutdown orders are onerous, and yes, some of them don’t make much sense (I can go running but I can’t go fishing?) But nobody is being ticketed for violating any of them, let alone confronted by goons with guns. That’s because they were issued in an emergency fashion with an acknowledgment that they weren’t perfect, so it was thought everyone deserved some slack.


But the bigger problem is they are a total sideshow to the real political problem we face now — one that actually is worth protesting. Namely, that government is failing to ramp up enough testing to allow a social and economic reopening.

This one I truly do not understand. America, with more than 50,000 deaths now and bearing down on a million infections, still is only testing fewer than 200,000 people a day. That doesn’t rank us in the top 20 countries for per capita testing.

Epidemiologists have been shouting about this deficiency for months now. It’s vital because it’s only way out. The virus isn’t much chastened by guns or protests or bellicose threats, but it can be hunted down relentlessly and isolated, by science. Not doing so virtually guarantees more outbreaks.

“I see test-trace-isolate as the only real solution to the problem we’re facing,” says Trevor Bedford, an epidemiologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who was one of the first to warn that a large-scale outbreak in America was happening. A mass testing operation is “the Apollo program of our times,” he called it – six weeks ago.

Harvard scientists estimated last week that to fully re-open society and the economy, we need to be doing 20 million tests per day by this summer. We’re currently doing 1 percent of that.

It remains a mystery then why months into this crisis, testing is still on the back burner. The president, who I recall is a builder, could declare himself the King of Testing and ramp up national production, then make a daily spectacle out of trumpeting his progress. Plagiarize Bedford and dub it Apollo, or “No American Left Unswabbed” — whatever, he’s the sales expert, he could come up with something gold.

Absent that – and we’re definitely absent that – maybe Washington, California, Oregon and throw in British Columbia could form a “Cascadia Testing Project” that could combine to do the regional production needed.

Some dramatic progress needs to happen, and soon. Because here’s the thing: The protests are political theater, and they poll terribly, but it’s simultaneously true that the target of their ire, social distancing, isn’t a long-term solution. So without more testing, we may soon be facing another volatile contagion — which is that increasingly desperate people may start feeling the protesters have a point.