Uncertainty and fear over the economic impact of stay-at-home orders have definitely fueled some sort of culture war among conservatives all over the United States, and Delaware certainly wasn’t the first protest over stay-at-home orders.
To date, there have been rallies and protests in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire; and most who protest the stay-at-home orders are members from Facebook Groups such as Reopen ‘my-state’, for example, Delaware has a Facebook group organized by Richard Bishop called “Reopen Delaware”, and North Carolina’s Facebook group have called themselves “ReopenNC” and Michigan’s Facebook group is called “Michiganders against excessive quarantine”.
Regardless of what they call themselves, every group’s mission seems to be aimed to get their state reopened without restrictions, and as Richard Bishop said at his last protest, “so we can get back to business.”
Republican politicians have also been talking more about letting people return back to work even if the pandemic continues. Republican politicians also supports these groups and their missions. Only one can question what that mission really is.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Garrett Soldano told a reporter, “I feel that most of America feels the way that we do right now,” Soldano is the founder of the Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine Facebook group. “Keeping healthy people at home is tyranny.”
But some question what these Facebook group’s message really is if governors across the country have already begun reopening their states economies in baby steps weeks prior to their rallies and protests.
The Delaware Facebook group, Reopen Delaware has held three rallies or protests to date. The very first one was in front of the governors office building, known as the Caravel State Office Building in Wilmington, Delaware on May 1st. There they urged Governor John Carney to reopen Delaware, which was already open to essential businesses and some other business types with restrictions like curbside service or by appointment only.
Although the event was peaceful and without any incidents, Wilmington Police and Capitol Police provided security and kept their distance from across the street. No arrests or incidents were reported.
While Reopen Delaware’s aim may have been to get a response from the governor, their presence in a form of protest and disruption to government business during these trying times certainly didn’t get Governor Carney to come talk to them.
The group then held a rally and protest at the Rehoboth Beach bandstand on Saturday May 16th and the groups message that day was to urge Governor Carney to reopen Delaware Beaches and to “storm the beach”, but the beaches and boardwalk were already open, just with some CDC recommended restrictions such as social distancing and face coverings.
Lauren Witzke was at the event and said, “I’m here to call on Governor Carney to allow small businesses and Delaware to reopen. Americans are losing their livelihoods. Small businesses are shutting down and closing their doors forever, and it’s really important that we get Americans back to work and get Delawareans back to work, and Delaware small businesses open immediately.”
While beach police had an understanding of the CDC recommendations, they did not have a clear understanding of the governors orders. At the beach, police were seen recommending facial coverings on the boardwalk and making them required on the beach, when actually, they were required on the boardwalk when social distancing is not practical and required on the beach.
When we spoke to Rehoboth Beach Police Chief Keith Banks, he said, “right now, face coverings are not required on the boardwalk until May 22”, but that’s not true. Governor Carney’s 13th modification to his state of emergency which was released on April 25th states:
We don’t know why police were confused with this modification when the Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns opened the beach for exercise only from 6:00 Am. to 10:00 Pm. on May 15th.
According to Chief Banks, the group obtained a protest permit and they began setting up protocols for security to ensure the group could have a peaceful protest which included additional officers on the boardwalk as well as officers stationed nearby the bandstand, and on the beach. They also had to utilize the Delaware State Police, Dewey Beach Police, and police on horseback, as well as cadets. In reality, Rehoboth Beach spent thousands of dollars to allow this protest to happen which no event permit would ever be able to pay for.
“The event organizer put in a permit which was approved, and it’s been peaceful. We want to make sure that they have a safe space to protest, which we gave them.”, Said Chief Banks. “We did have some chatter about some counter-protesters coming and maybe trying to stop them or disrupt their event, so we had to put a few extra protocols in place, [sic]and there were some barriers, so we made sure that we gave them the opportunity to protest in a peaceful way.”
Following the event at the band stand, the group took to the boardwalk to “storm the beach” (that was already open) as police just watched from a distance.
But not everyone agreed with the group’s message. “What do they get out of doing this?, that’s what I want to know.”, said Anna Kroust from Newark, Delaware who was at the beach for the day. “What do they get out of breaking the rules, that’s what I want to know, what do they get out of it, Can you tell me because I don’t know.”
On Thursday May 21st, the group once again rallied and protested at the governors office, disrupting business as usual for the governor, his staff, and state employees. The group made their way to the Caravel State Office Building, and this time they urged all members who will be carrying arms to meet at the statue in Rodney Square. We don’t know why they were calling for arms at this event or what their intentions really were.
While unarmed protesters met at the Caravel State Office Building, the armed group marched from Rodney Square which was less than 2 blocks away. At the event, they rallied, they protested, and many people including the groups organizer Richard Bishop even spoke.
Wilmington Police closed off the street for the event on N. French Street between 8th and 9th streets, as well as 9th street between N. King Street and N. French Streets.
Dave Karas, a spokesman with the Wilmington Police Department said, “There were no incidents or arrests made at the protest.”
We are trying to have a better understanding of the groups message since they have instilled the First State Pathfinders who were seen in arms of all sorts at the Thursday rally and protest event. Some Pathfinders members were seen intimidating police for a response as they stood behind the protesting group as if they were protecting them, yet no one was threatening them or even trying to. While the Facebook group Reopen Delaware may seem like they have a good cause, some of the hate messages aimed at the governor and at government in general, as well as other political affiliations really makes you wonder about the group. However, a deeper investigation revealed some disturbing details.
This unidentified man seen in the picture below was berating this police officer. It is unknown what the issue was but our cameras picked up some distorted conversation about the man facing them with his hands on rifle.
The First State Pathfinders were found on a list of extreme anti-government groups that were active in 2019 according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who worked on The Intelligence Project. That Intelligence Project identified 576 extreme anti-government groups that were active in 2019, Of these groups 181 were militias. Generally, such groups define themselves as being opposed to the “New World Order,” engage in baseless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines.
In a review of Facebook event pages, Hatewatch identified more than 50 rallies from April 13 through May 1. The event pages are being set up all across the nation regardless of which political party controls the state house.
Facebook has become the social media platform of choice for far-right organizers and activists who engage in protests against social distancing. “Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook,” a spokesperson for Facebook told Hatewatch via email.
Their listing does not imply that the group themselves advocate or engage in violence, racism, or other criminal activities. The list was compiled from field reports, group publications, the internet, law enforcement sources and news reports. It does not document activities that take place only online by individuals or groups, whether on social media, online forums or websites. Groups are identified by the city, county or region where they are located and active.
They are not the only Delaware group that made it on their list. There are also two other groups, “111% United Patriots” and “American Patriots Three Percent.”
As Delaware Governor John Carney rolls out the reopening of Delaware phases, The Delaware Department of Health reported today that there are 156 new positive cases of covid-19 in Delaware, including 6 new deaths. An additional 95 people have recovered from covid-19 today as well.
Carney, who held a press conference in Lewes today announced he was pleased with the way people were adhering to the social distancing and face coverings and expressed that Delaware was on the right path to lifting more restrictions.
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