LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Hundreds of people angry or frustrated over Michigan's coronavirus stay-at-home order protested again outside the state Capitol on Thursday, standing in the rain to call for a loosening of restrictions and for business owners to reopen in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The demonstration was smaller than previous rallies. The Senate canceled session so the Capitol could be closed Thursday. The step came weeks after some armed protesters entered the building during a rally.
The latest protest was led by Michigan United for Liberty, a conservative activist group that has sued Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and organized or participated in several rallies since early April.
People in the crowd of roughly 200 held signs declaring “Every worker is essential," “Make Michigan work again” and “Stop the tyranny.”
“We can get some businesses back open,” said David Saxton, a 40-year-old IT specialist from Alma, in central Michigan. He said he lost his job, is receiving unemployment benefits and noted that a COVID-19 vaccine may not be ready for a year and a half. “Staying shut down that long is not practical. You will kill the state. You just will."
Though state police and Michigan's attorney general had warned of enforcing prohibitions on brandishing guns or ignoring potential directives to stay 6 feet apart, there were no arrests. Some protesters still stood closer together.
Some carried guns even though lawmakers from both parties criticized certain demonstrators for intimidating and threatening tactics two weeks ago. At that protest, they openly carried semi-automatic rifles into the Capitol, including the Senate gallery, sparking calls by Democrats to ban guns from the building.
Organizers on Thursday tried to keep the focus on reopening the state. A scuffle broke out when people speaking on the Capitol steps prevented a man from displaying an American flag that had an unclothed female doll with a noose around the neck. Several masked counter-protesters stood silently in support of the governor's actions to keep the virus from spreading.
The Republican-led Legislature was not in session Thursday. A court will hear arguments Friday in GOP lawmakers' lawsuit challenging the governor's ability to extend an emergency declaration, the underpinning of her restrictions, without their blessing.
The governor's stay-at-home order is effective at least until May 28.
“I don’t particularly want to see people congregating, period. We know that contributes to spread,” Whitmer said Wednesday. “But if people are going to come down and demonstrate, do it in a responsible way. That’s what we ask.”
The governor, whose handling of the crisis has broad public support, according to polls, has gradually reopened some sectors such as manufacturing, construction and real estate. She pointed to modeling showing a median estimate that her order had prevented at least 3,480 additional deaths. More than 4,700 people have died in Michigan from complications related to COVID-19, which is the fourth-most of any state and the sixth-most on a per-capita basis.
Darcey Atkins, a 52-year-old from Grant, in central Michigan, held two small American flags and wore a hat in support of President Donald Trump. She questioned why she can go to Walmart but not her church. She attended two previous protests and described the latest one as “a little disappointing because Americans need to realize their freedoms are being taken away.”
The governor should trust people to decide whether to stay home if they have symptoms, Atkins said.
“She's deciding who can do what, when they can do it and how they can do it. I agree that there is some people who are very much in danger of dying. But I also think that she's taking away rights that are not hers to take away," she said.