Spread a pandemic to own the libs!
At least, that seemed to be the line from some conservatives in recent days, including prominent elected officials, as they chafed against actions taken by local and state governments to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Governments across the country have taken dramatic steps to encourage “social distancing” and slow the virus’ spread, including shutting down retail stores, ordering restaurants to operate as take-out only, and barring anything but small gatherings. The CDC on Sunday recommended a nationwide cancellation of events with 50 or more people for the next 8 weeks.
These measures may be in Americans’ interest — especially the elderly and immunocompromised, who are especially threatened by the virus’ spread — but for some on the right, the public health actions represented nothing less than totalitarian overreach.
On Sunday, Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who was once reportedly considered for a senior Department of Homeland Security job, had a suggestion: “GO INTO THE STREETS FOLKS.”
“END GOVERNMENT CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES,” Clarke tweeted. “IF NOT NOW, WHEN? THIS IS AN EXPLOITATION OF A CRISIS.”
GO INTO THE STREETS FOLKS. Visit bars, restaurants, shopping malls, CHURCHES and demand that your schools re-open. NOW!
If government doesn’t stop this foolishness…STAY IN THE STREETS.
END GOVERNEMNT CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES. IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
THIS IS AN EXPLOITATION OF A CRISIS.
— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) March 15, 2020
“After several decades of liberal wussification we have become SOFT,” he wrote separately. “Now we panic and run in the face of adversity. We create a run on toilet paper.”
“It is now evident that this is an orchestrated attempt to destroy CAPITALISM,” Clarke opined Sunday afternoon in since-removed tweet. “First sports, then schools and finally commercial businesses. Time to RISE UP and push back. Bars and restaurants should defy the order. Let people decide if they want to go out.”
In another missive, he speculated that Jewish boogeyman George Soros was involved… somehow.
Not ONE media outlet has asked about George Soros’s involvement in this FLU panic. He is SOMEWHERE involved in this.
— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) March 15, 2020
Until recently, the former sheriff’s Twitter page featured several other examples of this kind of virus-be-damned advocacy. However, as Right Wing Watch reported, the posts were removed by Twitter for violating its policy against promoting self-harm.
Though Clarke may be unique in attempting to shout down a virus, he’s hardly alone in his sentiment.
The former New York City police chief Bernard Keric, who recently received a presidential pardon, sounded positively Trumpian Sunday night.
“Why do I feel this hysteria is being created to destabilize the country, and destroy the unparalleled and historic economic successes of President @realDonaldTrump?” he wondered aloud.
Why do I feel this hysteria is being created to destabilize the country, and destroy the unparalleled and historic economic successes of President @realDonaldTrump?
Worldwide Deaths… Jan-Feb 2020
69,602: Common Cold/Flu
— Bernard B. Kerik (@BernardKerik) March 16, 2020
The conspiracizing from Kerik and Clark was a small part of a larger skepticism on the right — fueled at times by the President himself — about the public health threat posed by the virus.
In a Fox News interview on Sunday, for example, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) encouraged people to crowd restaurants.
“It’s a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant,” he said. “Likely you can get in easily. Let’s not hurt the working people in this country that are relying on wages and tips to keep their small business going.”
The governor of Oklahoma struck a similar tone Saturday, posting a (since-deleted) picture of himself and his kids at a local restaurant. “It’s packed tonight!” Gov. Kevin Stitt wrote, along with the hashtags “#supportlocal,” and “#OklaProud.” (He declared a state of emergency the following day and encouraged Oklahomans to follow the CDC’s guidance.)
For some, maintaining a presence in crowded public spaces was open trolling, an effort to solicit a reaction and score political points.
Katie Williams, a pageant queen turned local political candidate, replied to a viral post from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) with what seemed like a blatant cry for attention.
I just went to a crowded Red Robin and I'm 30.
It was delicious, and I took my sweet time eating my meal. Because this is America. And I'll do what I want.
— Katie Williams (@realkatiejow) March 14, 2020
After her contrarianism blew up, Williams pivoted and criticized the local school system for remaining open. “Now that I have everyone’s attention,” she began, before commenting on the Clark County School District, where she is running to join the board of trustees.
The phenomenon goes well beyond the Twitterati, though.
After all, President Donald Trump himself has done little to ring alarm bells. His own COVID-19 press conferences, for example, have been stuffed with government officials and journalists, a fact he’s advertised online.
This took place in the Rose Garden, just coming out of a cold Winter! https://t.co/bjHEC9zZkC
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2020
His supporters appear to be taking cues from Trump as a result.
In Arkansas, the pastor of a church whose Sunday services reportedly draw around 1,100 people told The Washington Post that skipping church would be interpreted as akin to “liberalism.”
“One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus,” Rev. Josh King of Second Baptist church in Conway, Arkansas told the Post. “In your more politically conservative regions, closing is not interpreted as caring for you. It’s interpreted as liberalism, or buying into the hype.”