The United States has been one of the worst hit countries in the world by the coronavirus pandemic, and tensions are boiling over.
Protesters are hitting the street – some armed with assault weapons – to protest lockdown measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
A growing backlash against stay-at-home orders, egged on by conservative media pundits on Fox News and even US president Donald Trump, has led to extraordinary scenes on the streets of America including a defiant healthcare worker who blocked a line of protesters in their cars.
Footage circulating online shows a hospital worker standing in the middle of a pedestrian crossing, blocking the street in downtown Denver, Colorado, on Sunday local time, as a line of protesters in their trucks and cars tried to slowly drive through.
A woman in a truck being blocked by the healthcare workers can be seen hanging out the window yelling: “It’s a free country! Land of the free!”
“Go to China if you want communism,” she yells at the nurse, who is dressed in scrubs and a face mask.
The numerous trucks backed up behind her – many flying American flags – can be heard honking, while some onlookers cheer on the hospital workers.
Photographer Alyson McClaran captured the moment, showing the male healthcare worker and a female colleague blocking the protesting motorists and being heckled by some.
“Health care workers stand in the street in counter-protest to hundreds of people who gathered at the State Capitol to demand the stay-at-home order be lifted,” she posted alongside the photos which have been shared more than 20,000 times on Facebook since being posted this morning.
“These photographs are amazing: powerful, moving, and defining,” commented one Facebook user.
“When you mix privilege, ignorance and stupidity, you create a cocktail that's more dangerous to the public than the coronavirus,” said another.
Conservative groups fuelling protests
The scenes in Colorado come after anti-lockdown protests in the US states of Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota in recent days.
On Friday, local time, Fox News aired a segment on the protests in those three states and minutes later Donald Trump tweeted to his 77.4 million followers, urging people in those states to “liberate” themselves.
According to The Guardian, the bubbling uprising is being backed by a number of wealthy conservative and far right groups, including one funded by the family of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
A so-called “operation gridlock” rally held in Michigan last week, which kicked off the wave of protests, had ties to the Republican party and the Trump administration, the publication revealed.
The Michigan Freedom Fund was a stated co-host of the rally and reportedly purchased Facebook ads to promote the event. It has previously received more than US$500,000 from the DeVos family, who are regular donors to rightwing groups.
The other purported host of events was the Michigan Conservative Coalition, a group founded by Matt Maddock who is now a Republican member of the state house of representatives.
According to a Pew Research Centre poll published as protests began, a majority of Americans support the lockdowns, with 66 per cent of respondents saying they are concerned state governments will lift restrictions on public activity too quickly.
Hundreds protest in Washington state in defiance of ban
In one of the latest rounds of protests which coincided with the events in Colorado, an estimated 2,500 people rallied at the Washington state capitol to protest Democratic Governor Jay Inslee's stay-at-home order, defying a ban on gatherings of 50 or more people.
Despite pleas from rally organisers to wear face coverings or masks, many did not.
Police estimated the crowd at 2,500, making it one of the largest protests in US states against lockdowns over the past week.
In Olympia, hundreds gathered in close quarters on the steps of the capitol building and around a fountain, contravening state and federal health guidelines during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"Shutting down businesses by picking winners and losers in which there are essential and non-essential are violations of the state and federal constitution," rally organiser Tyler Miller, 39, told Reuters.
Protesters drove vehicles to the state capitol, honking horns and clogging streets.
"There is no question whatsoever the defence of liberty means risking all hazards," Mr Miller said, paraphrasing a John Adams quote.
"The American Revolution was fought at the height of the smallpox epidemic. Our founders were very aware of these sorts of risks."
Despite the fact that crowds lingered after the event finished, police reportedly didn’t issue any fines.
The United States has by far the most confirmed coronavirus cases in the world with more than 760,000 cases recorded so far.
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