Coronavirus anti-lockdown movement surges in the US after Donald Trump’s ‘Liberate’ tweet

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On April 17, President Donald Trump issued a series of calls on Twitter to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia.

Coronavirus anti-lockdown movement surges in the US after Donald Trump’s ‘Liberate’ tweet

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Within three days the number of protests in the country had doubled and nearly 100,000 more Americans had tested positive for coronavirus.

New research from the United States Studies Centre using the Global Database of Emotion, Language and Tone, shows that despite the United States having one of the fastest rates of infection in the world in April, the number of in-person anti-government (federal, state and local) protests in the country surged to a level higher than that reached during 2019, the so-called Year of Global Protest.

The vast majority of the increase in protests in March to April were in opposition to state enforced lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

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While the protests surged after President Trump’s interventions, it’s clear that he did not cause the anti-lockdown movement himself. Protests in the United States were already rising rapidly when he weighed in.

They’re not spread evenly across the country

Protests targeted at political enemies has been a common trend not just from Trump’s administration, but more generally in his public life. The birther conspiracy theory, Obamagate and even the debunked Joe Scarborough murder conspiracy theory all bear the hallmarks of this ability to identify grievances involving his political enemies, and to amplify them.

In a limited sense, it’s worked too. When broken down by which states endured the largest per cent increase in protests between March and April, there is a clear trend of states that are conservative or at least moderate who have Democratic governors (responsible for implementing lockdowns).

On different occasions, President Trump has clashed with each of the governors listed below. Many of the states they run were crucial in the 2016 election and look set to be crucial again in 2020.

Fewer protesters, more danger

It must be said that although the number of individual protests has been high, the number of protesters has not been.

Preliminary data from the Crowd Counting Consortium seems to indicate that these protests have been significantly smaller in scale than many of those that took place throughout 2019. For example, there were an estimated 313,000 protesters in July 2019, compared to a preliminary estimate of 43,000 throughout April 2020, including repeat protesters.

Many individual protests during 2019 eclipsed this number many times over. Indeed, the wave of Tea Party protests a decade earlier on April 15, 2009, mobilised more than 300,000 people in more than 500 distinct protests across the United States.

But none of these actions occurred during a pandemic like COVID-19.

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