Killing for Profit: How Nationwide Reopen Rallies are Funded by Wealthy Elites

The conservative “reopen” protests in states like California, Michigan, Ohio, and others made national headlines when they occurred in April and May. Now, as coronavirus cases begin to climb after a sustained decline, the wisdom of reopening businesses so quickly must be called into question. 

Images of large crowds, gathering without masks, hurling insults at medical professionals, shocked the conscience at a time when people were losing their loved ones. 

Pennsylvania protesters gather at the Harrisburg capitol building. One sign reads “We Won’t Sacrifice Liberty for Security.” Courtesy of Weaverphoto, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

On April 20, in Sacramento, a man joined the protests outside the capitol building to urge the public to cough on him

While the public fixated on the ignorance of these protesters, these protests did not begin inside a vacuum. In fact, they were staged by wealthy interests who were afraid of losing their millions of dollars at a cost of saving human lives.

According to an April story by The Guardian, the “reopen rallies” were funded and started by wealthy business people as a fake grassroots movement – all to convince the government to reopen for business and expose working Americans to COVID.

The now-infamous Michigan reopen rallies, wherein thousands of protesters stormed the state capitol in Lansing – many armed with rifles – were actually funded by the family of Betsy DeVos. A co-organizer of the event, the Michigan Freedom Fund, received $500,000 from the DeVos family. 

Upon searching the Michigan Secretary of State’s campaign statement database, the picture becomes more clear. In April, 2020, the only five itemized direct contributions to the Michigan Freedom Fund came from Suzanne DeVos, Daniel DeVos, Dick DeVos, Maria DeVos, and Douglas Devos. Each individual contributed either $62,500 or $31,250 to the organization – no small change for ordinary Americans. 

These later went on to inspire a similar demonstration in Maryland. 

The other major organizer with these rallies, the Michigan Conservative Coalition, is closely aligned with the Trump campaign. Matt Maddock, who founded the Michigan Conservative Coalition, is now a Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives. 

On April 17, President Trump called for the “liberation” of several states in a now-famous Twitter tirade. Michigan was one; Virginia was another.

President Trump tweets calls to “liberate” the states of Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota, in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown. Courtesy of Twitter.

“ReOpen Virginia” rallies were another model for nationwide protests. Despite billing their protest as “grassroots,” The Guardian reported that the ReOpen Virginia demonstration was organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. 

The Virginia Citizens Defense League is actually an entrenched right wing organization, having spent tens of thousands of dollars on conservative political campaigns since 2001. In January of this year, Philip Van Cleave, president of the VCDL, organized a pro-gun rally on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that drew 22,000 attendees. 

In Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, the same three brothers created Facebook groups with names like “Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine,” “Ohioans Against Excessive Quarantine,” and others. The Dorr brothers – Ben, Christopher, and Aaron – manage pro-gun groups nationwide that criticize the National Rifle Association for being too compromising.

These protests, which were emulated throughout the nation, occurred at a time when two-thirds of Americans were concerned that governments would open up too quickly, jeopardizing the public health measures taken. 

Pennsylvania protesters gather at the Harrisburg state capitol building. The only one visibly wearing a mask is the police officer. Courtesy of Weaverphoto and licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

As of June 13, those concerns appear well-founded; twenty-one states have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations are on the rise, and ten states now have the highest average daily cases since the pandemic began.

It is now clear that not only was likely it unwise to return back to work so soon, but also the driving forces behind reopening are people who will never face the risks associated with going back to work. And that’s the point.

They are billionaire hedge fund managers like Robert Mercer, who funded the Convention of States. The Convention of States in April purchased Facebook ads in pursuit of an agenda to make “opposition to stay-at-home orders appear more widespread” than polling shows.

The president of the Convention of States, Mark Meckler, earns $250,000 a year and likely has the luxury of working from home. Mr. Meckler can stay home and stay safe, while trying to force working-class Americans return to work – risking their own lives and the lives of their families. 

They are people like the Dorr brothers, whom former Iowa Republican legislator Clel Baudler described as “will[ing] to do anything to fan the flames of a controversial issue, and maybe make a quick nickel.” One of their firearms coalitions offers rates for membership from $35 to $1,000. 

They are people like the DeVoses in Michigan, whose money fanned the flames of thousands of gun-toting militiamen storming the state capitol. 

Pennsylvania protesters gather in Harrisburg. Here, protesters liken the public safety measures to “tyranny.” Courtesy of Weaverphoto and licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

The point, by now, should be clear. 

Despite nearly 70 percent of Republicans in April supporting the stay-at-home measures, a powerful cadre of wealthy interests are masterminding common sense public safety as a partisan issue. All to coerce the government to cut off unemployment and disaster aid programs and force Americans back into restaurants, hotels, and bars. 

However, this isn’t anything profound or unique to the American economy. What is, perhaps, unprecedented is how brazen these individuals are. Behind the reopen rallies, wealthy elites are unashamed to admit it: They want us to die for their profit. 

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