Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm, The Washington Post
A trio of far-right, pro-gun provocateurs is behind some of the largest Facebook groups calling for anti-quarantine protests across the country, offering the latest illustration that some seemingly organic demonstrations are being engineered by a network of conservative activists.
The Facebook groups target Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and they appear to be the work of Ben Dorr, the political director of a group called Minnesota Gun Rights, and his siblings Christopher and Aaron. By Sunday, the groups had more than 200,000 members combined, and they continued to expand quickly, days after President Donald Trump endorsed such protests by suggesting citizens should "liberate" their states.
The online activity implies that opposition to the restrictions is more widespread than polling suggests. Nearly 70% of Republicans said they supported a national stay-home order, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Ninety-five percent of Democrats backed such a measure in the survey.
The Facebook groups have become digital hubs for the same sort of misinformation spouted in recent days at state capitols — from comparing the virus to the flu to questioning the intentions of scientists working on a vaccine.
Public health experts say stay-home orders are necessary to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 35,000 people in the United States. The Trump administration last week outlined three phases for states to reopen safely — guidelines contradicted by the president when he urged citizens to rise up against the rules that heed the recommendations of his own public-health advisers.
"If people feel that way, you're allowed to protest," Trump said Sunday. "Some governors have gone too far, some of the things that happened are maybe not so appropriate."